"Marketing" the Church

The other night, Kari and I were talking about Braums, the ice cream and dairy store we both grew up on in Oklahoma. (They have them in Texas too). Braums was one of the two places we had to stop when we pulled into Oklahoma from Missouri. Their milk, ice cream, and other dairy products are the best, plain and simple. Even today when Kari needs milk, she drives several miles out of her way to get Braums milk, because it's the best. We don't drink anything else.

The problem with Braums is that nobody knows how good they are. Their advertisements are lousy, the color scheme inside their stores is left over from a scheme that wasn't even cool in the 80s, and the help is rarely friendly or well-trained. Every time we drive by a Braums store, Kari mentions that they ought to hire her to do their marketing and branding. She doesn't have any training, but she's convinced that if the rest of the world wasn't scared off by the rough exterior, everyone would want Braums milk. (So, if you're a Braums exec, please get in touch with my wife).

Yet, as Kari and I talked about Braums, we noticed a different extreme too. On one hand, Braums' marketing stands in the way of a great product, so nobody goes there. On the other hand, there is another fast food restaurant in the area that has tremendous marketing (Let's call them "Smack-in-the-Fox" to protect the guilty). Their ads are funny, creative, engaging, and eye catching. The only problem is, the food is absolutely, positively, awful.

I see a lot of churches like each of these stores. We have the Message that changes lives. Yet, we often go to either extreme as we are salt and light for the rest of the world. Some of our church-people are like Braums. If you can suffer through the rough exterior, you'll find something extraordinarily impressive. But you would never be attracted to that person, or seek that person out. The only way you would know about it is if an insider you respect pointed you to them.

On the other hand, it seems to be trendy for a lot of churches to be just like "Smack-in-the-Fox" these days. They want to be masters of marketing. They buy radio spots, and billboard space, and canvass neighborhoods with well-done flyers and invitations. And yet you show up and find that what they're serving doesn't even resemble meat. Nothing truly life-changing is ever communicated. The Gospel? Forget it.

See, the tension of the Christian life is a whole lot like the difference between Braums and "Smack-in-the-Fox." The Message is what's really important. We need to live it well, being dilligent to communicate it well to others. But we need to make sure that "it" is the thing we're inviting people to see.

My Top Ten Books of 2007

I'm taking a cue from Ben Arment, who writes one of my newer favorite blogs. He just listed his top ten reads of 2007. Unlike Ben, it was a fairly good reading year for me. I read some duds, but also read some books that were exceedingly helpful. Here are some of the ones I found most helpful, in no particular order.

Disclaimer: The fact that a book is on my "favorites" list doesn't necessarily mean I agree with everything in the book. I read with the following two presuppositions: (1) if you can't find something in a book you disagree with, you're probably not reading carefully enough. (2) if you can't find something in a book that challenges your thinking in a positive way, you've probably got an issue with pride that you might want to get checked out.

1. The Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us, by Larry Osborne
2. Pornified, by Pamela Paul
3. Total Truth, by Nancy Pearcey
4. Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath
5. Going all the Way, by Craig Groeschel
6. Across The Spectrum, by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy
7. The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, by J. Dwight Pentecost
8. No Perfect People Allowed, John Burke
9. Dear Church, Sarah Cunningham
10. Ordering your Private World, Gordon MacDonald


Today's the day George Mitchell gets to play the role of Captain Obvious, and tell us all something we've known for a while now: Most of our baseball heroes are cheaters.

I don't think I'm going to be named in his report, but I've long suspected that my buddy Drew is a steroid user - he's pretty ripped. Beyond Drew, I suspect that a large majority of people I've cheered for for a long time now are going to be unmasked as frauds, cheats, and liars.

Here's what's really interesting to me: So far as I know, Mitchell is simply going to produce a list of 60-80 names of guys who he believes cheated. For most of them, we're probably not going to know how much they cheated, for how long, or for what reason. Some of them cheated because they wanted to be better. Some of them cheated because they were injured and needed to heal. Some of them cheated because they needed a tiny boost to get over the edge during a hitting slump. Some of them cheated once. Some cheated for years. And as far as I know, we're not going to know which ones are which.

There's a powerful message in this whole deal - even if you're not a baseball fan. When you're a cheater, most people aren't going to care how much you cheated, why you cheated, or for how long you cheated. They're just going to care that you cheated. And your legacy is going to go down with the guys who cheated worse than you, for longer than you, and for worse reasons than you.

When you're a cheater, you're a cheater, no matter how much or how little.

Some of these guys are going to be forever "asterisked" because they had a momentary lapse in judgment during a weak moment in their career. The same can happen to us.

Character matters in big things and in small things. Because when people find out you're a dishonest lying cheater, they don't ask anyone to quantify.


Here's something I've learned over the past few years from observing a couple of great churches and one extremely dysfunctional church from the inside: When hiring staff, or inviting volunteers to be a part of the ministry, instincts always overwhelm intentions.

I've worked with a lot of people with great intentions to do great things. They intend to be committed, intend to be relational, intend to be people of good character, and intend to be hard workers. But if their instincts point towards being people who are not committed, relational, character-type hard working people, their instincts will always overwhelm intentions.

When you look to hire people, or invite volunteers to be a part of your team, look for instincts before you look for intentions. You'll be happy you did.


I had the privilege of graduating from Dallas Seminary with the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner's sister and brother-in-law. Obviously, I don't know Tim Tebow, but I'm really proud of his accomplishment. His humility, testimony, and class make him the kind of person you can't help but cheer for.

I didn't know Tim's sister and brother-in-law extremely well, but well enough to respect the heck out of them. I sat behind his brother-in-law Joey during Hebrew class, and he was sharp as a tack. I did learn extremely quickly to sit behind him rather than in front of him because, as brilliant a Hebrew student as he was, he was an even better cartoonist and doodler. And, the people who sat in front of him were perfect targets for caricatures.

If you're looking for an excellent Christmas present for someone young in your life, you might check out the fruit of some of those doodles. Joey has authored and illustrated a series of childrens books called "Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers." Last I heard, he and his wife and daughter are planning to do work overseas and are using the proceeds to support that mission. The books in the series I've read are extremely cute, and tackle some really big thoughts.

Here's to heroes on the field and off...


Well, I read a book this week and am ready to review it. But, it stunk, and for no good reason. I actually liked what the book had to say, but had a really hard time following the author's points. It wasn't well written. So I don't want to recommend it, but I don't want to recommend you don't buy it. So I'm going to punt on the book review for one more week. I know most of you don't care about the book reviews anyway, so I don't figure that will matter.

In fact, I'm thinking about re-rethinking my blog philosophy in the near future based on some recent feedback. I'll still do some book reviews, especially when some of you are sending me free books, but plan to only review the ones that I have a strong opinion about. We'll see how that goes.

Last week I took one of the leaders in the singles ministry to Starbucks to meet with a girl who expressed interest in spiritual things. In fact, this girl sent me an email saying "I've been searching for something, I don't know what it is, but I think I need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and don't know how."

I called the leader in our ministry who had never led anyone to Christ, and asked her to come with me. I thought it was going to be a really simple opportunity to share our faith with this girl, introduce her to the gift of eternal life, and see her put her faith in Christ. I figured it would take about 15 minutes. (!)

The person I took with me explained the gospel beautifully, and asked the girl "is there anything keeping you from accepting God's gift tonight."

"Yeah," the girl said, and she launched into a huge story about how some things in her past were keeping her from believing the Gospel. We spent two hours talking through the baggage and barriers that were keeping this girl from trusting Christ, before finally leaving Starbucks without seeing this girl come to Christ last night.

What is really funny, is that in all likelihood one of these days - maybe next week, next month, or next decade, someone is going to mention something in passing to this girl about believing in Jesus, it's going to click, and she's going to trust Christ on the spot. And that's okay.

I was disappointed that the girl in our ministry didn't get to lead another person to Christ that night. I was really looking forward to that for her. But she did get to be a very important piece of the puzzle God's weaving in this other girl's life. And that's all God calls us to do. We don't have to convert people, but we're called to share the Story. We don't have to win people over, we just have to be faithful, and pray that other people are being faithful too.

Hopefully, one of these days, one of you will get a chance to share your faith with a girl who had a first touch at Starbucks in Fort Worth. If you talk to her, please be faithful to share with her. Don't skip the opportunity. And then, let us know how it goes. There's a leader in our ministry who would really love to hear about it.