In marketing language, bringing someone in to your tribe (“making a customer”) is a process of conversion. Oddly enough. Or maybe not. In both the work of business and in the work of faith, the sender – the one with the message – has what he or she hopefully believes is a life changing idea to share. The difference, as we stated earlier, is that corporate marketing is self-focused while faith marketing is others-focused.
All of this brings us to Jesus’ marketing tactics. Here is Jesus’ conversion formula:
As we’ve discussed, Jesus altered his communication style to best reach the distinct nature of his given audience. Communication begins with the storyreceiver: who they are and where they are on the shores of faith. Rather than focusing on the features of a message, effective communication focuses on how it benefits the storyreceiver. The goal is to help move people down the shoreline into deeper waters of faith.
As my co-author Jason Moore and I noted in Digital Storytellers, art is the discovery of discipleship. The work of imagination, through story and metaphor, presents a known quantity in a new way, inviting the initial connection and comparison. It unsettles and causes us to re-evaluate things we may have thought we understood. It seeds growth by raising questions.
Generally, what is more important than getting water-tight answers is asking the right questions.
– Madeleine L’Engle
Jesus was more interested in raising questions then answering them. (Yet we are quite uncomfortable with this style. We’d rather prove our point.)
Although it’s fun to break apart scriptural text and answer questions, sometimes the best learning occurs when we allow storyreceivers to discover on their own. This happens when creativity leads to intrigue, which in turn creates a response. Even though the disciples didn’t get it, they came back. When you begin to teach Wide, you’ll hook people, and they’ll return with questions. Good intrigue creates feedback.
I love the word Jesus uses for the truths of the kingdom of heaven: secrets. They are wonders of the deep, like a diver that rounds an undersea outcropping to discover a beautiful coral reef. When we discover the eureka of genuine spiritual truth, we’re changed. The call to deeper levels of discipleship and commitment is the purpose of church communication. The goal of all ministry, whether preaching or teaching or mission, is to make disciples, and share these secrets. The goal of any communication is to change the heart and life of the storyreceiver, whether Crowd or Disciple. Wherever a person is on the shoreline, we want to invite them to go deeper. Jesus’ strategy, outlined above, is good for everyone, regardless of where they are in faith.
Deep and Wide
The near concurrent release of new philosophically defining books by Andy Stanley (Wide emphasis) and Timothy Keller (Deep emphasis) prompted many to compare the relative merits of the two, both of whom have seen success in their ministry life. While we may lean toward one or another, both are a part of the life of faith. It’s a false dichotomy to separate the two audiences and approaches.
It’s a fallacy to fall into the trap of thinking of Wide as “seeker” or unbeliever teaching and Deep as believer teaching. The reality is much more complex. Instead of thinking of people as churched / unchurched or seeker / believer, like a Yes/No answer or a 0-1 switch on a circuit board, we need to think of them along a line of spiritual development, entering into waters of faith, in a move from crowds to disciples. Jesus’ Wide and Deep method doesn’t address people based on religious capacity or even their expression of belief in Jesus but on their wisdom and spiritual formation.
Early on, when people are on the shoreline, it’s about wide – reaching people where they are, inviting people into the waters of faith. But, the deeper you go, the harder it is to swim, fighting the currents and the dangers and animals and waves. Why go? Because this is where life is. It’s the wonders of the deep. Eventually, we’re called to come and die.
So felt need is vital for faith but as crowds become disciples, our messages change, from ourself to others, from solving our own problems to solving other people’s problems.
As I stated in the last chapter, believers, or people who are wading in the deeper waters of faith in Jesus Christ, still need Wide teaching for those truths for which they have not received the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. It is a mistake to forget about story with believers. Take the prodigal son. A person can experience the story as a young man and be led to faith. But what happens twenty five years later, when he’s forgotten the feelings he felt at one time, and his son becomes the prodigal? A new experience of the story becomes completely different, and creates new changes in the older man’s character.
This is exactly what Jesus did when he met people’s needs. Jesus used story to address people’s real life situations and needs. The catch is that he didn’t leave them there, but while meeting their needs, he challenged them to take the next step forward into the deeper waters of faith.
Every story, every creative effort in the church, must have a higher purpose. It must call people to a deeper form of discipleship.
While I am a big believer in this approach, and have seen it work for years in a variety of settings, there is one major caveat. And that is the final installment of Jesus Marketer, coming next week.
This is part 11 of a 12-part series, Jesus Marketer.
Next, Part 12: Jesus’ Conversion Formula, Part 2.