So, not to long ago a publisher called “Sunday Cool”( A t-shirt company as far as I can tell) put out, via Lifeway and others, a book called “The Word According to Gen Z: A 30 Day Devo Challenge.” The work in question was so thoroughly denounced from all corners that it was quickly pulled. While many sited the work’s so called translations into modern slang, as terrible as they were, that really was not the problem.
(Although things like“Since Day Uno there was Cap G. Big J was chillin’ with Cap G, And Big J was Cap G” for John 1:1 and “I marco-polo’d Cap G and he didn’t leave me on read, and snatched up all my scaries” for Pslam 34:4 are really terrible.)
The problem was that this is another perfect example of Christians have great intentions and terrible follow through. How many times has the Gospel been subjected to well meaning Christians who think they can communicate with someone without actually understanding that person?
“The kids these days talk like this, we should write a devotional…”
“People who don’t go to church would come if we just told them…”
Do you actually love the Gospel? Do you actually think it has value to others? Do you think that you are called to communicate the Gospel to others? Do you think God has called you to love them and go to them?
Then why don’t you love them enough to actually find out how to talk to them?
Let me explain what I mean.
First, we have a high value important good we want to impart to potential consumers. You do not sell Big Macs the way you do wagyu steaks. The Bently dealer does not use the same tactics as Crazy Al’s Discount Cars. I don’t care what your business experience tells you. I don’t care what marketing strategies you want to employ. What we are imparting is far more valuable than that. The means by which we share will tell the audience how to value it. If we sell it like fast food people will value it like fast food.
That doesn’t mean there are not tactics we can borrow from advertising, it just means we have to be careful how we employ them.
The one thing that all modern successful advertising has it customer data. They know everything there is to know about you before they even put up the first sign. They know who they are targeting and they know how to do it and why you are going to respond. They put as much work into marketing their product as they ever did into making it in the first place.
And they don’t love you, they only want your money. But not just your money today, they want it tomorrow and ever after. They want your grand kids using Martha White Corn Meal Mix because grand-ma did. They want money, but they also want loyalty.
We don’t want their money (not that it wouldn’t help, but that isn’t the goal) we want them to know the Love of God.
We have to be specific about our intent and our targets. So often I see Christian signs that speak only to Christians. Generally the only thing church advertising is good for is stealing from other churches or picking up the strays who might have wandered off from their congregation in the past. We are bad at reaching the unchurched of any generation.
There reason we are bad at it is because we fail to understand them. We fail to know what motivates them. We fail to know how they react. We fail to know what they need. We make assumptions based on our own background, our own preferences, our own guesses about their life and more often than not we are wrong.
How can I say that? Because according to Gallup, among others, from the eve of World War 2 until I was in Seminary in the mid-90s about 70% or higher of the US population were church goers. Now it is about 50%. That self reporting. We all know that actual attendance is worse.
What happened? We failed to tell our story in a way that actually got people’s attention. We got so used to being the default that we forgot we needed to appeal to people on the outside. Frankly, even when we did make appeals they were designed for a different world and a different time and a different people. We double down on bad investments that yield little or no results and fail to take the time to get to know our neighbors.
People laugh at the language in the Gen Z devotional, but that is not its real danger of such works. The danger is that is but the tip of the iceberg, the obvious bit sticking out where we can see it. It represents much deeper problems in the church as a whole. Bad assumptions. Failure to uphold the value to what we have. Failure to gain adequate understanding of the world around us.
I love my wife. I know how she is likely to react in most situations. I know what will appeal to her and what will turn her against something right away. I know her favorite foods and books and movies. I know her because I spent a great deal of effort studying her, paying attention to her, learning about her.
If the Church does not love the unreached masses like that, the way Christ loves us, then we might as well stop wasting our efforts.