There is a story that is told often at business conferences about a dog food company that needed to improve their sales. The CEO of the company called a meeting and the problem of declining sales was analyzed by various consultants and experts. Maybe the product needed a new marketing plan. Maybe if the bag was a different color or the ads had more catchy music, sales would improve.
It went on for months and sales never improved. In fact, they got worse. Exasperated, the CEO shouted, “I wish someone would tell me what we’re doing wrong!” “
At the back of the room, a salesman raised his hand.
” What ? Asked the CEO.
âI can tell you what’s wrong with sales. “
âSure, enlighten us,â the CEO said.
âDogs don’t like food.
Marketing was not the problem. The problem was the product.
I thought about this story as I attended another conference on how to reach the next generation with the gospel. Studies show that, for some reason, Gen Z – the generation that follows millennials, that followed Generation X, that followed baby boomers – are not responding to the gospel in acceptable numbers. This conference invited several marketing experts to tell us how churches must adapt to reach this new generation.
Excuse me if I got a little cynical about these lectures. It’s just that I’ve attended so many of these conferences throughout my career. I’m a baby boomer and remember when we were the ânext generationâ. The church is going to have to change, I told my elders, if this new generation is to be reached with the gospel.
And so, we have changed. We changed the music. We have changed our dress. Pastors no longer wear costumes. We wear expensive skinny jeans and sneakers. (Well, some of us do. Personally, I’ll never get caught dead in skinny jeans, but that’s another story.) We brought smoke machines and video screens and rock bands. that were playing so hard they could make your ears bleed.
We started home churches, malls and storefront churches. We do church in local schools and in outdoor parks. We have changed everything that we know how to change and yet we still haven’t reached that generation – whatever generation you want to choose – with the gospel.
Nobody likes the product.
I don’t want to make the gospel a commodity. That is not what I mean at all. What I mean is this. We proclaim that the gospel has the power to change lives. We proclaim that the gospel can make people better human beings. More than that, we teach that the gospel can make people who they were meant to be according to God’s divine plan.
This generation does not buy it. The previous generation did not buy it. Neither will the next generation.
Because of what they see every day in the life of those who call themselves Christians. People can seldom remember meeting a Christian who was kind and loving. Everyone, on the other hand, has a story about a Christian who was rude and condescending. Many of us who are Christians will no longer use the word because it has become associated with attitudes of bigotry, hatred and judgment. We now present ourselves as âdisciples of Christâ.
No one wants to be a Christian these days. The word is almost an insult in polite conversation.
Children watch their fathers who claim to be Christians act with hatred towards their mothers and be consumed by the greed of careerism. In their early years, these kids decide they don’t want to be like their father and reject the life choices he made. They also reject his Christianity.
People watch their neighbors go to church every Sunday and then see the hateful things they post on social media. They do not want to be like their neighbors in any way, and for them that also means rejecting the church.
I often ask my church what comes out of a tube of toothpaste when you squeeze it. They all shout back, âToothpaste! ” It’s wrong. What comes out is whatever is in the tube. We cannot assume the toothpaste is in the tube just because it says toothpaste on the label.
And when life squeezes us, what happens? Everything inside comes out. If the anger and bitterness are inside, this is what stands out. If the love and meekness of Christ is on the inside, then that is what comes out.
Sometimes when a new product is launched, the marketing team suggests a âsoft launchâ. Instead of an overwhelming marketing campaign with well-coordinated business blitzes and social media campaigns, the product will be presented slowly and specifically to those who use it. When the product is marketed on a larger scale, it will be presented as being offered “by popular demand”. Everyone has one of these products. You must also have one.
I wonder if we could have a smooth start as Christians in our own communities. What if we just went in our daily lives in search of Christ every moment and every occasion? What if husbands loved their wives as Christ loves the church? What if parents focused on educating their children in the love and teachings of Christ? What if Christians take care of their neighbors? What if Christians lived trusting in God’s grace every day and loved it so much that they would be generous with love to all around them?
Do you think anyone would notice? Do you think anyone would want a life like this?
I think so.
And I don’t think we would have to come up with a new marketing plan to sell it.