The other day, the supervisor of the Raleigh District of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church posted a link on Facebook touting a church marketing plan from the United Methodist Church.  Is it wrong that every time I say “church marketing”, I throw up in my mouth just a little bit?  According to the site, church marketing (gag) “is the process of the church identifying and meeting or contributing to the spiritual, community (sense of belonging) and service needs of its neighbors and surrounding neighborhood.”  I can see it now, more committees that do nothing, more meetings that go nowhere and more ministries that don’t minister to anyone.  This is nothing but more goddamned navel-gazing to avoid the real task at hand: going out into the community and doing kingdom work.  And, if you didn’t pick it up from that last sentence,  I’m sick of it.

The definition in the first paragraph talks about “the process of the church identifying and meeting or contributing” to the needs of our neighbors.  Then, they have you filling out reports and doing “homework”.  Hell, you’re over halfway through the process before the community is even considered.  When they are, it’s through surveys and meetings.  The meetings sound a little like the town hall forum politicians are so fond of, but with a difference: the town isn’t invited.  No, according to the plan, you should invite the chamber of commerce, other churches, business and government leaders.  Then, at the bottom of the list, they have non-profit and social service agencies, arts programs, medical clinics and social organizations.  What’s missing, though, are the people who actually need the help, although, they do list groups and organizations that are least familiar with the issues.  The survey plan is no better.  Look at these options they give on how to conduct it:

  1. You to  set up in public places and offer a prize or gift certificate for filling out the survey
  2. Send out blanket emails, mass mailings or (I love this one) to use door hangers with a simple survey to be filled out and returned.
  3. Go hang out in various places in the community and “be intentional about asking questions to a few people around you. ‘Hey, my friend is looking for a church and mentioned XYZ church.  Do you know anything about it?”  That bit in quotation marks is a direct quote from the website.  Am I the only one who sees anything wrong with it?  I think it’s duplicitous, manipulative and sneaky.  Basically, this is a church telling it’s members to lie people.  Which is, I suppose, to be expected when we start trying to run the church like a business. 

This thing is supposed to help you figure out how to best use your churches resources and specific gifts to serve the community and that’s a good thing, one don’t have a problem with at all.  For me, the problems lie other places.  Such as, you aren’t going to figure a damn thing the community needs until you go out and ask them.  Filling out demographic reports, coming up with mission and vision statements and setting up new member focus groups will only get in the way of that.  What’s needed is for the church to get up off its ass, go out into those shitty, sketchy neighborhoods and ask those poor, scary brown/black/white people who make us incredibly uncomfortable what we can do to make their life better.  Then, we need to do it.  And, I can almost guarantee you that the surveys and meetings are going to be done in places where the people conducting them feel safe.  In other words, they’ll be in nice neighborhoods, at nice shopping centers and various other nice places.  And, they won’t be reaching the people we need to hear from.  But, they will be reaching the people we want to hear from; those just like us.  And, hey, it doesn’t hurt that they have some spare cash to toss in the plate on Sunday. 

I don’t think this is really about serving the community at all; it’s about membership.  Like most mainstream churches, membership in the UMC is on the decline, which means less money in the plate.  And, goodness knows we can’t have that.  Unfortunately, membership drives are, like fund-raising events, church clean up days, something people avoid like the plague.  So, instead of calling this turd what it really is they try to polish and make it pretty by cloaking it in evangelism and outreach.  But, guess what?  No matter how hard you rub or how much polish you use, at the end of the day, it’s still a turd.  And, it stinks.