Selling Jesus: What's Wrong with Marketing the Church?

By Douglas D. Webster
Downers Grove : InterVarsity (1992). 165 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Richard Mayhue
4.2 (Fall 1993) : 240-241

Douglas Webster is the teaching pastor at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colorado. He, like most present-day pastors, has worked hard to understand and evaluate the current strong emphasis on a marketing approach to church-growth. The volume offers his conclusions about this American phenomenon designed to produce "user-friendly churches."

He asks the crucial question, "Are the strategies and tactics of church marketeers consistent with a spirit-led, Christ-centered approach to numerical growth and spiritual growth?" He deals with many promoters of this movement, including the writings of George Barna and Bill Hybels.

Chapters worth noting are those entitled "Marketing the Church," "The Traditional Church," "The Target Audience," and "Meeting Felt Needs." In these, he interacts with current market-driven philosophies and critiques them from a biblical perspective.

For instance, he comments (67) on the rich young ruler as the one character in Jesus' ministry that best captures the ethos of the baby boomer. But then he contrasts Jesus' response to the rich young ruler with the response of the market-sensitive church to a similar unchurched person of our day. Illustrative of another point made by Webster is the pastor who defines his target audience as people he would like to spend a vacation with. Webster comments,

I fear that the church has exalted personal preference over Christian mission and has confused discernment with discrimination. The proclamation of the gospel and the character of the household of faith challenge the baby boomer market profile (72).

Webster has written with an irenic spirit, with a good understanding of what the modern church growth movement is saying, and with the recognition of the positive elements of this movement insofar as they desire to share Christ with the lost. But he also instills a much needed mid-flight correction.

He concludes his volume (154-59) with twenty-four practical suggestions for the household of faith. In this reviewer's opinion, these suggestions alone are worth more than the price of the book. If the churches of America would take them seriously and implement them fully, the direction of the American church would change drastically for the better, which is also the biblical way.