I am not a market!
Thirty-eight years ago when the doctors knocked-out my mother with pain-killers and I pushed myself into earthly consciousness, no one came to the hospital and said, “What a lovely market, Gloria. Let’s figure out the best way to reach him with our message.”
I say this because over the last several months, I’ve gone from being Sean – husband, father, pastor, and beloved child of God – to a minority who needs to be “reached” with a message. It started with Mitt Romney losing the minority and female vote in November. I couldn’t care less about politics. But it didn’t take long for my guild – the church – to start asking similar questions about reaching “markets” that were less and less engaged with traditional, evangelical, American, Christianity.
The reason is fairly evident. Some of the challenges Mitt faced are the same challenges churches face. Evangelical churches are becoming older and few have discovered the secret sauce of racial integration and the ministry of reconciliation. We’ve known this for some time, but the present reality has made facing these challenges unavoidable.
Churches are facing a demographics problem. I began talking about these changes over eight years ago and was laughed out of meetings – literally. I was told the shifts weren’t that great. I was exaggerating. The post-modern shift wasn’t happening. One church elder scoffed at me, saying, “I’ll believe when I see it in the economy and when voting patterns change.”
But now the numbers are beginning to catch up with us and more and more people are trying to figure out how to reach “new markets” and the “changing demographic.” Blog posts have been pushed-out advising how churches can “reach” racial minorities and women. Yesterday I received an e-mail from a research group which serves churches tauting their new website dealing with outreach to Hispanics (another market) and the “new research” to reach them.
Almost overnight, I became a market. But I’m not a market.
And this is where we’ll make our mistake. We will see our message as a commodity and people as purchasers.
Recently a blogger I had come to respect and appreciate “went pro” as a blogger and speaker. In doing so, I’m sure he’s reached his goals, made money, and is enjoying his life. Good for him. In the process, though, he became something less than what made him great. Because now he almost exclusively sells stuff! Books, e-books, online courses, seminars, and conferences. Hey, I like the free market and hope to do some of the same one day. I’ve got no axe to grind with that. But in the process of going pro he shifted from being an ally to being a salesman. Previously when he encouraged the use of certain products, I believed them to be useful and would often give them a try. Now, when he highlights a product I feel like I’m just contributing to his bottom-line. There’s no heart it in. He’s a shuckster, a salesman.
And guess what? If you’re not Steve Jobs, no one gets excited about a salesman.
My brother’s a salesman. I know many salesmen. Most are good people. Still no one I know thinks, “Gee! I can’t wait until that sales guy shows up.” Sorry, bro.
I don’t want to be told. I don’t want to be sold to. I don’t want to be focus-grouped and targeted. I don’t want to be aimed at or calibrated to. I don’t want to be surveyed or figured into anyone’s price analysis. When I wake in the morning, I don’t consider myself part of anyone’s “consumption audience.” Whether I’m standing in my pulpit, writing and speaking, sharing life with my small group, drinking coffee with new people, sitting in an elder’s meeting, or talking with someone who is exploring spiritual life, my goal is to be one thing: A friend.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples, those who would carry out his mission to the world, He said this: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).”
Did you see what Jesus did there?
People aren’t markets. And we diminish God’s creation when we reduce our brothers and sisters to product or message consumption units. We aren’t audiences or even Sally and Sam. How revealing is it that Jesus was and wanted friends? And how much more revealing is the fact that we want market-share?
The answer to the church’s future isn’t to dissect and bisect demographic data, sell our souls to market-solutions, and come up with a winning sales pitch. It’s to befriend and be friends. Be friends with our neighbors. Be friends with our racial, economic, ethnic, and sexually Other neighbors. Jesus says to his disciples, “You did not choose me, I choose you (John 15:16).” As long as we’re waiting for other people to buy into our religious good and services – from our politics to our worldview to attendance in our worship services – we have reversed the polarity of the teachings of Jesus.” Jesus calls us to befriend and be friends even to the point that we lay down our lives for our friends.
Isn’t that the kind of relationship you want? It’s the kind of relationships I want.
Because I am not a market.