Easter without Jesus: Direct mail church advertising

If churches ever do the direct mail marketing blitz, it’s at Christmas and Easter.  So far, I’ve received two full color postcards from local churches, and I expect to receive perhaps a few more before Easter arrives.

I do not disagree with the concept of direct mail publicity (it really isn’t evangelism, folks), but too often in our attempt to apply marketing to the Messiah we reduce the Gospel to a few attractive and appealing attributes, minimizing the meat of the message.

The folks at [Neighborhood] Church (names have been obscured to protect the innocent) – a nondenominational megachurch in the Willow Creek Association that "encourage[s] you to dress casually and enjoy the
complimentary Starbucks Coffee and breakfast items that are provided
each week in our Café!
" (from their website) – sent me a tastefully-produced 4" x 6" postcard with a graphical montage that includes a photo of their church and Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross.  In large text across the image you read:

Easter Weekend at [Neighborhood] Church
webaddress here

Immediately below the image I read that there is a Good Friday Midday Service at 12noon "followed by a FREE lunch in the [church name] Cafe or ‘to-go’."  On Saturday there is an egg hunt for the whole family, including pictures with the Easter Bunny.  There are three Easter Worship Services – Saturday at 5pm, and two on Sunday morning – "Uplifting and high energy worship services with music, media and a relevant Easter talk by (pastor’s name, sans title) . . . ."  On the reverse, the postcard includes a map and an announcement that "Kidz Inc. offers a safe, secure and FUN environment for kids nursery age through the 6th grade during all Weekend Services."

A few notes:

  • Jesus’ image is on the card, though his name or various titles are not.  Easter Bunny and eggs, however, get text.
  • FREE lunch is available in the well-branded church Cafe, or "to-go."  Uh, too slick for me – didn’t I see that in an advertising circular this week?  At least I don’t have to clip a coupon (although I think it could be really funny if you had to bring a coupon that said "Redeem on Good Friday" to church!).
  • Uplifting and high energy?  A relevant Easter talk?  Sounds like an advertisement for worshiptainment.
  • There’s no religious symbol on the church’s logo, the pastor’s title is not printed,  Jesus’ name is not printed, and on Easter Sunday you’ll enjoy a "relevant talk," not a sermon.  The lack of religious language is fascinating. 

And now the other postcard, from a local congregation in a Main Line denomination.

This card features a picture of two cute girls – probably about six years old – with the large title "New Friends" and a smaller banner that says, "Easter: Rebirth and Renewal."

On the reverse we read:

GOD LOVES NEW LIFE!
Not only did he provide a way for all of us to have a fresh start, but God also formed a community of people that could experience new life together.  We’d love for you to enjoy this new life with us – this Easter.  We have some fun things planned for the whole family as we celebrate.  It’s a season of rebirth.  Maybe you will experience something fresh – something new – that will stay with you throughout the year.

Underneath this verbiage you’ll find Easter Sunday Worship! and Easter Egg Hunt for families! schedules (exclamation marks included!).  Also, the standard Sunday schedule and a parenting program are also listed.

A few notes:

  • I give these folks credit for daring to use some religious language – God (who was MIA from the text of the MegaChurch’s postcard), Worship, Rebirth, New Life.  Jesus, however, was absent from this postcard’s text. 
  • Yet I’m curious: God Loves New Life?  I thought that God gives New Life.  Heck, anybody can love New Life.  Only God can give New Life.
  • The front of the card – the two girls, the "New Friends" banner title – makes no sense to me, unless you want to communicate that this church welcomes well-dressed, cute, upper-middle class, white families.  I’m pretty sure that’s not what they wanted to communicate . . .
  • This mailing attempts to offer a synopsis of the Gospel – that in this community of people we can experience new life together.  Not bad for the limited text of a post card.

Both postcards have obvious failings, and they exemplify the problematic nature of advertising Christian community via postcard.  What is being sold or communicated with these postcards?  Not Jesus.  Jesus is 0-2 on the postcards advertising worship services commemorating his resurrection.  But family activities, high energy (explicitly offered on the first postcard, implicit in the exclamation marks on the second), celebration, and inspiration are touted on these church postcards.

Excuse my naiveté, but isn’t Easter about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the promise that we who have been joined to his death in baptism are also joined to his New Life? 

More to write on the subject, but the kids are already past their bedtime.

I’m sure that good church advertising exists, but . . . it hasn’t arrived in my mailbox yet.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
This entry was posted in Faith & the Church. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Easter without Jesus: Direct mail church advertising

  1. LutheranChik says:

    My favorite megachurch holiday advertising was a TV commercial broadcast on the local station a few years ago. And you need to read this in a “speedway” voice:
    “Come to our Passion Play featuring LIIIIIVE ELEPHANTTTTS!!!!”
    JC didn’t make the ad copy cut in that spot either.

  2. LawAndGospel says:

    I did see an ad that actually referenced Jesus, but the gist of it was if you come to church THIS Sunday you will encounter Jesus ( like he is on tour and just stopping by today- for a limited time engagement). Another failed effort, but Live Elephants may be the best. And I was sick when the post about the Millenials was still “fresh”, but I agree wholeheartedly with your post and those of others. For my part, my experience has been that if we as worship leaders lack credibility in projecting our own enthusiasm and interest in others and God’s message, we tell people that it really isn’t that important or special. When we bring our heart sincerely, it shows. Great preparation and thought are crucial, followed by we REALLY believe this. I think “millennials” have pretty good truth-o-meters installed. If we are just going through the motions, it shows.

  3. David says:

    I simply threw away the post card from a local church that had a picture of Easter eggs and a bunny on it inviting parents to bring their children to church on Sunday for the egg hunt.
    Sad……really sad…..(sigh)

  4. I love the coupon idea. We have gone too far with advertising, or is it maybe not far enough?

  5. Your blog is breathtaking. Most of the stuff on your page are my consent about. Thank you for sharing.

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