Marketing the church as relevant is stupid

Two weekends ago our family decided not to go to church. We weren’t sick, tired, or any other commonly accepted “excuse” for not going to church. We just didn’t want to go.

We spent the day playing and napping, and I got to piddle around the garage for a while, working on some projects.


I started thinking, “Why would someone who doesn’t go to church want to go to church?” Why would anyone in his/her right mind give this up? A peaceful day-off is a real treasure! Why would anyone trade a day like I had for what a Sunday morning typically looks like: get up early, get the kids up early, get everyone ready to go, shove a bagel in your mouths as you’re running out the door…

And then I started thinking about people who don’t go to church. When we invite them to church we are asking them to give up their Sunday morning to come to what? Think about church, for a minute, from the perspective of someone who doesn’t typically go to church:

  • They have to run the gauntlet of too-often cheesy-greeters
  • They sit/stand surrounded by people singing songs and gesturing (raising hands, etc.) to a God they don’t know, and in some cases, aren’t even sure exists.
  • They listen to a preacher talk about things that, often, are unfamiliar to them and their life story.
  • They often have to figure out what to do when the preacher invites everyone up front for juice and crackers… but says, “If you don’t know Jesus, don’t do this.” OK, they can either lie or sit in their seats and be gawked at for the next ten minutes as everyone else “partakes.”
  • At the end of the “service” they’re asked to give money. Oh sure, some churches say, “If you’re our guest, please don’t give…” but come on, that still makes for an awkward situation!

So let me see, a refreshing day off where I can piddle around the garage and play with the kids, OR a potentially tension-filled morning filled with all kinds of unfamiliar, somewhat odd occurrences that I have to drag my family to. Which would you choose?

As I thought about all of this it occurred to me that inspiring people to give up their Sunday morning is not an easy thing to do. And I’m thinking that a lot of churches are doing it wrong!

Listen, most people aren’t walking around on a Sunday morning saying, “Gee, I wish I could find a relevant church.” But do you know how most churches are marketing themselves? Most churches are saying to the public, “Come join us… we’re relevant.” And the crazy thing is when you go to those churches… most of them are not!

Look guys, people are not looking for a relevant church. I’m not even sure that they are looking for a church!

Think about this, organizations/businesses that are relevant don’t market themselves as relevant, they just are:

  • Grocery stores don’t market themselves as relevant. They just are.
  • Gas stations don’t market themselves as relevant. They just are.
  • Mechanics don’t market themselves as relevant. They just are.

I’m finding that the louder a church screams “WE’RE RELEVANT” the less likely it is to be true!

We try so hard to be relevant that we’re making ourselves irrelevant.

People aren’t looking for stupid jokes, bad imitations of rock bands, pastors with cool hair, and blow-up-bouncy things in the kids ministry zone. In many cases they may not even be looking!

So how should we “market” ourselves?

First of all, quit talking about how relevant you are, because people aren’t walking around hoping for a relevant church.

Secondly, if we are going to be the church that God intends for us to be, we are going to need to know and do what God wants us to know and do. And it is possible to know exactly what God wants you to know and do! Psalm 25:14 says, “The Lord confides in those who fear Him.” I’m confident of this, when people begin to hear from God and live out those things that He’s calling them to, they become genuinely relevant… and they won’t have to tell everyone because it will be obvious!

Churches that are led by leaders and filled with people who are hearing and doing the will of God will be like a grocery store, you go because you can’t afford not to go!

So what are next steps? They are simple, but not easy:

  1. Clear up any personal garbage in your life (forgive those who have sinned against you; stop any personal sins you are engaged in, etc.). This is the first step in “fearing the Lord” and it will set you up to hear from Him!
  2. Engage in personal worship that is saturated with Scripture and dialogue with God
  3. When God confides in you, do what He says.
  4. Live aggressively for the cause of Christ. Take God-led risks and stop seeking balance in everything. Kingdom causes require full commitment… there’s no place for “balance!”

12 thoughts on “Marketing the church as relevant is stupid

  1. Excellent post Paul. I think that you hit it right on. Shemila and I recently went to the Billy Graham library and one thing really stuck out to me about the man. He didn’t try to defend Christianity. It wasn’t something that he tried to prove to people, he just told them the truth. He never sugar coated anything, he didn’t try to be something that he wasn’t, he didn’t even try to be relevant, he told the truth. People are waiting for someone to tell them wrong and right, because they don’t know. And they will listen, if we just don’t try so hard to impress them, or like you said, be relevant.

  2. “Ditto” on the Borden affirmations!

    Maybe we shouldn’t use a worship service as our “entry point” for unbelievers. Maybe to “give up” a Sunday brunch and putter in the garage is too high a price for most. Maybe we should offer to host them for brunch and then begin to table talk them in a “non-cheesy” manner. If God is important to us, then the topic of our relationship with Him will come up naturally! This is a take-off on Hybels concept of barbequing first.


  3. GREAT post Paul!

    It’s like a teacher saying, “School is cool!”

    Seriously, if it ever was cool, it ain’ t now!

    Church is relevant!

    Well….you get the idea.

    Great words!

  4. I loved the post, I can never forget where I came from.

    In the days when I was searching and lost ;
    if I came to a church that had it all together I became intimidated and felt irrelevent. When I came into a church where there were others like me ( not perfect in ………whatever) is when I could sit and listen to the Word, and God did the rest. Something happened and I was excited for Sunday to come.

    Holy Spirit we ask that you do a mighty work in Walls Down Church. Amen

    God put this on my heart- Luke 19:1-10

  5. Paul, I wonder if “making the church irrelevant” is just as stupid. [yes, I know, ‘stupid’ is a pretty harsh word] Allowing the church to be in its own little bubble and ineffective in ‘bridging’ to the world around it is an ignorant (not knowledgable of the truth) approach to living the relationship of Christianity.

  6. My church is way more relevant than yours will ever be…lol

    good post brother… miss service a few more times… get a secular job for a few months… then your world will really open up

  7. Personally, I’ve never understood why we put this huge emphasis on bringing unbelievers to a Sunday morning service….Jesus said to “GO and preach the Gospel” not “Drag all the heathens to church on Sunday morning.” If we did more “going and preaching” and more ppl came to faith OUTSIDE the four walls of a church building…then perhaps we’d have a more biblical model.

  8. Good Post, I know your talking about the church as an institution or building and I believe it’s impossible to make it relevant to everyone. We are all unique and in turn our relationship to God is unique, so there’s no way you can tap into everything that fuels each individuals spirituality.
    The challenge is to equip those who use the church (building) to go out and model God’s way to those in their families and communities. I know you feel like you have to market God to appeal to everyone. He’s already there embedded in everyone’s DNA, it’s up to the body of Christ to love others the way He loves us and allow God to draw His children to Him. Noone knows someone better than their parents (Father and Mother) Our commission is not to bring people to church but it’s to help lead them to Christ. He will take care of the rest

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