Over the past several months I think we’ve seen an example of how—dare I say it?—marketing principles affect ministry. Over the years I have vacillated between embracing such principles and recoiling from them. I went through a period in the mid-1980s during which I was infatuated with the Church Growth Movement. I still have a rather extensive collection of books on that topic, although I will probably eventually get rid of them. If there was ever a time when “the magic of the marketplace” (as Ronald Reagan called it) had cast its spell over a large segment of the evangelical church, it was when C. Peter Wagner‘s books were selling well. I think many of us shook ourselves out of it when we noticed that Scripture was not only taking a back seat to Madison Avenue, but it was often being tossed out of the car altogether.
On the other hand, all that the folks on Madison Avenue actually do is study human behavior and apply what they learn to understanding and predicting (and, of course, attempting to manipulate) the spending choices of consumers. Much of that behavior is the direct result of the way God created us; much is also the result of rebellion against that same God, which we call sin. The failure to understand the difference, and the willingness to water down the message for the sake of the market (selling the sizzle instead of the steak, etc.), is what made the Church Growth Movement problematic for so many of us. And the failure to account for the fact that sin is also present in the marketers themselves didn’t help, either.
But do such misuses of marketing wisdom mean that its principles are totally irrelevant to the church? True, we are not to be “peddling the word of God” (καπηλεύοντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ; kapēleuontes ton logon tou theou) (2 Corinthians 2:17, NASB), and we should always rely on the power of the Spirit rather than “the magic of the marketplace.” But the fact remains that there are certain principles of communication and behavior that we can ill-afford to ignore when seeking to reach others with the message of Scripture. These are things that God built into us as His creatures; He expects us to honor them, and many of them have been discovered by marketers.
One of these principles—and I’ll first put it into my own words—is that we should never underestimate the power of the familiar. Translated into marketspeak this means, among other things, that one must respect the power of branding.
She apparently didn’t realize it, but Ingrid Schlueter, producer and co-host of the Crosstalk Radio Talk Show on the VCY America Radio Network, created a brand when she launched her “Slice of Laodicea” blog a couple of years ago. It doesn’t take long to build a cohesive following on the web, and before long a rather loyal brand community had grown up around “Slice of Laodicea” of which I was a part. I wasn’t always in total agreement with each and every blog post, but generally speaking the web site did an excellent job of articulating many of the misgivings I and others had regarding the direction of the contemporary evangelicals church. For a long time rarely a week went by when I did not drop in on it to see what was going on.
So you can imagine my shock when earlier this year I surfed to sliceoflaodicea.com and found it—gone! It was a disorienting experience. Surely some DNS server problem must have been to blame! A glitch in the system! But no, after some hunting around on Google my worst fears were confirmed: “Slice of Laodicea” had been shut down.
Was it my fault? Was it something I had done? Okay, I admit that the early part of 2007 had been quite hectic for me. I hadn’t visited the blog as much as I should have. (In fact, and I’m ashamed to say this, but I neglected it for a couple of months.) But did it have to come to this?
Fortunately, this didn’t mean that Ingrid Schlueter had stopped blogging. There was now a new site called Christian Research Net where I could find posts by her and others. But it wasn’t the same. As good as it was (and still is), the new blog didn’t have the same bite, the same attitude, the same dose of caffeine (and you know I need my caffeine), as “Slice of Laodicea.”
Well, web sites come and go, and I supposed I just had to resign myself to the fact that this one was gone. But something happened. I don’t know what, and I guess it doesn’t matter.
Just yesterday I discovered that “Slice of Laodicea” is back! Yes, boys and girls, and with a new and improved logo that captures the essence of the site’s mission. I felt as though I had found my lost puppy when I read Schlueter’s explanation on her new “About Slice” page: “Due to popular request and the ongoing need for additional voices to address unbiblical practices in our churches today, Slice of Laodicea is back.”
Thank you, Ingrid!