I know I have become accustomed to and maybe even guilty of ‘selling the gospel’ at times. I remember complaining once about a summer sales job to a pastor(yes, I was telemarketer for a summer at MCI and yes you probably hung up on me). He told me it was good evangelistic training – the assumption being that we have to sell the gospel, convince people to buy into it. Well’s points out several problems with this marketing/salesmanship approach.
First, when you sell a product, you sell some good or service the consumer will use. Not so with the gospel. We don’t use it, we submit to it, or more accurately, the gospel calls us to submit to God through Jesus. The gospel is not for our use, instead it fits us for service to God. Wells, “There is a world of difference between the Lord of Glory, the incarnate second person of the Godhead, and a Lexus, a vacation home, or a trip to the Bahamas. The marketing analogy blurs this, reducing Christ to a product we buy to satisfy our needs.”
Second, sales pitches allow the consumer to identify what they need. Oh the salesman may try to convince the consumer they need what he has, but ultimately the consumer decides. But God identifies our needs for us more accurately than we ever could/would ourselves. He tells us what we need and what we need is not something we would naturally seek for ourselves. He writes, “the product we will seek naturally will not be the gospel. It will be a therapy of some kind, a technique for life, perhaps a way of connecting more deeply with our spiritual selves on our own terms, terms that require no repentance and no redemption. It will not be the gospel. The gospel cannot be a product the church sells because there are no consumers for it. When we find consumers, we will find that they are interested in buying, on their own terms, is not the gospel.”
Well’s concludes, rightly from what I’ve seen in marketing type churches, that what is sold is not the gospel at all, not belief, but the benefits of belief without the content or ‘bite’ of belief. This certainly cannot be good for the health of the church, and the consequences of such a strategy can be seen even in polling data, though I doubt any of us need Barna to tell us what a sad state the evangelical church is in currently.