Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zealous Marketing

SCRIPTURE: Ps 69:7-9
Written by: Conrade Yap
"for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me." (Ps 69:7-9)
MAIN POINT: We may not share the same materialistic focus of marketers, but we can surely learn from the zeal they display, the creativity they possess, the passion they manifest, and the belief they have, in what they are selling or promoting. Why can't Christians have the same passion in the gospel?

Some of the most passionate people in the world are marketers. Driven by the need to distinguish themselves from others, businesses out-think, out-talk, and out-perform one another in order to stay ahead of the pack. The result is a bewildering spectrum of clever marketing techniques and programs that can attract most customers. It makes me wonder how society can continue to thrive every year by hawking the same stuff relentlessly.

Last Thursday, millions of Americans around the world celebrated Thanksgiving, the biggest day of the year for American families. It is a day where families come together over a big meal, served with lots of good food plus the irresistible turkey. When I visited the Regent College library that evening, I noticed that the library seem more empty than usual. Folks from America had gone home. Even Canadians, who celebrated their Thanksgiving in the beginning of November were not to be left out. Some even drove down South, rented a hotel room, and queued up all night for the next big thing: Black Friday.

It made me wonder: If the gospel is life-giving, shouldn't there be more people queueing up all night to enter the worship hall?

A) Black-Eye Friday Sales

Black Friday is the day where many big retailers throughout the country offer their premium goods at below factory outlet prices. It is also a day where shoppers throng the stores, happy to snap up really hot deals. Even the venerable Apple retail stores that rarely budge on their product prices, offered attractive discounts to entice the Black Friday shopper. Unfortunately, the wonderful side of Thanksgiving on Thursday disappeared literally overnight by Friday. Happy shoppers became impatient as latecomers tried to cut into the long lines. The huge crowds created problems for security. While the mood at many places were generally upbeat, some turned nasty. At one Walmart in LA, an angry woman pepper-sprayed several shoppers in order to get ahead of the pack. It is common to see people shoving one another in order to grab boxes of toys, electronics, clothes, and anything they could lay their hands on. It is a crazy zoo. All it takes is a price drop, and consumers flock in by the hundreds.

B) Cyber-Monday Online Sale

Then, there is Cyber Monday, the first Monday after black Friday. In order to spread the Black Friday spirit of consumer excitement, many retailers introduce the idea of special deals in cyberspace. Cyber-Monday can be seen as a Black-Friday kind of sales with a difference: It is only available online. From Amazon to BestBuy, Sears to Target, retailers pack it in. There is even a newspaper article that warns office workers about the ethics of buying stuff during office hours. From the looks of the frenzied buying and crazed shopping activities, it is hard to tell that there is any recession at all!

All it takes is a prized discount, and online orders gushes in.

C) Christmas Sales

After the mad rush, shops are back to the Christmas sales track. Through the radio, the Internet, and social media networks, retailers promote sales in many creative ways. Through Twitter, Facebook, and modern technology sites like Groupon, retailers continue to entice the consumer to buy, buy, and buy. Living in the West basically means having to wrestle with all these materialistic and consumeristic messages. Turn on the TV or radio and there will be commercials. Open the newspapers and there will be special offers at every other page. Open up websites and there will be enticing displays of special deals available just for you. Even Youtube videos contain a rectangular window that promotes certain products and services.

There was a time where one can avoid spending simply by not going to the mall or the shop. Nowadays, it is the shops coming to us that seduces us to buy more stuff, even stuff we do not really need now. With consumers constantly on a lookout for bargains, all it takes is a special sales promotion, and the sales will rise.

D) Amazing Zeal

Do not misunderstand me. I am not promoting marketing in the church. We have all heard about the dangers of materialism, and the problems of consumerism. I am simply marveling at the creativity and the non-stop zeal these retailers and businesses continue to offer. Every deal challenges another to offer something different and better. Many price match. They give a straight discount if you are able to show them a better price. On top of that, they employ clever marketing techniques to differentiate themselves from others. I call these 'Amazing Zeal.'

If the retail industry can be so passionate and zealous about their products and services, why can't Christians be equally (or more) passionate and zealous about sharing Christ? This thought has been occupying my mind for the past few days. I think about the way retailers offer their best products at best prices. I wonder why the church is not offering their best behaviour and Christlike attitude to demonstrate the attractiveness of Jesus? I think about the brilliant strategies and tactics adopted by the marketers to try to get shoppers into their stores. I wonder what are churches doing to try to bring people closer to Christ? I think about the online presence of many retailers on the Internet. I wonder why are there so few churches engaging people on the new social media network.

E) Governments Cannot Limit Creativity

I admit. In many churches, members' zeal for Christ, pale in comparison to many retailers' zeal to sell their products and services.  Sad but true. We can hide behind the excuse that this is a 'secular' society. The problem is not the restriction in sharing Christ. The problem is the lack of creativity among Christians to exercise their freedom of speech and practice of religion. Sharing Christ cannot be determined by the do's and don'ts of any government.
  • What is there to prevent Christians from showing acts of mercy, like Christ?
  • What is there to prevent Christians from exhibiting patience, like Christ?
  • What is there to stop Christians from giving generously to the needy, like Christ?
  • What is there to stop Christians from proclaiming the good news, meaningfully, like Christ?
The answer is none. What we need is not the regulation or de-regulation of any evangelistic efforts. What we need is the creativity to share the mission of Christ through good works and gracious words. Expand our range of good works. Enhance our speech with good meaningful words that help. Most crucially, when our convictions in Christ grow, we will demonstrate the creativity and marketing genius that retailers commonly have. They sell their products for a financial gain. We share the good news for spiritual profit. They sell their goods to make ends meet. We share the good news to meet needs. They hawk their services to gain market share. We speak of Christ to let God share His Kingdom.

Lee Strobel tells a story of his encounter with an atheist. It begins when the atheist states up front that he believes the bible is 'fable.' Strobel probes and asks if he has a question. The atheist then raises his voice and states another phrase that discredits the Bible. Due to his aggressive manner, Strobel starts to match the atheist tone for tone, argument for argument. At one point, it appears as if these two men are about to come to blows. After nearly half an hour, the atheist smiles and says to Strobel:

"Thanks for being willing to argue with me. I really appreciate that you stood up for what you believe."

There are many non-Christians who are really open to knowing Christ. The problem is often not the message of Christ. It is the messenger. When the messengers of Christ shun away from debate, it is like waving a white flag even before the battle begins. When the messengers of Christ are weak in their beliefs, non-Christians see no reason to believe in a 'weak religion.' When the messengers of Christ lack zeal, non-Christians will not be attracted at all. They may even think that if they become a Christian and be afraid to share about Christ, they too will become weak people.

If you are lost on how to share Christ more effectively, maybe, we ought to learn a few tips or so from modern marketing.

Thought: "People who don't believe in missions have not read the New Testament. Right from the beginning Jesus said the field is the world. The early church took Him at His word and went East, West, North and South." (J. Howard Edington)


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