Marketing or Serving? (part one)
Clayton Greene is the First Impressions Director at the Summit’s Brier Creek Campus, Sunday North Venue. You oughta follow him on Twitter.
In his book on work, Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller says the gospel teaches us that “the meaning of life is to love God and love our neighbor, and the operating principle is servanthood.”
That’s a short way for Keller to summarize the purpose of our work in this life. He includes this statement in an overall discussion of what a worldview is. Our worldview is the way we make sense of what is wrong with the world and decide what we are supposed to do to help make it right. With this statement, he is suggesting that we are supposed to serve others to demonstrate our love for God and our love for our neighbors.
In this he is making a contrast between modern secular worldviews that say that our lives and our work are meant to fulfill us. He goes on to say that in a post modern culture “we now get a sense of self not from our roles in family and society, but as consumers. We are encouraged to create a persona through the brands we choose to purchase and the identity we are able to construct for ourselves.”
Many of us in America have fallen into a secular worldview that says that temporal excitement and gathering products for ourselves will help us create a happy life worthy of respect and awe. The world around us and the companies in this culture often understand our hearts better than we do. They market to us in what many call a consumerist culture. What we don’t want is for our churches to fall into this same category. That’s something we always discuss when training our First Impressions teams. We don’t want to just be a part of consumerism where we make church all about the people we want to come and less about the God who created us.
Let me be clear about our understanding of the consumer culture and the companies who serve as thought leaders. Yes, we study and listen to secular companies about how to structure systems, how to create a consistent dynamic with volunteers, and how to best serve a guest. In this we are not suggesting that secular companies like Starbucks and Disney necessarily understand the gospel, but we recognize that many of these companies already do a better job than us at demonstrating hospitality and appreciation to their guests. In recognizing this, we are exercising the theology of common grace. That is, God is holding the world together with his hands and allows all good things to come from Him. Here’s what that means: secular organizations are run by people who are image bearers of God. They put a lot of work into understanding the hearts of other image bearers of God. And so they can demonstrate grace in a way that even they don’t yet fully understand. Did you get that? They don’t fully understand redemptive grace and how that grace completes the picture that they are desperately trying to paint, yet God in his great mercy is allowing them to be a facilitator of grace to this world. These companies have figured out how we are wired but they don’t yet know the full story of why their systems work.
We know the full story.
They have figured out that people are using products and services and organizations to help find significance in their lives. They also know that people are wired in a way that if you treat them like they belong, they will return, because people want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves.
So what’s the difference between a secular company and a sacred institution? The difference for churches should be that we are serving our neighbor not to get something out of them but to get something for them. We don’t greet you at your car and walk you inside and give you a gift so that you will give something back to us. We do that because we believe the message inside is the message that can give you full significance in a way that will change your life for the better.
The experience we attempt to provide at the Summit is not meant to be a gimmick, but a demonstration of the gospel of grace. When we serve our guests well, it is only the beginning of the message we are telling. And that message fulfills our hearts in a way that even the best secular companies cannot.