A number of weeks ago, I wrote this post about how NOT to talk about God. Treating a relationship with God like an insurance policy (You better have one, or else.) may scare people into professing some kind of faith, but it will not inspire the kind of faith that will change anyone’s life in any kind of meaningful way.
Now we revisit that conversation.
We moved from Chicago to Atlanta in 2008. When you move there are certain things you must do. You must get a new driver’s license, register the car, etc. When you move to Atlanta, there are a few more tasks required. You must eat at the Varsity. Whatya have? Whatya have? Whatya have? And, you must visit the World of Coke. Coca-Cola was invented here, and there is a local ordinance that you come pay homage at least once. And when family comes to visit, you must take them as well.
The World of Coke is a pretty amazing place. Lots of memorabilia. Plenty of souvenir opportunities. (Please exit through the gift shop.) And… the hallowed tasting room. The tasting room has flavors from all over the world for you to try. For FREE. As much as you want. For FREE! Never mind the admission price. The tasting room is FREE!
Remember that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the good one) where the kids are let in to the candy garden? Picture that. A hundred or so Augustus Gloop’s doing tap hits off the Classic.
One of the best kept secrets in the country is the secret formula for Coca-Cola Classic. One of the worst is the one international flavor that every American visitor thinks sucks. I won’t give it away, but I will tell you this. If you ever visit us and we go there, and one of my kids REALLLLLYYYYY wants you to try a particular flavor? It’s not ’cause they like it.
Another attractions they have there is a room where you can sit and watch commercials, classic ones from this country and ads from around the world. The first time I went I sat in that room and watched the whole presentation. It was amazing. Some of the ads from other countries were really funny; some I didn’t quite get. But while I was watching, something really interesting happened. I began to cry. Seriously, I began to tear up. Watching one ad after the other was too much. I was sitting there thinking, “Oh my gosh! This is beautiful! The polar bears are sharing. Mean Joe? He’s not that mean. And those kids want to teach the world to sing. The WHOLE DAMN WORLD!” I was wrecked.
And then the lights came on and another thought went through my head. “Sugar water.” They’re selling sugar water. I was crying over sugar water.
Sidenote: I love the sugar water, so please don’t get mad at me, Dr. Pemberton. I’m a big fan. My wife and I contribute in a huge way to your bottom line. As a matter of fact, if you want to sponsor this blog and supply me with product, so I can stay up later and write more, I’m all for it. Saint Teresa of Avila once said she could be bought off with a sardine. I certainly could for a twacker of Diet Coke.
Coca-Cola does a great job of marketing this drink, because to them it’s more than a drink. It’s part of your cookout, your graduation party, your Christmas celebration. You take one more sip of it as you drum up the courage to ask that girl to the dance. It’s part of your life, not just something you drink.
I don’t care if you like this drink or this company. Here’s my point.
When we talk about God, we need to talk about God in these terms. God’s not something you better have as part of your life. God is someone you want to have in your life, because that relationship adds depth and emotion and holiness to the experiences in your life.
Someone once asked me if people who don’t believe in God receive God’s grace. I believe they absolutely do; they just don’t recognize it as grace because they don’t believe God is the source of it.
I don’t think God wants to be a threat in our lives. God wants to be a welcome guest, a part of the experience. A way to deepen the connection between us and other people.
It’s about love, not fear. And in the end, love beats fear every time.
3 thoughts on “Marketing God, part 2”
Little did I know the day I met you in Fellowship Hall just how truly awesome you are ! I’d like to teach the world to sing too. Love you Patrick.
How do you think the way God is marketed should be designed for different audiences to make the Gospel come alive? For example, I agree that with youth, teens, and students, God’s love is bigger than fear. However, I think the biggest leap of faith for people is believing in God’s supreme power and sovereignty. It’s tempting to see our life and our world as one where God isn’t acting, and where he isn’t in control. It’s also tempting to only let him into the margins of our lives, and not the core.
Our church is about to multiply and stretch into a blue collar city neighborhood that is mostly Catholic or immigrant background, 33% Asian immigrants, 31% Caucasian, 33% Hispanic,2% African American. We are praying about what it will look like to have and evangelical community here in Bridgeport.
Dan, good question. I think the biggest challenge in evangelism is that it is so relational, so contextual. It really can’t be packaged for any audience (not that I think you are suggesting that). We need to know the people with whom we are sharing the gospel in order to know what parts of might first resonate with them. Once we understand that, then the bigger picture can be unfolded for them, or they can discover it on their own.
I share the following as an unfortunate example of what happens when, even with the best of intentions, that relationship doesn’t exist. A pastor went to pray for the dying patriarch of a family in her church. She had seen how much the family revered the father, so out of respect for that tradition she peppered her prayers with masculine titles for God, even though she typically would have used more gender neutral language. When she concluded the prayer, she left the room to give the family some space. The oldest son followed her out of the room and said, “That son of a bitch beat us every day when he came home from work. If your Father God is anything like him, then I want no part of it.”
We don’t know what people are hungry for, what part of this wonderful God they need to hear about first. We don’t know that until we know them.
I would say keep doing what you’re doing. Build relationships in the community. Research, see what the needs are. Of course, the picture of our Lord will be bigger than the piece they are looking for. But that picture is bigger than the picture any of us imagine.