SELL IT LIKE IT IS
By: Russ Reid
I remember years ago when I was asked to speak at a special gathering of pastors, the man responsible to introduce me was very uncomfortable. He finally, blurted out, “Mr. Reid, is there any other way I could
introduce you besides president of an advertising agency?” I smiled and told him “No, that is what I am.”
As I “reflected on that after the meeting, I think I understood some of the reservations he had about an ad agency in its normal context. There’s a lot about Madison Avenue that isn’t really very good. You know, we’re told that if you want to get over boredom you buy a Mustang, if you want to have a good time you drink Budweiser, and if your day is tumbling in the best solution is to watch the Mike Douglas show. The
thing advertising agencies have done here is really very strategic. They’ve spent millions of dollars in research identifying human needs, but they’re offering bromides for those human needs instead of real
solutions. The tragic thing is that we in the church stand by and say isn’t it terrible the bad solutions they offer to man’s real problems. Yet for the most “part we have failed to understand how to communicate
to these same troubled people so we can offer them the answer in terms that really do provide solutions.
There are three basic areas I’d like to talk about in terms of communication and the growth of your church. One is public relations, the second is publicity, the third is advertising. There is a certain amount of overlap between these terms, but for our purposes I’d like to keep them separate.
The definition I use for public relations is: the art of creating an environment where your message will be heard under favorable conditions. What is good public relations? Let’s start there. You know one of the
great myths of the PR business is that a PR practitioner can walk into a situation, wave a magic wand and it really doesn’t matter what is going on, he can make it look good. Well, unfortunately, or perhaps
fortunately, that is not the case. The first thing that has to happen in your church, in creating an environment for your message to be heard, is that something must be going on that’s worthwhile. I can’t emphasize this enough. You can’t build a program on puff if God isn’t working in your church and lives aren’t being changed.
I remember, years ago, an evangelist of some note came to me. He began painting a scenario of how he saw himself becoming the emerging Billing Graham. The thing he needed was a man like me to put him across! He created absolutely the greatest scenario you eve could hope to see. He’d gotten a post office box with all the same numbers in it, so it would be easy to remember when he announced it over television or radio. And he went right down the line. In fact, he rewrote Billy Graham’s story to sound like all the things that happened to Billy Graham were the result of some public relations’ man’s ideas. After he finished I said, “I
really think you’ve misunderstood how God works. I think if you go back to the Old Testament you’ll find that Moses was confronted with the burning bush. I think you’ll find that Elisha was confronted with the
fire. I think you’ll find that the Apostle Paul was confronted on the road to Damascus with what was called a conversion experience. And, I think if you read church history you’ll find that men God used had a
special anointing, a special awakening, it’s called by all kinds of theological terms. But one thing it means for sure is that their lives were touched by God.” And I said, “When evidence of that happens so that
something in the world I can do for you.” We haven’t been very good friends since that day.
A good example of successful public relations from the secular world is two automobiles we all are aware of. One is called the Mustang. When the Mustang was introduced in the mid-60’s, there was hardly a magazine that did not have a spread on the car. Everybody was talking about the Mustang. The public got to drive it and validated what the PR people were saying. It became the hottest car of the year.
Have you heard of the Edsel? Same amount of money spent; but the car didn’t live up to the PR man’s story. And it failed. Maybe Abraham Lincoln was right about how many times you can fool the people. We need to get the myth out of they way that you can somehow, with a public relations program, build your church. That’s puff and it won’t work. It may work for a time, but it will not ultimately build your church. The most important thing you can do is make sure your people are involved in the life of the community and are witnessing and sharing their lives in a way that makes people pay attention to what’s going on.
Public relations is creating an environment so your message can be accepted in a favorable environment. Publicity, then, is taking, say, an event and promoting it in such a way that people attend. It can be an
evangelistic service, a Sunday night service, it can be a prayer group, a Sunday School picnic–it doesn’t really matter what it is. But publicity is taking what is going on in your church and giving it public exposure.
Now the first thing you have to do in publicizing something about your church to the community is to publicize what is going on in your church to your own people. You need to create a sense of God at work in your own people–before you worry about talking to the community.
A couple of years ago, I was asked if I would be the stewardship director for our church. Now, I don’t usually like doing things like that because I do it all week at work. But I said “yes.”
One of the first things I decided to do was to interview the staff members of the church. It is a large church, 3000 members, and there are 13 full-time staff. I took my lunch hours every day and interviewed each
one. I asked them to tell me what was going on in the church. It was an exciting experience. I discovered it was impossible for one person to know what’s going on in the church by just going to Sunday morning
service. Through these lunches I became a repository for the exciting information of how God was at work in our church. My job, then, was to communicate God’s exciting work to the congregation.
I have a suspicion that when people are asked to give to a church program, they don’t give to budgets. They want to see where something is happening in the life of the church; where a man was blind and now he
see. They give to people. Budgets don’t translate that. But that’s the way our church had been doing it for years. The elders had to go out on Stewardship Sunday with those cards and visit every home and say, “What are you going to do this year?”
So this time we had a banquet, which I suggested the church pay for. We took all the information I had gathered and translated it into a little tabloid. All it said was, “God at work in the church.” I gave story
after story of what was happening, in marriage counseling, in children’s work, in the Day Care Center, in everything that was going on. And then we translated that into an audio-visual presentation. At the banquet we showed it and then took our pledges. Giving went up 35%, because we highlighted God at work in the church. That audio-visual presentation has been retained and is shown now to all new members that come into out church, so they get up to speed on everything that’s going on. I think the pastor would say that turned the corner in our church in terms of excitement and enthusiasm for what God was doing.
So before you start any external publicity program, make sure your own people are aware of what’s going on and they’re turned on by it. Then they will become your best advertisement to help your church grow. After that you have a responsibility to take your story to your community.
There are a number of things we know about local media that can be helpful in church growth. Now, no newspaper is going to publish your church’s attendance for the last week. And they probably aren’t too
interested in who was converted lately. Those aren’t stories that have mass appeal to their readers. You have to figure out what it is the editor wants.
Do you realize if you were to pick up the Los Angeles Times, take a red pen and underline everything that was submitted by somebody like me, 80% of the paper would be underlined? Only hard news and editorials are generated internally. And even editorials many times come from public relations people. We’re their bread and butter, and so are you. Every editor is looking for good stories. Somebody that will have the
imagination to take something going on and write it up in a way that will be interesting to the community. Ask yourself, “What do we have going on in our church that relates to the community” Do you have a Day
Care Center? Do you have a remedial reading program? Do you have a counseling center? Do you have a summer recreational program? Those are programs that tie in to where the community is. It gives you an
opportunity to reach people where they are and get them involved in programs where you introduce them to the Savior.
Obviously it is a lot easier to get coverage in the Pasadena Star-News than it is in the Los Angeles Times. But don’t bug the people in the media with trivia. If you only can go down there once a year with a
great story, do it once a year. But don’t be afraid -they don’t have time for you , because the editor is looking for good human interest stories and he’ll be open to your suggestions. Build a line of communication with him.
What about advertising? I once took the Los Angeles Times, the Herald Examiner, the San Gabriel News and the Pasadena Star-News and tore out the church pages. I read all the marvelous sermon topics I was invited to go hear. Something like this: “We Hold These Truths,” Dr. Jones speaking; “Searching Hearts and Marching Stars,” “From Dust to Flesh,” “The Light is One,” “Interesting Fundamental Bible Teaching”–that’ll get `em every time; “Start the Year With Love and Sound Doctrine,” Now those were all from congregations that I would consider evangelical, concerned with making a difference in the lives of people in their community.
Now as an advertising man, I have to ask a couple of questions. Who is the target? Who are they trying to reach with headlines like that? Well, you might say they are trying to get people going to one church to go to another church. That’s what we call switching brands in advertising business. We’re spending 20 million dollars a year in that kind of newspaper advertising to get people to switch from going to the Presbyterian Church to the Methodist Church. I don’t think it works. I actually don’t think anybody reads the church page. If I were a pastor I wouldn’t spend a dime on that page. At least I wouldn’t do it with the kind of advertising that is currently being used.
When I was growing up, Bob Hope used to be sponsored by Pepsodent. Do you remember the slogan–“You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.” What a promise! What it was really, saying was if you use Pepsodent toothpaste, your teeth will be white.
They had to build Pepsodent factories all over America because of that ad campaign. The promise was so clear and it was so easy to understand. And I guess it was a true promise because if you used Pepsodent your teeth were white.
What is the promise of the Gospel? Have you ever asked that question? I struggle with it a lot. My theory is that the promise of the Gospel cannot be understood in propositional terms. It can only be understood
in relational terms. You see, when I say “Christ is the answer,” I really don’t have to own that. I can say it, but it doesn’t say anything about what Christ has done for me. And it doesn’t really tell you how he’s the answer, because if you are intelligent at all, you’ll say, “Well, what are the questions?” But how many posters have you seen, “Christ is the Answer” or “At the End of the World You’ll Meet God.” Propositional. Nobody owns it. The only way you can communicate what Jesus Christ an do in a man’s life is by saying, “Once I was blind, now I see.” Now there is something that happened to me, and others can identify with that.
You may think from the way I’m talking that I don’t believe doctrine is important. It is. We must understand what we believe. But when we’re communicating with people who are not a part of the inside group, we need to change our language so they understand what we are talking about. The church page is filled with “in” language that nobody in the world would understand unless they’d been in church since they were toddlers. I don’t really think that is what we are trying to do the church pages…spend 20 million dollars a year talking to ourselves.
What about a church ad that had a picture of a beautiful woman. The headline said, “When Two Out of Three Are Not Enough” and there were three boxes underneath that said, “Beautiful,” “Rich,” and “Happy.” But only “Beautiful” and “Rich” were checked. “Happy” was empty. And the body copy went on to say that there are a lot of people who have wealth but life is still empty. There are a lot of people with beautiful faces
who are unhappy. Where does happiness come from?
Now you have to watch out you don’t trip up here and say if you become a Christian all of a sudden you will be happy, because that isn’t true either. I’ll never forget the statement of a preacher I heard in college. He was the pastor of the First Covenant Church in Seattle, Washington. He said, “Jesus Christ did not come to make life easy, but He did come to make you strong.” That is the promise of the Gospel. I don’t know about your experience as a Christian but I sure have had my share of trouble. I’ve had all the problems that I want to have for the rest of my life. But I can tell you, that in the middle of the storm I’ve had a resource, as a Christian, that helped me overcome these problems and work my way through them, and because of it I am a better person. That’s the only promise you can make. If you make any other kind of promise, you’re being dishonest. You’re being a vacuum cleaner salesman. And I don’t think that’s what you want to be.
In closing, let me give you a model of what I think would be a good media program for your church. Let me give you just a little bit of marketing background to understand what I’m going to say. If I were a
manufacturer of soap and I wanted to introduce a new product, I could hire boys in high school to deliver a package of soap to every house in the community. Or I could put a coupon in the local paper that said,
“Ten cents off on this bar of soap at Ralphs.” Now if you know anything about economics, wouldn’t use the first for two reasons: one, you can’t afford to give away that much soap to people who haven’t asked for it. But there is another important reason. The only people you want to give this soap to are people who are asking for it. Those are the only ones, at this particular point in time, who sense a need for a new brand of
soap. You are wasting your money by giving it to people who haven’t said they want it.
Now what kind of evangelism do many people use in the church today? They give a bar of “soap” to everybody they see, whether they want it or not. We mobilize door-to-door evangelism, we go into communities passing out tracts, ringing door bells. We bother people who don’t want to be bothered. And if you’re a pastor and you’ve tried to motivate a group of people to keep that up for very long you know you have a dropout problem that is unbelievable. There just aren’t many people who can emotionally take “no” ten times out of every eleven they knock on the door.
Now, how does that apply to evangelism in your community like Arcadia, California. It’s a bedroom community for Los Angeles. It doesn’t have any industry, and most of the people who live there work somewhere else. It’s an upper income community where if you tried knocking at all the doors you’d get in more trouble than you ever bargained for. But in the city of Arcadia, at any given time, there are people who are hurting like crazy. They are going through divorces, they’ve got problems with their kids, they’ve got job insecurities, they’re worrying about their “Golden Years” when they won’t have anything to do. All the pains and hurts of society are in Arcadia, California. And you have a church there.
Well, this is what I would do. I would write a personal letter to everybody in the city of Arcadia. I’d make it a computer letter. Now all that means is that you’re able to use personal information on a mass basis and say, “Dear Mr. Johnson, I’m glad I can come into your home today and talk to you about a very personal matter. You may not know me. I’m the pastor of the Arcadia Presbyterian Church. We don’t think we’ve got all the answers where we are, but we do know that we’re struggling together to try and find emotional maturity, to try to put our lives together, to try to understand our families, and basically try to figure out how to live in the cockeyed world we’re involved in today. Maybe you don’t have any problems. Maybe you’ve got your act together and you don’t need any help. If that is so, man that’s great! But in my experience as a pastor, I’ve found a lot of people really need somebody to help them. They need a community, they need people for support. If you are in that category I want you to know that we’re going
to have a ‘Festival of Life’ in our church. It’s going to start on Sunday and go through Wednesday night. In the enclosed brochure there is a description of the kinds of subjects we’re going to talk about. If you would like to register,just enclose $2.00 and we’ll be glad to have you be a part of our ‘Festival of Life.'”
Now, I would have begun looking for good people to lead a seminar on such things as marriage, how to handle divorce, teen-age problems, growing old, changing careers, I’d want to have one on “Is the Bible
True?,” one on prayer, one on “What Does It Mean to be a Christian?” And I’d book all those seminars. I would choose a Bruce Larson or a Charlie Shedd or somebody like that, who understands how to talk to secular people. I’d have a men’s prayer breakfast. And I’d use that as an opportunity to get my men motivated for what was going to happen in the coming weeks; to get their friends to come. I’d have a women’s luncheon and I’d meet with the young people. Everyone in the church would be informed and involved. Remember we’ve got this computer letter out in that whole community-everybody is aware of our “Festival of Life.” We want to make sure we take advantage of it. I’d have the guest speakers there on Sunday morning and we would start our seminars Sunday night, so that Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings the seminars would be conducted simultaneously.
So your neighbors come and they’ve registered and they’re in these hour-long seminars. Each seminar leader has the responsibility to deliver a seminar and sell them on coming back the next night. After that we all meet together and our featured speaker ties it together with a relational kind of message about what Jesus Christ can really mean in a person’s life. That starts on Sunday and goes through Wednesday. Then I
make sure that I have continuing seminars going next Sunday morning so we can register these people from that big mass of Arcadia in the “Festival of Life.” I’d bring them into the seminars on Sunday morning
and ultimately many people confess Christ as Saviour and Lord and become members of the church.
Now, I don’t know what kind of evangelism programs you have in your church, but when I was growing up we used to spend a lot of money brining a preacher in for a revival. I’m sure there was a time when that
was a very, very fine way to conduct evangelistic outreach. My judgment today is that it’s not; because the competition is more than you can handle. So you have to find innovative ways to do it. And it comes back
to this whole problem of identifying where people are and then speaking to those needs. The ad agencies are spending millions finding out where the problem is. Their products aren’t the solution. The Gospel,
interpreted in the context of the 20th century, is the answer, but it takes a lot of hard work to put it in language a secular person can understand.
(The above material was published by the Pasadena Advanced Growth Seminar for Professionals.)
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