Business and individuals are building into brand-management these days. Social media is an especially apt ‘platform’ for this kind of self-representation. We promote ourselves, say the right things, ‘virtue-signal,’ create content, generate buzz, saturate the marketplace with your presence – shouldn’t churches do this as well?
Mega-churches say yes. If it gets people in the door, then yes. Whatever works.
Some trendy Reformed folks say kinda. God is sovereign. These are means that God can use to bring people into the church. If this is what people are into these days – phones, church apps, slick marketing, impressive music shows – then shouldn’t we take advantage of the gifts and opportunities God gives us? We’ve still got the truth, and we’ll simply use these modern technologies and methodologies to change how we present the truth. But the truth itself doesn’t get changed.
David Wells says no. In all these ways, modernity is pressing in. It is relentless. In all these ways, modernity is seeking to change the church and change the message. You cannot adopt these practices, habits, forms, methods, and strategies without adopting their values and assumptions. All we have is the Good News – if you change the messaging, you change the Message. We don’t want to build people into a lights show, charisma, humor, and a positive vibe because what happens when the atheists or the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the night club down the street does it better than us?
The world is into self-marketing. Personality is broadcast. Magnetic personalities draw a crowd, we’re told. Some churches respond by using these insights and methods to draw a crowd and build a church. David Wells says no. The Spirit is not changing people in these ways. There is false growth. It’s not good fruit. You’re drawing a crowd. But it’s not the church. The people of God are drawn by the Spirit of God to the Son of God. You can’t manufacture Spiritual growth with methods devoid of the Spirit.
You’re building people into modernity. You’re implicitly telling them, ‘Go where the slick marketing is. Follow the big names, the impressive logos, the dynamic personalities.’ Because the strategy was, “The world is doing this – let’s do it too.” But what happens when the world does it better? Should people still follow these impressive forms? Should people still emulate Josh Harris, with his self branding, good looks, emotional appeals, and trendy Instagram posts?
If you say no, because he doesn’t have the truth, then why did you build into these other things? You trained people to become infatuated with celebrity. And now you’re telling them to be concerned with truth?
What you win them with, is what you win them to.