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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Can TV Advertising Entice Non-Believers into Church?

I want to be really careful how I write this as I am aware it could possibly illicit an emotional response, but, given my experiences over the past couple of weeks I really feel I have to say something.

I received a letter in the mail yesterday from an organisation calling itself "Jesus all about life" (JAAL for short). It wasn't the first time I had received something from them. I have been the recipient of unsolicited emails from them for a few months now.

JAAL are running a sophisticate, national church marketing program with the goal of engaging the "unchurched" community in church run activities. The crux of the campaign is a series of television advertisements which will be broadcast in W.A. throughout the month of October.

Churches can register to participate in JAAL for $100. Registration ensures any prospective seekers responding to the TV advertising will be directed to the JAAL participating church closest to them, and also includes a JAAL pack participants pack which has a DVD evangelism course and ideas for running "special" JAAL events.

Now the whole thing is pretty standard, attractional/evangelical church fair. It's based around the "build it and they will come" philosophy of church growth. Nothing new or terribly thrilling in all of that.

Some of the adverts (you can view them on the JAAL website) are ok in their content and all are professionally produced. And, according to the information on the site, it seems the JAAL crew have put a fair bit of time and effort into researching Australian's attitude towards the church and Christianity. So, while the JAAL project is obviously a genuine, well intended effort at raising the profile of Jesus Christ in the general community and getting new people into the church, I predict the real results are going to fall way short of the expected outcomes. In this sense it looks and sounds like so many other recent attempts at faith marketing that, when critically assessed, have all fallen flat - the recent push by Churches of Christ to get an intelligent design video to every secondary school student in Australia, Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven" campaign and Nicky Gumbel's Alpha, to name a few.

What really grabbed me about JAAL, and perhaps what is ultimately the difference between this campaign and most of the others, is the overall cost of the campaign. Until receiving yesterday's letter I hadn't given much thought to how the JAAL team were going to get their adverts onto the box. I guess I assumed they would be aired for free like the (cringe-worthy) Christian Television Association announcements of the 80s and 90s - used as fillers in the early hours of the morning and during kids after-school programming. But that's not the case at all. JAAL is a prime-time, hit 'em in the face, campaign. And as such, the JAAL team are requiring a minimum financial commitment just shy of the $500,000 dollar mark (that's half a million dollars if you are having trouble counting all those zeros!).

When I read this my attitude towards the project changed from mild amusement to irritated frustration. I find it incredible that after 15 years (at least) of failed church marketing programs and projects, the JAAL crew can justify raising and spending this kind of money on something that, given the track record of all the others before it, is unlikely to produce anything that even remotely resembles value for money. Especially at a time when the community services sector is chronically underfunded and underserviced.

This is particularly irritating to me at this time because the successful youth drug and alcohol program I have been managing for the last 3 and a half years has just shut down due to lack of funding. And mine isn't the only one.

It makes me wonder how much could be achieved for the kingdom if the same amount of time and effort put into this project were put into encouraging the church to participate in and provide funding for community based programs that actually transform live - and have track records to prove it! Half a mil would have kept Kick Start (my program) running for another 3 or 4 years. Yet the track record of the church when it comes to these kinds of things is abismal. They simply aren't interested.

I wonder if, when the hoohaa fades away and the dust settles and churches begin to take down and pack away their "Jesus All About Life" banners and coffee mugs if anything really will change? Or will it simply be a matter of time until another genuine group of well meaning Christians come along with another expensive way of "guaranteeing" bums on church seats?

What do you think?


Martin Johnson said...

Not sure how to address the author of this blog - can't see a name, but it might be worth your while investigating the results of the three Jesus. All about life campaigns that have already run in Adelaide, Canberra and Tasmania.
See what the churches who got involved said.
The key is that local churches can take advantage of a prime-time media buy that puts Jesus' name in the media. Churches get out of it what they put into it. The funds raised to buy the media time in the other three areas were primarily donated by the Christian business community - they saw real value in investing in Jesus. All about life.
See: and check out the pdf reports under Campaigns.

Martin Johnson
Jesus. All about life - Sydney

The Creature said...

G'day Martin and thanks for your comments. I'm Andrew :)

I checked out the reports you mentioned and would like to make a couple of points.

Firstly it is obvious that the campaigns did achieve a couple of good results. All the reports (perhaps with the exception of the Tassie one) reported an increase in collaboration between different churches, an increase in the amount of time spent praying for their community and an increased interest in reaching their respective communities.

Whether or not the campaigns represent value for money - which was a question I asked in my original post - is I think dependant upon how you measure the campaign's "success". And in a lot of ways I think it is incredibly difficult to measure the success of a project such as this. However, it is evident from the reports, that at best the campaign was viewed as having an average impact by the majority of churches involved and, again from the reports, most of that impact was felt within the church community rather than the broader community.

It is my opinion that the most effective form of evangelism is the form that takes a genuine, long term involvement in the lives of individuals in a community. It can't be achieved by professionally produced media or flashy marketing campaigns. Rather it is through relationship and meaningful engagement with the local community beyond the 4 walls of the church meeting space, that meaningful and lasting effects will be seen. The only agenda being to see the love of God transform lives and communities and attitudes.

This is where, I believe, the JAAL campaign falls short of everything it's being promoted as being. If it takes $100,000 or $200,000 or $500,000 to get the local church to collaborate on a project or to pray more I cannot see that this is money well spent. Not when there are so many more real and vital ways the same money can be used to radically transform peoples lives through programmes and projects that have real and measurable results (such as community service initiatives which are under-funded and which often have next to no support from the local church).

Even if JAAL does result in some of the churches involved taking a more missional approach to ministry I still say if takes the kind of money we are talking about here to motivate Christians to live as Jesus taught us, then there is probably something very wrong with our approach to life and life as ministry.

I also think that the number of Christian business people who have been willing to sink funds into JAAL is hardly an indication of how successful it is in its stated objectives.

Lastly, there is always something of a risk involved when a project such as this is assessed by those conducting it. Whether we like it or not, or recognise it or not, there is a vested emotional interest in the outcomes. Even more so when we are talking 6 digit sums. I think it would be very difficult for those involved to proclaim it as anything but a success. I would think it would be wise to have JAAL assessed by uninvolved 3rd parties for a more objective and helpful assessment of the statistical figures.

Thanks again Martin for dropping by and commenting.

Martin Johnson said...

Thanks for identifying yourself - I can never understand why people on blogs can't just be themselves.

I agree with you about measuring success and this is something we have thought long and hard about. But how do you measure the success of any evangelistic endeavour? I'm involved in the production of a TV Documentary on the 1959 Billy Graham Crusades in Australia and we chatted with Stuart Piggin here in Sydney who has written about the visits of Dr Graham. He reckons it takes at least 30 years before you can even start to know if they have been a success. Sure, you can count the heads of the inquirers, but is this a measure of success?
If you come up with a 'success measure' - let the world know.

I also agree with you that "the most effective form of evangelism is the form that takes a genuine, long term involvement in the lives of individuals in a community." That's exactly what JAAL seeks to do - it creates an environment in which 'quiet Christians can share their faith'. A Baptist minister in Canberra told me that "it was never as easy to talk about Jesus as it was when the Jesus. All about life campaign was running. Ultimately its up to every individual Church and Christian to use the 'noise' that the campaign creates around the person of Jesus to do what you say. Start a conversation, one-on-one, that leads to a long-term commitment in the lives of individuals to Christ.

Andrew- its easy to knock concepts such as Jesus. All about life. It doesn't take any effort at all. The harder path is to do what we have done, research, create and produce a campaign that uses media effectively for the Gospel. It's not perfect, but we haven't been knocked down by others with a better idea.

JAAL is coming to Sydney in September, 2009 with support across the board, Sydney Anglicans, Hillsong, Baptists (that's me), Uniting Church, Brethren, SDA, Prebyterians, etc. This is the first time ever that these denominations have worked together to evangelise Sydney in a focused period of time.
Is that 'success'? I don't know, but it will mean more people in heaven.

The Creature said...

Hi again Martin,

I don't advertise my name because I don't feel the need to advertise who I am (not that I have anything to hide and will gladly "reveal all" to anyone who asks).

I will restate an earlier point - I cannot see that it should take the kind of money JAAL is requiring to get Christians to share their faith and live genuinely in relationship with the people of their community.

I don't think Jesus ever intended evangelism to be about "campaigns". We should just be out in our world living the life, following the example He set - simple as that.

I am a pastor and I also work in the community services sector (predominantly with youth) and I have to say, at least in my local area, this sector is almost completely ignored by local churches. They would rather raise money for TV advertising or million dollar events featuring motor bike stunt riders and flame eaters than fund raise (or volunteer some of their time) for programs and services working with marginalised, hurting people - the very people Jesus came to heal and save - programs that are achieving real results in terms of sharing the love of God and transforming lives in real ways.

What do I consider a success? I consider young people giving up drugs, getting work, and starting to live full lives while getting to know Jesus slowly, in theirs and God's time, a success. I consider Christians quietly living their lives for Christ in their community, serving others and reflecting Christ (without the need of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of encouragement) a success.

Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt your sincerity Martin or your genuine desire to see lives affected by the Gospel. Tonight I am sitting in front of my computer having finished my last day of work with a large national Christian NGO having spent the last 3 and a half years doing some of the things I mentioned above. It was my last day because we weren't refunded (even though our program was a success). In the 3 and a half years I managed and worked in the program we had 1 person from 1 local church volunteer. Even though I promoted the program regularly in many churches and monthly at the local minister's fellowship. We asked the churches to consider helping fund the program at different times because it really was achieving results, but none of them did.

In an ironic twist, this same ministers fellowship is fundraising for JAAL.

Sorry mate - I am just not convinced. Especially when confronted by the real needs that exist in the community and the way the church has continued to show little interest in meeting them in real ways.

I hope I am wrong. In the mean time you are going to have a really hard time convincing me $500,000 spent on television advertising is a good investment of God's money.

Faithfulnathan said...

Hey Andrew, I'm liking a lot of what you're saying - evangelism is really about community.

Having said that, my experience of churches has not been that of a warm-hearted supportive community, but rather a Jesus promotional network. So often its more about proclaiming the glory of Jesus and getting numbers to bible programs than actually procreating a Christ-like life in both the individual and the community as a whole.

Secular groups, in most cases, are not much different. They encourage support and togetherness but squander their occasion with product and program promotions that seem to exist solely for the sake of the groups own survival.

The real agendas of these groups are almost never explicit, and individuals risk becoming lost within the labyrinth that has claimed so many good-willed individuals before them.

It is my opinion that an effort to remedy this world by employing mechanisms by which the world has already been ensnared (ie network groups and promotions of such), will only serve as trinkets of deception; another new fandangle wheel in the rat-race.

People yearn to be known and valued by those around them. Sure, people know and value other people these days, but not as they should. Everything becomes relative from there on; the needy get what they can, the greedy get because they can, and the wise are largely ignored.

So the people of the world await for someone, some community, that can genuinely and honestly fulfill their need, and so in return we may all be saved from this present hell.


The Creature said...

Hey Nathan, Thanks for commenting!

I think genuine community is difficult to find (my experiences seem to mirror yours within the church). I also think genuine community is difficult to achieve - there are a lot of expectations in play. However, I think that the way of Jesus offers us the best chance we have of creating an (imperfect) community. I think ultimately the real sense of belonging comes from knowing we (i.e. members of any community) belong to God because of Christ. When we understand this it makes it easier to be forgiving of others shortcomings and to be willing to help make the communities we are a part of more like the ultimate community Jesus spent a lot of time talking about - the Kingdom of God.

We are experimenting (imperfectly again!) with establishing a genuine community and it is really difficult. But it is also exciting and bearing fruit. But it is a long-haul process.

Thanks again for dropping by :)

Anonymous said...

I think the JAAL campaign is great. it is innovative and exciting, it will bring unity to many churches and revive them to get out there and talk to people about Jesus... We can't save the world but we can do our bit by being positive, serving God, our church and community. It is really sad about your program being dropped... really sad, but when one door closes another opens. you mentioned that you "don't think Jesus ever intended evangelism to be about "campaigns". We should just be out in our world living the life, following the example He set - simple as that.

I don't think it is as simple as that as clearly just being out there in our world living our life is not working... church growth is declining. Jesus was creative, passionate and not afraid of causing a stir to get attention. Everyone has been given special gifts yours is clearly to serve, some is to evangelise, we should support that movement also

Best of luck, and i will pray for success in your community and future projects. To have run something like that for 3 and a half years is amazing. imagine if you had never had that chance you would not have saved the kids that went through your program...
if just one person comes to Christ from this campaign it has worked.. Andrew my advice to you (not that you are asking for it and no doubt you will have a long come back ...) is get off the bloggs and support people who are trying to change the times we are in.. Don't get bitter, get better.. God bless, Teresa

The Creature said...

Thanks for your comments Teresa.

No, no long comeback. You don't know me and I don't have any interest in defending myself.

And for the record, I'm not bitter either ;)


Faithfulnathan said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for your response.

Now I realise there can be a lot of complexities involved here, but what is your idea of 'community'? (some detail would be great)


The Creature said...

Hey Nathan,

Have a look at my most recent post - "How do our expectations effect community?" For a bit more of an idea.



Anonymous said...

Andrew there is a time to spend money on worthy social causes and there is a time to spend money on evangelism. Both are vital. The churches in your area are spending millions on social causes btw. My own is spending tens of thousands that directly effects young people and families at a grassroots level. I don't have room in my tight budget for your cause as well and it is not what the Lord has called us to at this time - even though it is equally as worthy.

The Australian government funds social causes and so does the church and the private sector. However, only the church will fund a direct evangelitic push such as JAAL - no one else will!

I don't think this is an either/or issue. Both social and spiritual needs must be addressed (and funded) by the church.

JAAL is a great initiative that brings the name of Jesus into the marketplace and provides an opportunity for people to talk about him.

The Creature said...

G'day Anonymous, I think I'm at a bit of a disadvantage here - you know who I am but I don't know who you are!

Anyway, thanks for your comments.

I'm really glad to hear that your church is spending money on concerns that will improve the life and living standards of people in our area. I would love to hear more about it in fact, as this is something very dear to my heart.

However I am afraid that I don't see the distinction between "evangelism" and "social causes" in the way you do. Social activism is at the heart of the spirituality of Jesus Christ and his desire to see the gospel bear fruit and the kingdom of God grow. Think Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 4:18&19 for a start.

When I compare the ministry of Jesus with what JAAL is proposing I find it incredibly difficult to reconcile the two. Jesus ministry was squarely centred on the lives of people, on issues of justice, mercy and humility etc. With this in mind I can see no better way of making his name a "talking point" in the community than by his followers taking an active role in transforming the same community through loving, beneficial, grass roots moves. In reality this is something that may well cost much more than any TV ad campaign - particularly in time, and lifestyle, and self-interests. In comparison a TV commercial seems so much less costly as it doesn't require anything much of us in these regards.

While we continue to think the community is simply going to watch an ad on TV and come to the church (or read a book, or a tract and come to church) we are going to continue to waste time and money. Yet if more Christians really were involved in, not just funding, but active involvement in, the life of their communities I think we really would start to see results. Maybe not results that amount to easy-to-measure outcomes like backsides on seats at a Sunday service, but results that will start to see the fabric of our community change as it becomes permeated with pockets of the kingdom.

After all, Jesus makes it pretty clear, when we are serving others (even the least of them) we are actually serving him - I don't know there can be any greater act of worship or anything more spiritual.

I hope you'll do me the courtesy of identifying yourself, in any case, thanks for stopping by and commenting.


Anonymous said...

From the same "anon" as before.

We are saying the same thing Andrew. Both evangelism and social help must go hand in hand. They can be divorced and sadly they often are, but they shouldn't be. If you have the time I think you might appreciate this article ...

Serving the needy in our community is what the church should do - it is what Christ would have us do. And as we do it we are to share the reason for our faith. I believe that JAAL gives quiet Christians the opportunity to sensitively raise the topic of Jesus and faith in conversation (maybe even while we are serving others). It's as simple as that. A tool to get people talking about Jesus. The ads aren't designed to present the gospel or even to get people into church. If that's going to happen, it will only take place within relationship.

I think it was Francis of Asissi that said, "Share the gospel wherever you are, and if necessary use words." I don't buy into that for a minute. It only tells half the story. Sure we are to serve the needy, but there has to come a point when we share our faith. In fact Jesus commanded us to do so.

I have found the following example very helpful. In Luke 4:38-41 Jesus spent time one night healing and delivering people. I imagine that this was a very exciting time for the people involved and perhaps there was a buzz in the village about this Jesus who was healing many.

The very next morning (Luke 4:42-44), the people came looking for Jesus. Perhaps the word had got around and there were more among them desiring to be healed.

Whatever the case, Jesus did not heal any more people in that place, even though it seemed there were some who needed it. We do know that they tried to stop him from leaving them. Then v43 ... But he said, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent."

I imagine there were more than a few disappointed sick people that morning.

Yes Jesus met people's physical needs, but he was sent primarily to "preach the good news of the kingdom of God."

Perhaps a more pertinent example for us is found in Mark 14 when some people complained about the expensive "waste" of perfume that a woman had used to anoint Jesus' feet. The money, they argued, could have been used for the poor. It seems to me from this example, that Jesus had no problem with the expense. This woman had gone to extrordinary lengths to make Jesus the centre of her life and the setting that evening - and he praised her for it.