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marketing and evangelism – a new model

Marketers and entrepreneurs might help expanding and clarify this post, along with others as these are thoughts in the making…

I am coining the terms “permission evangelism” and “participation evangelism“. So from now on – if you use those terms – please credit me 🙂

Old style marketing has been called “interruption marketing” or “interruptive marketing“. This is unsolicited, impersonal,… It is about trying to catch a person’s attention through cold calling, a television advertisement, newspaper ad, a booth at a show,… I understand the term was coined by Seth Godin. Many a graph illustrates the result – many marketers battling to get a potential buyer’s attention, and ultimately numbing the customer who tunes out of all the advertising.

The distinction is somewhat fuzzy, but newer style marketing tends to be “permission marketing” or “participation marketing“. This is much more about hospitality, about the person anticipating the approach which is personal and welcomed. It is much more about a dialogue initiated by the potential buyer (or after a much more discrete “interruption”). It is unlike a television advertisement which interrupts a person’s experience to (regularly) share information in which they have no interest. Interruptive marketing is a modern style of marketing which requires little or no participation with the person being marketed to. Permission marketing is a post-modern style, regularly involving social media and requiring personal participation along with the “product”.

Now translate this into evangelism. Old style marketing parallels evangelism as the street-corner, bible-bashing approach, which interrupts people, hands them a tract, uses a “one size fits all” approach. It first hopes to create the sense of need which can then be fulfilled by the rest of the message. In our post-modern, multi-faith environment, of course, like old style marketing, the potential convert’s attention is ultimately numbed and tunes out.

Contemporary (post-modern) “permission evangelism” or “participation evangelism” is much more about a relationship in which a person’s real need is discovered and the gospel is found to be “Good News” for their real need.

Churches, it seems to me, are so often empty of a whole section of society, or a whole band of age-groups, because no one is actually finding out what their real needs are. They certainly have real values, meaning, spiritual needs. Let’s go out and find out what they actually are – rather than assuming what they are and telling them what they are. Do we not trust that the gospel addresses the needs that they will present us with?

The distinctions of the two types above may be more blurry than here delineated. This may be an oversimplification. The comments box is open for your clarifications.

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6 thoughts on “marketing and evangelism – a new model”

  1. By far the most powerful evangelism I have ever encountered has been that of personal relationships with people who follow and live the Gospel but who exert absolutely no pressure on me to conform to their beliefs, worldview or way of life. Mostly they don’t even talk to me about their faith unless I ask, and then they tend to take a very cautious “this is how I see it” approach or simply refer me to books or clergy who may be able to answer some of my questions.

    Perhaps what people need is unconditional love, and perhaps human actions are louder for me than words that people claim are holy.

  2. I feel what I have to say goes against the whole idea of “evangelism” – even in your amended version. Or maybe not.

    As you can see from my internet name, I’m a therapist. No would like it if I went to the Malls or the supermarkets and button-holed people to tell them: “You need therapy!” They would be offended, except for maybe a very few who were waiting and hoping that one day some one would come along and recognize their need, without them having to say a word.

    I think if people are searching, if they feel inside themselves a need for something more, they will come and avail themselves of the kinds of evangelism of which you speak. They will come, as they do to me, sometimes not even sure why they’ve called. Now, my work is different of course. And people do need to take a step to come and see me. It’s never something that comes along with being born, like a church might.

    But to my mind, the infinite respect that we need to have for others includes that willingness to wait, that trust in God’s working within them. Naturally, it also requires that we maintain a very watchful and empathic stance, an ability to “read” between the lines sometimes, to hear or see the yearning for something more. I sense from what you’ve written that you’re speaking to that quality.

    Sometimes, without even realizing it, we have an impact on someone, sometimes even a spiritual impact. A few months back, on a political website, someone expressed gratitude to me for having rekindled and strengthened their faith. I tried to deflect that, as something that must have come from within. No, the person said, it was due to me. Ok. I had to accept that. I mention it only because I think that God can work through us – even when we are unaware of that. If we just go around being authentically ourselves and expressing that in whatever we’re involved in.

    I’m not really sure why I’m responding here to what you’ve written. I have immense respect for you and your website. I like your monastic bent. I too have been powerfully influenced by the monastic tradition. A tradition, to my mind, as a Roman Catholic (who dissents powerfully from the pope in many respects) that has been most authentically lived out and transmitted a spiritual vitality – through a community, through individual monks or nuns. And they don’t go around evangelizing. They exercise hospitality. They allow visitors. And simply rubbing elbows with them, even if one is never going to “join” the monastery, can, over time, have a powerful effect.

    I realized that on a visit back to a monastery (about 18 years ago) that to me was like a spiritual home. I’d gone for just a weekend – coming from far away for a specific purpose (related to my work as a therapist, which, at that point, involved a great deal of suffering on behalf of a suffering patient – and I’d gone to ask the monks to pray, for me and for victims of abuse). A priest, who’d spend a week there, was commiserating, imagining that I was missing something, having been there for only a couple days. My response was an insight I did not realize until that moment: “Mount Savior is a state of mind.”

    To me, that statement expresses St.Paul’s words: Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Indeed, my connection with that place had become internalized. Just as the disciples’ connection with Jesus had been internalized. And only by “losing” does one internalize. I think that’s the meaning of Pentecost. What we feel we have lost in the outside world comes to dwell within.

    I’m not sure how that relates to evangelism. Maybe you can tell me.

    Peace be with you. I have a feeling I have told you something important – beyond my words.

  3. Good post, Bosco. Incidentally, I think Godin created permission marketing as a term and concept too. It’s certainly something he hammers home in his books and on his blog.

  4. Rev. Peters,

    I think you’re on to something. It’s a concept that both marketers and evangelists can learn – the importance of forming strong relationships.

    The truth is most people don’t want to be sold, and they don’t want to be sold God any more than they want to be sold a box of cereal. There’s a reason most folks channel surf during commercials.

    You can never effectively market to someone until you find out if they have a problem. Only then will you know if you have a solution that can help them. You’ll never know this unless you get to know them.

    The bullhorn guy in the video was a powerful image of what doesn’t work anymore. Folks like that are fond of asking the question, “What if you were to die tonight and stand before God?” My Sunday School class has been studying a book called, “Christianity Beyond Belief.” The author asks instead, “What would you do if you knew you were going to live a long time?” Christianity, he asserts, is about more than just believing – it’s about living. That is perhaps a simplification, but I think it partially shows where we go wrong in evangelism today. We market Christianity as a way out of hell and into heaven. Folks just aren’t buying it.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Steve DeVane

  5. GREAT post. You hit it square on the head.

    These other comments are also great and very interesting. One thing I wanted to note was that although we may feel more comfortable if people seek us out first, Jesus does command us to seek out the lost. How we go about it, though, should be directed by the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives.

    I live in a log cabin in the woods of Kentucky, USA, and I work at home. But I try to pray regularly to ask God to open up opportunities for me to share with people. And you wouldn’t BELIEVE how many miracles occur when I pray that prayer. God knows whose heart is ready to hear what He has to say to them. If you ask to be used as an instrument of His mercy, He will bring that person to you. In the meantime, you also have to ask for His boldness and empowerment, that you don’t shirk from proclaiming His good news.

    As for method — your post wisely addresses our societal communication needs in our era. We also must be open to the leading of God. If He tells you to speak, speak. You will know His voice if you are leaning into Him every day, just as a child knows the voice of a parent. It is unmistakable. If we try to dissect our methods and do the correct method, we run the risk of silencing Him on how He wants us to go about it.

    This is a fun discussion. I look forward to more blog entries!
    Heidi Rafferty
    Harrodsburg, Kentucky USA

  6. Each day I am even more amazed about online marketing on account of understanding the way the youger generations interact with the online world through computers. My 12 year old nephew just took me a website they had created to keep track of teenage topics for their classmates. They needed to know the best way to create some advertising on the system to generate money. I must tell you I am so poud.

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