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Review: Christian Message, Secular Messengers

Bosman, J.  (2006, April 26).  “Christian Message, Secular Messengers”.  New York Times.

Summary

(Download Christian Message overview as a PDF)

Today’s youth culture is very technologically driven.  Cell phones, I-pods, videogame consoles, and computers are used by youth every day.  Youth culture is continually bombarded with images and advertisements that sell numerous products, even Christianity.  Julie Bosman, a writer for the New York Times, has written about Christian organizations utilizing secular companies to market their ideas.  She discusses Teen Mania Ministries’ recent collaboration with Tocquigny in creating a new website for Teen Mania.  Tocquigny had some reservations about working with Teen Mania, but they decided to accept the account in February.  Skip Dampier of Tocquigny suggests, “the agency (Tocquigny) is a beneficiary of a new attitude on the part of some religion-based organizations:  as these groups grow bigger and more financially robust, they are taking their work to so-called secular agencies instead of firms specializing in Christian outreach.” 

Christianity today involves big business, and one study even claims that “domestic sales of religious products are likely to grow to $9.5 billion by 2010.”  Christian movies like “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” create revenue along with associated merchandise.  Books and videogames also account for big revenue in Christian business.  Christianity is being marketed through media and products and these products are gaining popularity nationally.  Organizations like Teen Mania want to reach as many teens as possible and feel that a national platform, such as their technologically appealing website, is a step toward engaging today’s youth. 

Ron Luce, president and founder of Teen Mania, feels that Christian organizations do not have many options when it comes to expensive marketing, “at least in Christian circles.”  There are some Christian marketing companies out there such as BuzzPlant, which is located in Franklin, Tenn., but the reality is that there are not that many big agencies.  Regardless of which agency is chosen to market Christian organizations, the heart of the issue lies in vying for teenager’s attention.  Cable networks with “sophisticated marketing and enormous budgets” are competing with Christian organizations for teenager’s attention.  Mr. Luce of Teen Mania offers a wake up call: “If MTV values them more than we do, then MTV is going to get their hearts.”

Questions for Reflections and Discussion

  1. How do you feel about Christianity as a big business?
  2. Are there times when big business should be used in the realm of Christianity?  When?
  3. Do we as youth leaders and Christians have reason to appeal to youth culture?  Why?
  4. What are some practical ways that Christian organizations can use technology to appeal to youth?
  5. Do you think that Christianity will ever appeal to youth more than secular culture or is this some endless cycle of the biggest and best attitude in the United States?
  6. Can we find a delicate balance of culture and Christianity that truly impacts kids for Christ?  What would that look like?

Implications

Marketing for Christianity is a difficult subject.  I do not think that God calls us to be totally against culture, but he also does not call us to be completely of the culture either.  Selling Christianity in the form of plastic dolls and t-shirts has detracted Christians from reaching a culture that is bent on destruction.  Our goal as Christians should be to fulfill the great commandment and the great commission, not make money off of God.  The reality of reaching teenagers is that it does cost money, especially on the national level.  If that involves using a secular company to get Christ’s message out into culture, then I am for it.  But, I would caution our ministries’ agendas.  Is our ministry overly focused on gadgets and gizmos or the newest and best technology, or on the opposite end of the spectrum?  Is our ministry one in which we use the Christ against culture model and not even reach out to teenagers?  Neither of these ministries can fully affect youth in the way God intended.  Youth today want more than anything to have genuine people show interest and love to them.  They want someone who will listen to their story.  We as youth leaders and Christians need to find a median between Christianity and culture, and most of all live out a genuine life that reflects God’s working in our lives.  Our ministries should have elements of the culture mixed into a meaningful message of Christ’s love for us.  Overemphasis on technology or separating ourselves from culture, both cause us to lose an affective ministry to youth.  Creating a blend of culture and authentic living can have a positive impact on youth.  We need to be transparent in our lives, always reflecting Christ.  However we choose to blend our culture and the message of Christ does not matter.  As long as youth are being shown Christ’s love, listened to, and welcomed, then Jesus will do the rest. 

Jonathan Erlenmeyer
© 2017 CYS

 

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