when free market capitalism gets it right (theologically speaking)

Easter stuff — chocolate eggs, hot cross buns, and other paraphernalia — seems to creep into supermarkets earlier and earlier every year. Either that or people seem to notice it earlier and earlier (perhaps trained by The Gruen Transfer to be more alert to the operation of market forces).

And while mainstream news media isn’t shy about commenting on this, it’s Christians who often kick up the biggest stink.

But this is ironic. Since the closer the Easter campaign launch gets to Christmas, the closer it gets to all those sermons and conversations we’ve been having about ‘the real meaning of Christmas’ and how you don’t understand the baby Jesus without looking at the whole course of his life — and especially at his cross and resurrection.

So the very thing we want to insist on theologically — that Christmas and Easter belong together — is the thing that free market forces are making happen. Concretely. On a supermarket shelf near you.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what Adam Smith meant by the ‘invisible hand’ of the market. But it’s a great opportunity in my book!

Social Design for mission and ministry (series intro)

I want to open up a conversation about what the Social Design guidelines from Facebook Developers can teach us about Christian mission and ministry.

According to the byline, “Social Design is a way of thinking about product design that puts social experiences at the core”. (As such, it’s a version of the kind of ‘human-centered design’ you can watch David Kelley discuss at a TED conference from 2005.)

The question I would like us to explore is thus, What would it look like to put social experiences at the core of our approach to Christian mission and ministry?

I propose we organise our discussion under the following headings:

  1. Working from the outside in.
  2. Utilising community.
  3. Building meaningful conversations.
  4. Recognising the importance of identity.

Before I launch into it, it’s probably worth mopping up a couple of potential misconceptions about where we’re heading.

First up, I don’t really want to talk about how to harness a social media platform like Facebook for the purposes of mission and ministry — or whether we should.

This issues strike me as pretty overdone. Not to mention perpetually deadlocked between the nay-sayers (‘Social networking is the end of relationships as we know them!’) and the cheerleaders (‘It changes everything!’). I’ve commented on this before.

I’m much more interested in how the thinking embodied in Facebook’s Social Design guidelines can sharpen what we do — and maybe even untangle some knotty problems (like the whole Believing vs Belonging thing).

Second, I don’t want us to treat the source material as anything more or less than ‘codified common sense’.

I envisage culling wisdom from the cultural stockpile of observation and experience. Just as the biblical wisdom writers often seem to have done with non-biblical sources.

My sense is that paying attention to Facebook’s Social Design guidelines can alert us to aspects of our God-given ‘sociality’ so we can resist the drift Andrew Cameron identifies (Joined-up Life, pages 56-57):

Oddly … this constant element of our lives usually drifts into unawareness. We imagine ourselves to be ruggedly individual, choosing and planning our destinies as if we’re not materially and mentally dependent on those who surround us.

In short, I want our discussion to help us remember our creatureliness and factor it in to our approach to mission and ministry.

That’s where we’re heading. Onward!

how to write a better-than-average media release

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the last few months brushing up on my copy writing and ‘content marketing’ technique. And I’m loving Copyblogger more and more.

They’ve just published ‘The 6 Essential Steps to Writing a Killer Press Release’. And it’s brilliant!

Writing media releases is something people involved in Christian mission and church leadership sometimes need to do. Which means it’s definitely worth paying attention to.

To whet your appetite here are the subheadings:

  1. Craft a hook
  2. Add a great headline
  3. Avoid jargon
  4. Provide resources
  5. Proofread
  6. Share your news

Better still, now that Copyblogger have gone on the record, I don’t have to rely soley on this excellent article from St Eutychus.

I’m no longer locked into plagiarising. Now I can call it research!

how not to market the gospel (Christian marketing 101)

Earlier this year, Natalie and I went to an academic conference where the topic of Christianity and marketing reared its head in a discussion following one of the plenaries.

It was fascinating to watch a room full of academics cover each of the common themes of what is by now a pretty well-worn debate. It was almost as if they were working through a checklist:

  • First, express gut level discomfort at pairing something as ‘worldly’ as marketing with faith — reflecting a distaste for the underhanded tactics marketers seem to have perfected.
  • Then, consider the (predictable) counterclaim that marketing cannot be definitively and formally distinguished from communication — just as manipulation cannot be definitively and formally distinguished from persuasion.
  • Finally, arrive at an uneasy settlement in which the inevitability of marketing is acknowledged but placed side-by-side with a thoroughgoing revulsion at the dynamics of our modern consumer society, which not only sustain but reward current marketing practices.

Inconclusive arguments along precisely these lines have cropped up from time to time in most Christian circles I’ve been involved with.

And, fascinatingly, they appear to be ‘indigenous’ to marketing itself — as this post on How to Stop Marketing (And What to Do Instead) over at CopyBlogger attests.

The advice given there about how not to market yourself or your product (or service) is textbook marketing strategy:

If marketing makes you throw up in your mouth a little, quit doing it.

Instead, just let your potential customers know who you are.

Let them know how your thing will make their lives better.

And tell them, very clearly and specifically, what to do next.

What I guess we struggle with as Christians is how to take the second step without betraying the message we proclaim.

It all comes back to that vital distinction between the gospel and its implications — or its benefits. The gospel is chiefly about Jesus (and what God’s done in and through him). And its implications and benefits are the things that then flow on to us.

Our temptation is to overemphasise its implications and benefit for us.

Understandably, we want to talk about how God’s grace in Jesus meets our needs and enriches our lives.

But this easily becomes the de facto centre of gravity around which all our speech about Jesus orbits. And we risk not letting the gospel itself show us what our deepest need is and what will enrich our lives.

At the other extreme, though, we need to remember that Jesus doesn’t only shows us we’re more needy than we imagined. He actually meets our deepest need.

And he doesn’t obliterate our desires and dreams. Instead, he fulfils them — albeit with some necessary remodelling along the way…

Christian marketing doesn’t have to be an oxymoron

Lots of Christians have a reflexive distrust of marketing.

And I guess I can understand why.

Marketing can often feel downright manipulative. Such as when it tries to manufacture a sense of dissatisfaction — e.g., by playing on the profound insecurities of its target demographic — and then offers a product or service as the solution to this ‘problem’.

But I’m not sure it’s always so cut and dried.

It frequently seems like you can’t really help but ‘market’ yourself. People start forming an impression of your church or ministry are as soon as word gets out about you — whether you’re putting the word out or it’s getting out some other way.

So if it’s happening anyway, then surely the issue is going to be how you’re doing it. And whether you’re marketing yourself in a distinctively Christian way (rather than being sucked in to the perverse dynamics of the industry.)

I found what I think is a great example of this in a comment on this post over at Church Marketing Sucks:

We went around our local area and took pictures of local landmarks that people would recognize that represented who & what [the town was]. Monochromed a lot of the images and then brought out others that we wanted to highlight, including a picture of me and my wife on a billboard. It worked better than we could have imagined and it said, “We are part of this community.”

What a great idea!

Of course, it’d need to be true. You would actually need to be part of your community — engaged and faithfully present in it. But what a brilliant way to show it if you are!

That’s a least one way in which you can market yourself in an authentically Christian way. Any others you’ve seen or can think of?