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The Tragedy of Compromise

by Ernest Pickering

Salad Bar Sanctuaries

The Concept of "Marketing for Jesus"

One of my wife's favorite restaurant experiences is the trip to the salad bar. She can make a whole meal from the delicacies found there. The wider the selection, the more she enjoys it.

Many contemporary churches have become specialists in operating a spiritual "salad bar." There is something for everyone. If you do not like one offering, you can readily find something else more acceptable to your spiritual palate. Such a "salad bar" approach attracts large numbers of people, but does it build strong churches?

Is the Customer Always Right?

Many modern churches are being built on the concept that one must discover what the marketplace demands and then suit one's ministry to those demands. It is the capitalistic spirit in religious garb. One large church in a midwestern city surveyed its surrounding neighborhoods and asked the residents what kind of church they would prefer to see there. The local residents gave many suggestions, and the church then set about to create a new church patterned after these expressed desires. Those polled, for instance, thought the name "Baptist" was offensive and so the church obligingly dropped the title.

We fail to see any scriptural support for the concept of "church marketing" so widely heralded today. The apostles conducted no surveys of the godless multitudes in Roman cities in order to ascertain what kind of church they might think appropriate. They followed the patterns revealed to them by God, not the opinions uncovered in a neighborhood survey. What do unsaved people know about the proper nature of a church? Nothing! They are spiritually incompetent, blind, and rebellious against God. They do not possess the spiritual ability necessary to assess properly the genuineness of a church. They are dead in trespasses and sins. Dead people do not make very good judgments.

As a matter of fact, the kind of church desired by the average unsaved American may be totally opposite of that described in the New Testament. The unsaved person wants a church that will make him feel good whereas the Lord wants a church that will make him feel the heavy guilt of his sin. The unsaved person likes the jangle of contemporary musical styles whereas the Lord desires music that magnifies the Savior. The unsaved person wants a church that has few standards or requirements whereas the Lord desires a church that calls people to selfless, sacrificial service. The Lord does not invite the unsaved to critique His church because they are "haters of God, . . . proud, . . . [and] without understanding" (Rom. 1:30-31). The will of God as to the organization, methodology, and message of the local church is revealed in the New Testament. These revelations are not subject to adjustment or debate, nor are they open to the correction of those who have no spiritual discernment.

The Aisle to the Salad Bar

The current fad of church marketing was conceived within New Evangelicalism. Many of the leaders of the movement were educated in New Evangelical institutions. Leith Anderson, as an example, is the author of two popular books outlining the church marketing approach. He is a graduate of two leading New Evangelical schools—Conservative Baptist Seminary in Denver and Fuller Theological Seminary.

Principles inherent in New Evangelicalism have appeared also in the church marketing movement where they have been applied specifically to the field of church growth. While some fundamentalists have become enamored with church marketing techniques, it is primarily New Evangelicals that have promoted and practiced them. Some guiding principles that church marketing advocates have inherited from New Evangelicals can be enumerated.

A Disdain for So-Called Negativism

New Evangelicals have shied away from publicly criticizing the theology of other evangelicals. In a similar vein, church marketing advocates advise those who would build successful, growing churches not to criticize the views of fellow believers. As an example, charismatic theology is not challenged by noncharismatics. For this reason charismatics can often feel comfortable in a church whose official doctrinal statement may be noncharismatic.


The Tradedy of Compromise. ByErnest Pickering. ©1994. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address:

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