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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Church Advertising

Monday, June 19, 2006

NPH spends a good deal of time writing about media matters and a great deal of time writing about church matters; he gets absolutely delirious when the two intersect.

The church in which NPH is an ordained minister, the PC (USA) is set to unveil a coordinated media campaign  consisting of print ads, radio spots and television ads. NPH has some thoughts:

First, apart from any of the advertising content, a question must be raised about the medium of media advertising and its suitability for Christian proclamation. If Marshall McLuhan is right (and NPH thinks he is) in saying that the medium is the message, then what does it say about the good news of the gospel that the church proclaims  if it can fit into a 30 second TV spot or a half-page newspaper ad?

The PC (USA) seems to be following the lead of the UCC, which created a lot of attention last year with its national tv ad campaign, which played directly on issues of homosexuality and racism.

As to the ads themselves, NPH has only seen one of them (a tv one), and he is unimpressed. Using standard advertising techniques of the day, the spot has as its subject not some product (say, the church) but the viewer himself. Its "you believe . . ." refrain makes that clear. The message says, in essense, "You're a good person. When you feel like it, you can to a Presbyterian church, because we're good people too."

Now, that's not a bad message. But it's not evangelism either. It will be  a big mistake for churches to depend on nationally distributed advertising to do their work of sharing the good news for them.

NPH will look at the other ads later.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:38 AM


I got this money quote from miketodd.typepad.com:
It comes from "Liberating The Church", by Howard Snyder:

The church gets in trouble whenever it thinks its in the church business rather than the Kingdom business. In the church business people are concerned with church activities, religious behaviour and spiritual things. In the Kingdom business people are concerned with Kingdom activities, all human behaviour and everything God has made, visible and invisible. Kingdom people see human affairs as saturated with spiritual meaning and Kingdom significance.

Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people often think about how to get people into church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world.

When Christians put the church ahead of the Kingdom they settle for the status quo and their own kind of people. When they catch a vision of the Kingdom of God their sights shift to the poor, the orphan, the widow, the refugee 'the wretched of the earth' and to God's future. They see the life and work of the church from the perspective of the Kingdom.

If the church has one great need it is this: to be set free for the Kingdom of God, to be liberated from itself as it has become in order to be itself as God intends.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 12:51 PM  
oops...didn't mean to make that anonymous..it was me, bro
commented by Anonymous e-dub, 12:52 PM  
I'm uncomfortable with your critique that these ads are going to be used as evangelism.

I don't think that they are intended to share the gospel. They are intented to be, as the website says, "a new way to raise awareness of the church." The sharing of the gospel comes when Presbyterians come in contact with others, the Spirit kicks into gear, and Christ is revealed in the midst of them.
commented by Anonymous landon, 4:48 PM  
What does an advertisement do? Surely it doesn't just "raise awareness" about a given product. It uses images and other dramatic elements (ie music) to create a narrative and create an appetite for a product. In this case, the product is the church; the question is, "what's the appetite?"
commented by Blogger Rocky, 5:11 PM  
I guess my question is "what's wrong with creating an appetite for the church?"

Do we not agree that good things happen in our church? Do we not want others to encouter the love of God in our church?

If we truly believe that the PC(USA) is a viable manifestation of Christ's church, and that grace is found within it, then why not shout that far and wide?

McLuhan is right, but only up to a point. I think that what's happeneing here is a setting up of a false dichotomy.

However, to your point in the next post - shame on those folks for putting so many white folk in their ads.

Damn, I hate rich white folk.
commented by Anonymous landon, 8:11 PM  
McLuhan is right. That is the point. What may be wrong with creating interest in the church is that, in media advertising, the church has to resort to the tools of entertainment to do it. All of these commercials aim, with their music and their images and their narration, to paint a drama. That is, they aim to entertain. It's what all advertising must do. My concern is that entertainment is misleading. Imagine the roofer's surprise should he go to a Presbyterian church and hear a sermon that challenges all of the things that he, a standard-issue midwestern American, believes in. The entertaining ad seems to promise that the church believes all the things he does. That creates interest and may get him in the door. But what then?
commented by Blogger Rocky, 4:24 AM  
And your concern about entertainment is one that I think is setting up the false dichotomy by implying that, somehow, Christianity uses differnt tools. I don't think it does. I think that what is being confused are the tools and the intent.

McLuhan is right, up to a point. Nothing is as monolithic as the use of his phrase is wanting to suggest. And it is at this point that I believe this use is wrong.

You and I are preachers. If we do not employ some measure of entertainment in our sermons, people check out. We know that the message we are selling is a tough pill to swallow so we try to remind folks of things they didn't know they had forgotten in order to buy this grace of God.

It seems that you're more worried about false advertising than the fact that advertising the church is wrong (or maybe I misunderstood and you do think so). On that point, I can sympathize, but I submit that churches and presbyteries will be judicious in their use of this advertising. I trust that the church that believes in all the things that the hispanic roofer believes in will be the one to use that ad.
commented by Anonymous landon, 6:51 AM  
One last point: the dichotomy between the tools and the intent is misplaced, because, whatever intent the user of the tools possesses, the tools have their own intent that may or may not be congruous with the intent of the user.

In other words, television advertising as a tool, a medium, has its own intent, its own agenda and bias to which it forces whoever would use it to submit. So you must be quick (60 seconds at most); you must use music; you must flood us with imagery; you may not say anything of substance ("When you're ready?").

I like this conversation, though.
commented by Blogger Rocky, 9:06 AM  
I like it, too. In fact, I like it so much I wish we were having this discussion over a pint, chomping on a cigar.

I very much see, and understand, your point. As I create various forms of (what I would call) art, I feel as if I need to confront the reality of the "form."

For instance, I'm trying my hand at writing a piece of fiction that has specifically Christian elements. Automatically, I rebel against what that means as far as the form of the thing. I do not - I repeat, do not - want to spend my precious time only to have my work be labeled as "Christian fiction" (this is assuming it will get to that point).

"Christian fiction" means that the author has certain perspectives on faith matters, perspectives that I don't share. Yet, the work I hope to produce may not be well recieved by the general populace due to its content. I'm stuck with a medium that has intentions other than mine.

However, the same does not hold true for me when it comes to my music. I would gladly call myself a "Christian musician" even though the same reality of perspectives applies.

What I can't get past in the use of McLuhan's aphorism is that there seems to be an assumption that the user of the "advertisement tool" is either not aware of the advertisement's intent, or is not capable of harnessing the advertisement's intent.

Again, I would submit that those that created the ads are both aware of, and have adequately harnessed, the advertisement's intent in a positive way. But that, too, seems to be the real divergence in our views, for your words convey to me that "When you're ready..." does not seem like an adequate message to be advertising.

Let me ask: What, in your mind, would be an appropriately Reformed and Presbyterian message to place in an ad campaign? Or what other method would you employ to further the section of the Mission Work Plan that instructs us to grow and diversify membership?
commented by Anonymous landon, 10:14 AM  
"What I can't get past in the use of McLuhan's aphorism is that there seems to be an assumption that the user of the "advertisement tool" is either not aware of the advertisement's intent, or is not capable of harnessing the advertisement's intent."

Nay, it's an assertion: "Environments [McLuhan calls media "environments"] are invisibe. Their ground rules, persuasive structure, and overall patterns elude easy perception."

I have less confidence in the producers of the ads than you do.

But to your very excellent question, "What's a better message," it can't be seperated from the question about medium. But you also asked about medium. If we must use T.V., can we use it in more of a journalistic sense, sort of "reporting" on what the church sees God doing in the world and inviting people (in 60 seconds or less) to join in it. Can we make the message primarily about God and secondarily about the church? I realize the UCC did this in their "God is still speaking" campaign, but those ads are all about the church too.

Let's get away from persuading people to, when they're ready, come to a presbyterian church and do more of pointing out that, whether you're ready or not, God's doing some cool stuff in our communities.

Did I just cop out there?
commented by Blogger Rocky, 10:37 AM  
Hell no, you didn't just cop out. I bow to your superior God given ad sensibilities!

How about this:

An Anderson Cooper-like reporter is standing near the muck in New Orleans "reporting" on a group of people that just showed up from Kentucky to help get people food, water, and some semblance of shelter. The tag at the end could say some akin to "You asked where God was. God is right here." And then the PC(USA) symbol flashes in the bottom corner of the screen.

I would however still argue with McLuhan. He made that assertion how many years ago? Consciouness continually evolves and people constantly become more aware.
commented by Anonymous landon, 11:39 AM  

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