Should Marketing and Religion Mix? Reality Check on “Marketing” the Gospel

In my last post, the first commenter bristled at the idea of the LDS Church using marketing. The response is natural and common, but based on misunderstanding, IMHO.

Nothing personal, but I instinctively dislike the idea of a church, any church, engaging in marketing. Jesus is not a brand.

Marketing has negative connotations for some people because of its monetary associations, but marketing is much broader than commercials to make a buck. Marketing is about sharing information, influencing others, changing behavior, changing the way people think, and getting the word out. When it comes to the Gospel, marketing, like gravity, isn’t just a good idea: it’s the law. In other words, Christians are commanded to share the Gospel and influence others to get the word out. Christianity is a brand in a broad sense, we are a brand, and it’s our duty to represent the brand well and share it with others. Not for filthy lucre, but to glorify God and bless the lives of others.

Here’s some Marketing 101 guidance from the New Testament:

Matthew 4:19:

And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

Matthew 5:16:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

1 Thess. 1:

7 So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.

8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.

Matthew 28:19:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Mark 16:15:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

1 Timothy 4:12:

Be thou an example of the believers.

1 Peter 2:

11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;

12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

So actually, we’re supposed to be marketers, or rather, fishers of men, using our examples, our preaching, and other means to spread the Gospel to the whole world. In this era, that means not just mass production of literature, but mass media, social media, and other tools. The tools are there, the means are there to reach much of the world where it can be shared. We’d be more than merely foolish not to use such tools: we’d be negligent and perhaps even disobedient. Human life is all about marketing, one way or another.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

24 thoughts on “Should Marketing and Religion Mix? Reality Check on “Marketing” the Gospel

  1. Thanks Jeff. Am LDS from South Africa and I really appreciate your point of view and smart way of saying it.

  2. Jeff, "marketing" is not the same thing as prosletyzing or missionizing, and it's certainly not the same thing as being an example to others. It's not even the same thing as selling. Marketing is a comparatively new phenomenon that didn't exist at all in the era of the admonitions you quote. Take a quick look over at the Wikipedia entry, which among other things defines marketing in contrast to production and sales. In particular, look at the comparison between the product orientation and the marketing orientation that often historically follows it.

    Product Orientation: "A firm employing a product orientation is chiefly concerned with the quality of its own product. A firm would also assume that as long as its product was of a high standard, people would buy and consume the product."

    Marketing Orientation: "The 'marketing orientation' is perhaps the most common orientation used in contemporary marketing. It involves a firm essentially basing its marketing plans around the marketing concept, and thus supplying products to suit new consumer tastes. As an example, a firm would employ market research to gauge consumer desires, use R&D to develop a product attuned to the revealed information, and then utilize promotion techniques to ensure persons know the product exists."

    Note the way marketing emphasis veers away from the quality of the original product and toward the satisfaction of the consumer's ever-shifting desires (i.e., the move toward a consumer-relativist conception of value). This is where the problem creeps in (for a church, if not for a business).

    All too often, marketing is about "creating value" that wouldn't be there without the marketing. The classic example is the Pet Rock of the 1970s, whose value (while it lasted) was "pure marketing." At the other extreme is something like gold, whose value is timeless and intrinsic and thus doesn't need marketing. Savvy buyers have never needed a marketing campaign to convince them that gold is a good value*; they just needed to know where they could buy some.

    I'd like to think that the Gospel is solid gold rather than a pet rock. The danger is that when something is marketed to people in a slick campaign of the sort the Church has begun to adopt, they will suspect it's a pet rock: after all, people might quite understandably think, if it's so good, why is it part of a slick marketing campaign?

    I'm not saying the Church's marketing won't work, exactly, only that even as it works (with some) it will also generate suspicion (among others). If the goal is to improve the Church's image, I'm not sure it'll come out ahead on balance.

    Also, I have to say also that I find the idea that "Human life is all about marketing, one way or another" to be profoundly wrong. Are we really supposed to research the desires of the masses and conduct our lives in such a way as to satisfy them? Is that really what the Christian life is about? It strikes me as the approach of Pilate placating the fickle mob, not the approach of Christ standing for something beyond the mob.

  3. Anon, you're way too hung up on the word marketing. Surely you must realize that I'm using a very generic definition for that term, much more in the sense of "selling" and influencing. Actually, the earliest use of the word "marketing" (from the 1560s, per was in the sense of buying and selling, and influencing to "sell" a message is clearly what was meant in the non-LDS article that mentioned LDS marketing and in my post. Citing all the more specific activities that corporate marketers may do and asserting that the reference to "marketing" by the Church implies all of that is unjustified.

    The Church is not shifting its principles to meet the whims of focus groups or selecting commandments to teach based on what gives the biggest boost in tithing. However, that kind of negative influence of marketing is part of why the early Church went into apostasy. To gain the favor of emperors and popularity among the masses, there were tragic changes and abandonment of authority and teachings. It resulted in secular gains but spiritual loss so severe that a Restoration was needed. And now it's time to get the word out to every nation, kindred, and tongue, as prophesied and as commanded. And that means marketing–in the most generic and positive sense.

  4. The comment about human life being all about marketing, though hyperbole, again is not about the detailed disciplines of corporate America, but about recognizing the importance of selling and influencing others. Nothing happens in the world without communication that changes and moves others. Nothing happens without selling. Our ideas, our beliefs, our plans, etc., all these have no influence on others without marketing in the broadest sense. Human life is about influencing others by example, by teaching, by communicating, etc. We market ourselves and our personal brand 24/7, like it or not. The only way to avoid that is to crawl into a cave when no one is looking, lest they follow that example.

  5. Whether it is marketing or not we need to be careful what we are marketing…is it the church or the gift of forgiveness offered by God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

  6. Jeff, I understand that your use of the term "marketing" is basically metaphorical. The point is that, because it has such negative connotations for so many people, it's not a very good metaphor.

    And it's not just about the word itself. It's also about the practice, e.g., churches advertising on TV and radio. Because most of what is hawked in these venues is pretty worthless and the advertising so often deceptive, many of us find ourselves, instinctively and for the most part justifiably, reacting skeptically. The medium taints the message, is all I'm saying.

  7. Just don't take the metaphor all the way to "multi-level marketing". There's already too much of that in the Church.

  8. I'm 100% with Jeff on this. Elder Packer once said that -legitimate- sales techniques were appropriate in spreading the gospel. He didn't say -converting- people. Conversion still has to be done by the Holy Ghost. I'm sure church leadership doesn't want people to join the church based on ads or salesmanship, but it -IS- appropriate to use legitimate sales and marketing techniques/practices to influence people into -investgating-.

    Anon and the previous commenter Jeff referred to have it totally wrong. The church just cannot rely on word of mouth and missionaries contacting people on the street and knocking doors. All legitimate avenues of mass communication need to be used.

    Again, the purpose is to get people to investigate, read the Book of Mormon, and pray. And if they get a spiritual witness of the truth of the basic messages, (the gospel of Christ and the restoration) THEN they can get baptized and join up.

    There is a parallel to Jeff's oft recurring theme/concept of apologetics, that there needs to be space or opportunity for faith. Misconceptions about LDS prevent people from investigating. Marketing/sales/advertising, when done honestly, as I'm sure the church does, create that space for a seed of faith to be planted.

    Of course we don't want someone getting baptized just because they saw/heard some slick ad. But we'd love for them to investigate, and thereby have opportunity to receive a spiritual witness, and then use the spiritual witnessnof the truth as the basis for any committment.

  9. Bookslinger, You said, "Again, the purpose is to get people to investigate, read the Book of Mormon, and pray. And if they get a spiritual witness of the truth of the basic messages, (the gospel of Christ and the restoration) THEN they can get baptized and join up."

    If investigators are being encouraged to read the Book of Mormon are they being encouraged to receive the gospel of Christ or to join the church?

    Is it possible that they can receive the gospel without joining the church? Are the two separate or the same?

  10. Cindy,

    one is interviewed prior to their baptism into the LDS church, and "accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ" is part of the prerequisites to baptism. So, one could not (or at least should not) legitimately or honestly join the LDS church without accepting the gospel. If they did join without accepting the gospel of Christ, they'd have to lie in their interview.

    As far as the other way around, accepting the gospel of Christ without joining the church:

    The gospel as presented by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is described by the church as the _fullness_ of the Gospel.

    (Sidenote: And it's only the "fullness" as far as it's been revealed so far. As per Article of Faith #9, we believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.)

    Presidents of the LDS church have often acknowledged that other Christian churches, and other non-Christian religions have many truths in them.

    Of course LDS realize that many Christians of other churches have great faith in Jesus Christ.

    I would say that any church that recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the son of God who atoned for the sins of mankind, has a major part of the gospel right there.

    So yes, one can receive much or most of the gospel without joining the LDS church. But without joining the LDS church, one doesn't have all that's been revealed so far, and would be missing some important pieces, such as the unique foundational claims and authority resident in the LDS church.

  11. So much of the confusion in these conversations about religion would be resolved and we could move on to much weightier things (awesome attributes of the Gospel of Jesus Christ) if we could just use the same definitions for key vocabulary words… For example Jeff's intention and meaning for the word "marketing" was completely different from Anon's definition and hence the huge misunderstanding and long conversation not about the true topic of Jeff's post, but about the definition of a silly word. Sometimes I think we can get caught up in words and look past true meanings and intentions. We'd probably all save time if we just list a set of definitions for words we use in our posts and comments 🙂

    Cindy, as Mormons we believe that the "gospel of Jesus Christ" in a general sense is His "Good News!" It's His Atonement and Resurrection. It's his teachings; the eternal truths and principles that our Heavenly father taught us before we came into this world, which we are now being reminded of by His Spirit as we study the words of His Only Begotten and the writings of God's servants the prophets (modern and of old). It is His revealed word, and it is His "Work and Glory" and it is His church, by which his truths are taught and by which His granted authority allows for His saving ordinances to be performed. So… accepting His church is excepting His gospel. Only His church contains the true teachings of the fullness of His gospel and the authority to perform the saving ordinances associated with His gospel.

    Now as a side note, we also believe all of us gain gospel knowledge little by little, "line upon line and precept upon precept", so even though someone can reject His church and the "fullness" of His gospel, they can accept individual true principles of that gospel and live better happier lives for doing so. However, I know the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is contained in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that by listening to and feeling the confirmations of The Spirit, God will guide his children to all of what he would have them partake of. Since God is Just, we will ALL receive equal opportunity to except or reject his gospel principles and the "fullness of his gospel" as confirmed by His Holy Spirit.

  12. Jeremy,

    So what is the difference between the the gospel of Jesus Christ and the gospel of Jesus Christ in the church of latter day saints?

    If The gospel of Jesus Christ, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians, "be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." is the gospel of the church something else?

  13. Cindy, If I may attempt to answer your question directed at Jeremy:

    "So what is the difference between the the gospel of Jesus Christ and the gospel of Jesus Christ in [T]he [C]hurch of [Jesus Christ of] [L]atter[-]day [S]aints?"

    That is best explained at

    Also, this 47-chapter manual ("Gospel Principles") that we use in our Sunday School class for investigators and new members covers all the basics:

    That book/manual is the best place to start if you want to read up on what LDS believe and teach.

  14. Thanks Bookslinger. I have read much at the site before, but I never went there with the intention of discovering the restored gospel as it it described by LDS publications.

    This time, on the page entitled "what we believe" I found this very clear synopsis: "We are all spiritual children of a loving Heavenly Father who sent us to this earth to learn and grow in a mortal state. As Mormons, we are followers of Jesus Christ. We live our lives to serve Him and teach of His eternal plan for each of us."

    That seems very consistent with what I have read in the LDS scriptures.

    It is also very different than what I found when I googled "The gospel of Jesus Christ":

    1 Corinthians 15 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve."

  15. Cindy, thank you for reminding us of the importance of enduring to the end to be saved, as Paul eloquently teaches in that passage: "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." However, the fact that this important point was not explicitly mentioned in the short synopsis you read is not because of some difference in our beliefs–we fully agree with what that entire passage from Paul, including the need to endure to the end and hold firmly to the word, recognizing, as Paul did, the danger that believing Christians can fall from the faith by not holding firmly to it and thus ultimately make their previous belief in vain.

    No worries – we get that and teach that, and, surprisingly, even get called non-Christian by some fairly questionable enemies for teaching such basic doctrines from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  16. Thanks for your speedy response Jeff! I don't think it is the fact that teaches enduring to the end that causes people to pull out the "un-Christian" brand. I think it is the focus on man's righteousness rather than Christ's that is the issue.

  17. Christ is absolutely the focus of the Church. But Paul's concern was not with whether Christ would remain faithful to the end, but whether WE would. We are the one's Paul and Christ and the leaders of the Church are concerned with: will we choose to follow Christ and endure in faith to the end or not? It's not that anything we do can save us from death or hell, it all depends on what Christ has done, but we choose whether we follow Him or not and whether we hold firmly to His word or not.

  18. Jeff,

    By stating that it "depends on whether we hold firmly to His word or not" aren't you saying that our eternal position with God IS dependant upon our actions? I mean, what happens if we DON'T hold firmly to His word?

  19. Cindy, I didn't say that our eternal position with God depends on whether we hold firmly to His word or not–that came from the words of Paul that you quoted. That is the inescapable meaning of Paul's comment: By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. That IF adds a condition that depends on our actions, i.e., whether we hold firmly or not. We are free to let go and make our former belief in vain. It's a doctrine that Paul and other writers teach in other places as well (e.g., Heb. 3:12-14). It's one that conflicts with some unfortunate aspects of modern doctrines created in Protestantism, but with all due respect for the marvelous contributions of Protestantism in advancing the preaching and preservation of the Word, some of the theology is an unfortunate departure from original Christianity and requires the light brought back via modern revelation in the glorious work known as the Restoration.

    The grace Christ offers us is conditional: we are free to accept it or reject it. We are free (enough) to believe and then free (enough) to later fall from grace (1 Cor. 10:12) or to hold firmly to the word and endure in faith to the end (Heb. 3:6; Matt. 24:13). "Therefore, we ought to give more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip." (Heb. 2:1)

    I know many Protestants who struggle with these issues from a philosophical viewpoint. Rather than delve into the metaphysics of sovereignty, I would encourage them to get back to basics and read the plain teachings of Jesus. After reading, say, His parable of the sower and the seed, or of the sheep and and the goats, and then the Sermon on the Mount, etc., can anyone escape the simple truth that Christ is very plainly teaching that our eternal state will in fact depend in part on how we act here and how we respond to the grace He offers? This is why the scriptures can repeatedly state that we'll be judged by our works, without denying the fact that our works are meaningless without the grace of Christ and the power of His Atonement.

    Honestly, I think LDS doctrine, when properly understood–and that means having a willingness to understand it, not just criticize it–has the best answers to the big questions of freedom of choice, grace, and sovereignty, answers that shed brilliant insight on this mortal journey and bring the scriptures together in a beautiful way that is, finally, true to original Christianity and the ancient revelations God gave to living prophets.

    The Restoration is a marvelous thing, and I'd urge you to look into it further!

  20. Jeff,

    You write that "The grace Christ offers us is conditional" based on "our actions, i.e., whether we hold firmly or not."

    Yet you describe our freedom in terms of what we believe rather than our actions.

    "We are free (enough) to believe and then free (enough) to later fall from grace (1 Cor. 10:12)"

    If it is our actions that are used to ensure us of the grace of Christ how do we know that the grace has been achieved?

    Is it as Nephi writes, "For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."

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