Christian Marketing

One of my favorite things about twitter is seeing little comments that make me stop and think. Yesterday I saw Derek Webb twitter…

The word “christian,” when applied to anything other than a human being, is just a marketing term.

I don’t know if I totally agree, but just think how often we do that.

Christian music.

Christian books.

Christian label.

Christian publishers.

Christian bookstore.

Christian greeting cards.

Christian dating service.

Christian radio.

Christian camps.

Christian clothing lines.

What do you think? Is it just a marketing term? Is it overused?

76 Responses to “Christian Marketing”

  1. J.C. says:

    I wouldn’t say it’s “just” a marketing term. However, we discussed in branding classes a section of advertising called “Christian” that is designed specifically for people who profess themselves to be “Christian”.

    It is most definitely a marketing term a lot of the time. Unfortunately, being a Christian is no longer defined as someone following after the person of Christ.

    I wish that it was different.

  2. Chris S. says:

    It is totally a marketing term, not necessarily a for-profit term, but certainly one with marketing in mind.

    Applying “Christian” in front of a product, genre, etc. simply makes us feel safe in consuming that product without really thinking about it. We are called to love God with all of our minds, we are not called to mindlessly engage with things because they have been labeled “Christian.” After all “Christian” means little Christ, right? How can a thing be an imitator of Christ?

  3. “Christian” might not apply to all of the things we label with it under the banner of marketing but it definitely is when we are selling toothbrushes, bobbleheads and mints. :)

    • Pete Wilson says:

      I think I might need a Christian toothbrush actually.

      • HAHAHAHAHA I think they have those at your local Zondervan Book Store. In the “Made in China” junk section. It probably cost $4.99. The same one can be found at your local grocery store’s $0.99 basket w/o the “Christian” label. If you want to stay a cool post-modern Christian you need to buy the $5 Christian toothbrush.

  4. Kyle Reed says:

    To me it is a term that promises safety.

    Which that is the marketing side of it all. You are safe when you buy this. You are safe when you read this. You are safe when you listen to this. Just go and listen to Christian radio. That is what they say every time. Safe for the whole family.

    I think the problem is, there is nothing safe about Christianity.

    • Pete Wilson says:

      Dang Kyle. Good stuff bro.

    • Rob Rash says:

      Totally agree Kyle.

    • JamesBrett says:

      agreed, kyle.

      and an accompanying problem is that many “christian” things are not indeed “safe” as would be presumed. because we’ve defined safe as not having bad language, sex, or graphic violence.

      we overlook things like materialism, greed, and assessing one’s worth from how they’re viewed by others. which is ironic, because many of these christian markets actually play to these very desires.

    • Rich says:

      Very well said. I recently spoke at a Christian chapel service and encouraged them to not just grow up Christian but grow up courageous.

    • Derek Ellis says:

      I was going to write a comment, but then, I realize that Kyle said it better! Well done, brotha!

    • Ann-Marie Kennedy says:

      I know of folks who will not ever refer to themselves as Christian. I know of folks who think that identifying themselves as “Christian” anything means that they think they are better than others. Most times I find that using the label means excluding others. I homeschool, for example, but I will not have us participate in a home school group which isolates on this premise and the folks who do use “Christian” for home school or “Christian” family, or “Christian” parenting do not know that we HUMANS are homeschooling, are in families and are parenting. I am sure that some families think that that means that they can beat their child and have it sanctioned as acceptable by their “Christian” faith.

  5. Rika says:

    The term “marketing” is everything that takes place from getting a product or service from the producer of the goods or service to the the final consumer. Putting christian in front of a service or product, is just targeting the audience that might be interested. The process and people involved in getting the product to the final consumer may or may not be handled or executed by Christ Followers. I don’t know if it is overused, but I do believe the term can be deceiving. Only a person can be a Christ Follower.

  6. I heard Matt Chandler say once something along the lines of “Bearing the term Christian requires a soul.” He was talking in direct response to the booming “Christian” sub-culture that’s been created. Christian bookstores. Christian magazines. Christian sports leagues. I’ve even seen Christian teen night clubs–and that’s just absurd. I mean, do they serve communion instead of alcohol? What exactly makes these things Christian?

    I tend to be rather cynical towards “Christian” anything. I pray to be more like Jon Acuff and turn that into satire rather than sarcasm/cynicism.

    • Tim says:

      The word “Christian”, when used as an adjective, is simply a description of the values one can expect to find in or around a certain product or service. Shoes can’t be “athletic”, but we call them athletic shoes all the time. Country music isn’t from the country or found in the country. Fast food isn’t fleet of foot. Adjectives help a reader or listener know what to expect when they engage with the noun (or thing) in question.

      I don’t think the problem is that “things” are marketed as “Christian” but that, when the word IS used (whether with products or people), no one has a solid handle on what it means anymore.

      • Ann-Marie Kennedy says:

        Tim,
        Did it mean anything tangible in the first place or has it always been used as a ruse? A way to manipulate? A way to separate and segregate? A way to hold others hostage?

    • Pete Wilson says:

      Hard to disagree with Matt Chandler. :)

  7. As much as I hate to say it, I feel that term is definitely over used and taken advantage of way too frequently. I remember school supply shopping with my siblings one day and my mom stumbled on some folders and pens that had scriptures and other “christian” based sayings on them. The folders were $2 if not $3 more than the other designs. Seeing that made me feel a little taken advantage of.

    Marketers know that the christian world likes to think of itself as its on little existing bubble. “Christian” music, “Christian” bookstores, “Christian” school supplies, its kind of sad how we create that little bubble. In my opinion I don’t know that Jesus’ original plan was for us to only buy into the “Christian” market, or to create our own little bubble.

    • The prices at the Christian book stores always amaze me… I always feel really irritated at the commercialism of it all. But that’s the culture we live in today…

      • Elisa says:

        Some “Christian” bookstores are not owned by Christians. They are owned by people who want to make money. Making money isn’t a bad thing. Money is a blessing. But, there is a Christian bookstore chain in the Dallas area that will only play instrumental Christian music as not to offend anyone by the words. That is just 10 kinds of wrong.

  8. Sean Shaw says:

    I have to agree with Derek and most of the other people here . The term Christian has been exploited to be used in ways other than what it was originally intended for.

  9. Candes says:

    As “Christians” we are set apart from the world. Our music, our books are set apart from the rest. Having said that I believe there are people out there that will use the name “Christian” to sell their wares to the Christian community. We can’t take it for granted that just because something is labeled “Christian” doesn’t mean the producer’s beliefs are Christ based.

  10. woody says:

    I hope the word Christian is not overused…

    Any adjective preceeding a name/product/etc simply tries to describe that person/product/etc. What we want more than anything is for that description to be the truth. “He’s an honest politician”, “she’s an attractive woman”.

    The problem with putting “Christian” as an adjective instead of using it as a noun, means that the public is left to determine if it is truth or not.

    I am a Christian. Jesus, help me to live more like you, so I can:

    listen to music, read books, listen to the radio, get a date, and go to camp, truthfully.

  11. Andy says:

    For me it was a distraction. There was a time I felt that I needed to buy things that were branded “Christian” because I thought that was part of being a Christian.

  12. Jenny says:

    wow – I had never thought about that before, but totally agree.

  13. Aaron says:

    “Christian” just positions product x to attract the attention of a niche market segment. That doesn’t make it bad. What’s bad is the word “Christian” can mean anything from the “church I went to sunday school at when I was a kid” to “my facebook religious preference” to “I believe in God and I’m a good person” to “I’m American”. And I’m afraid that many “Christian” products do little to challenge that weak brand image. So who influenced who? Did marketing re-brand “Christian” with its generic inclusivity? or did we (the Church) re-brand “Christian” with our generic life styles?

  14. Lindsey A. says:

    It is a marketing term intended to appeal to a certain demographic, and an inept one at best since indeed an inanimate object cannot follow Christ. However, one of the problems with labeling an item “Christian” is that it relegates it to a certain subsegment of the population- those who would actually engage with something labeled “Christian.” If a book or song or movie is labeled as Christian, it loses all mass appeal and isn’t the whole point of all we do to point a lost culture to the Gospel, to be salt and light? How can we effectively do so if we automatically isolate the masses from engaging by slapping the label of Christian on things?

  15. The word “Christian” is definitely overused for marketing. I often wonder what God thinks about the idea of “Christian Business” However, Derek Webb wouldn’t have an audience for his music if he hadn’t started out with the “Christian Music” label for his music. It gave him a platform to launch his ministry. Fortunately, he can now reach non-Christians due to the financial support from Christians.

  16. LsaintJ says:

    From an etymological standpoint, when used as an adj. “Christian” utilizes the suffix “ian” Which means “from, realting to, or like”
    So at it’s bare bones we have the question, can creation create something that is “from, realted to, or like” Christ. (applied here in the context of marketing)

    Ultimately I think no. We are his original creation, created “from, related to and like” in his image. So our re-creation cannot be anything relating to Christ without being a creation-made idol. (even positive, symbolic marketing ideas are not true reflections of what the father looks like or is like… John 6:46) Romans 1:25 also comes to mind. “creation above Creator”

    Great post, or should I say, what a “Heavenly” post. ;)

    p.s. i love derek webb

  17. Jay says:

    I think it’s a great point. One to reflect on with my own product. I have a book out called, “The 9 Tenets of a Successful Relationship.” When I talk about it with prospective interviewers or reviewers, I tell them my book has a Christian overtone. If asked, I explain that means the book doesn’t give advice directly from scripture, but the principles are based in scripture (I’m not quoting scripture per se). Therefore, I want to reach an audience who is open to a Christian methodology (and those who aren’t–but you get my point). I don’t know that I would call Christian a “marketing term” but I think in when used with books, music, publishers, etc, it is a point of reference. If we as Christians are called to be different, then one would suppose we need a way to differentiate good and services which cater to our needs.

    I agree with J.C. that I wish being a Christian was exclusively defined as someone following after the person of Christ.

  18. BT says:

    Maybe if we put the words “for Christians” after marketable goods instead of using “Christian” as a descriptor, it wouldn’t have such a negative connotation and be more representative of how “exclusive” we often are. (sigh!)

  19. Jake Kaufman says:

    I’m a marketing fanatic…and actually believe that churches should be more intentional about the stories they are throwing out to the masses. But…there’s a larger issue at play here.

    The bigger issue is that we’ve created an entire Christian subculture … removing our narratives of grace, rescue, and hope from the “world” and placing them in the safe confines of the “christian genre.” While I don’t necessarily think that this is dangerous, I do think that there are some negative and unintended consequences:

    This world is desperate for art that conveys meaningful things: art, writing, speech, photography… which reflects hope, presents truth, displays beauty, and encourages positive response. Sadly, we market these products to the people who’ve already heard the story, and alienate a culture which hasn’t.

  20. liz says:

    Marketing term + business = over used & devalued meaning

  21. He’s definitely hit upon something – as we use that as a way to say “hey you can buy this it’s a safe alternative” and it almost always means, not intentionally, that it’s a sub-par alternative.

  22. Sharon says:

    I think it is overused. It means nothing to people who are not followers of Jesus. I stopped calling myself a Christian a long time ago. When people ask me what religion I am, I say I’m a follower of Jesus. I know even Paul coined the term Christian, but it’s a word tossed around with out it’s true meaning anymore. I want people to know that I am not a “Christian” but someone who follows Jesus Christ

    • Chaplain Roger Burdge says:

      Act 11:26 and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that even for a whole year they were gathered together with the church, and taught much people, and that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch

      Peter & Paul, teaching, the church assembled, they were luke calls them disciples, The church, disciples, heroes of truth, 3 out of three ain’t bad.

      Chaplain Burdgee

  23. david lyons says:

    Great question Pete. I often cringe when I hear that term because there seems to be some pride in it or an almost separatist feeling. Describing things as “Christian” or “non-Christian” makes me uncomfortable. Probably because I know how it can come across to those who aren’t yet Christ followers or those who have turned away from their faith.
    If we are really trying to market, why not act as Christ and have those with whom we’re interacting ask “why are you different?” Let’s live it and not label it.
    David Lyons “Christian” Headhunter :) :)

  24. Ross Decker Sr says:

    I do agree with the Derek Webb tweet. I retreated it. One negative of Christian branding is that it limits us and creates a Christian ghetto and takes Christian thought out of the marketplace. I’m also disturbed by the frenzy of the local church to brand itself because I think it is presumptous to think that we can decide toward which fish we will cast out net.

  25. George says:

    If it points to the Father it is Christian whether it has that word describing or not. If it does not point to the Father it is not Christian even if it has that descriptor in front of it. Does it point to the Father?

  26. Rob Rash says:

    As an artist, I always tried to stay away from the term ‘Christian.’ Not because I was ashamed of my faith, its who I am, but because of the stigma and persona that comes along with it.

    I was in a band that was full of Christian’s and was sang about life and faith issues, but we weren’t necessarily playing to a Christian crowd.

    I’m not a big fan of the Christian sub-culture. Plus, being a ‘Christian’ is more than a label or a name… but it is a marketing term, although not exclusively.

  27. katdish says:

    Christian as an adjective really bugs me. As others have mentioned, labeling something “Christian” denotes safety. I suppose I struggle with marketing stuff specifically to Christians because it seems like preaching to the choir. What’s the point?

    I especially dislike rewording common advertising slogans with a Christian slant. I ranted incessantly about it last year: http://katdish.net/2010/02/pardon-me-while-i-rant-incessantly-christian-retail-edition-2/

  28. Jason says:

    Christian is a noun not an adjective.

    The problem is we have been commanded to “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thes. 5:21) When we buy into labels we are doing as we commanded. We are letting others tell us what is good or not. And as we all know there have been many things (songs, sermons, books…etc) labeled Christian that were not teaching God’s truth. And vise versa….there have been many things, written, said and sung that were not labeled christian but shared Godly truth.

    It comes down to us taking responsibility to do what we were told. Test everything. Hold onto the good.

  29. Brooke says:

    Overused? Yes! We should be known by our LOVE, not our LABEL.

  30. Laura Anne says:

    I think a lot of it is marketing and it also accentuates the ‘them & us’ mentality that can sneak into your subconscious when you get sucked into living in a Christian bubble with all your socialising being amongst Christians?

  31. Sadly, I think it is a marketing term. However, in this increasingly corrupt cosmos diabolicus we use the term to set us apart from those things that are of this world as opposed to those things that are set apart unto HIM. I will use myself as an example, I am founder of a “Christian Fitness” company. We create “Christian programming” with suggested “Christian Music” tracks. With 24+ years experience in the “Secular Fitness” market and the scars to show it – I want to set apart that which HE called me to do from that which I was doing. People from the Atlanta area, across the US to New Zealand, recognize me as having performed in the secular fitness market. Can I just say, “Yuck!” At some point the Lord opened my eyes to the pit of hell I was not only operating in – but where I was encouraging others to spend money and countless hours in which to pursue a career! Group Exercise is a good thing. Research shows folks participating in it have a 90% increased rate of exercise adherence – but at what cost? Don’t get me wrong, He used me in the secular market to minister. I was blessed to see participants and instructors under my mentorship accept Christ. However, the music, the moves the training which promoted self, self, self…all of it was abhorent. With that being said, after accepting the call to step out fully for HIM (and it has been costly financially, relationally and emotionally) He has begun to in two shot years) show the fruit of the ministry. I am a fitness minister who equips others in their fitness minstry calling to go out and share HIM through music and movement to maintain their bodies so THE BODY can funtion at a higher level for as long as He has planned. I want to be recognized as different than the secular fitness market – but the pressure is on to live up to His call as well. (majorly painful at times!!!) A an aside: I do not put a “Christian symbol” on the back of my car….I live in Hotlana for heaven’s sake…I don’t want any bad advertisement!!!!

  32. Jason Vana says:

    I don’t know if I would say it was definitely a marketing term, but I do believe Christian is meant to be a noun, not an adjective. A Christian is one who follows Christ, and even means “little Christ” or “Christ-like.” A book cannot be a “little Christ”, nor can a movie or store or school or anything else that isn’t a human.

  33. Emily says:

    We Christian marketers think of it more as a clarifier. ;-)

  34. Jen says:

    Yes and no.

    I think that by adding “Christian” to music, radio station, bookstore, etc., you are

    1. defining it as a TYPE of music, radio station, bookstore, etc.; and
    2. using it to market to a specific group of people identify as “Christian.”

    It’s interesting, though, that there are artists who are Christian in their faith but who refuse to allow themselves to be labeled as “Christian” when it comes to the music they write/perform or the books they write. I question whether or not that is just marketing, too.

  35. Brian says:

    All I know is one time I hired a Christian repairman to handle a repair for a rental property. I think he added an extra $100 on the invoice because of his title. I told him I was a brother also, not sure if it backfired on me or not. Nice guy but nice bill also. :)

  36. Craig Smith says:

    the term Christian is supposed to be a representation is it not? Jesus said the world would know His followers by the love that we show. Not because we have a fish on our SUV. Not because we wear a tie to church. Not because we are so polished that it hurts. But Christian has become a marketing tool. I think about all of the business owners that have a fish symbol on their truck or business card. If you took the fish symbol away, would the world still know you follow Jesus?

  37. Q1: I think that the answer to Q2 is … not quite. While it is too often used as a marketing term, I do think some people have and do use it feeling like they are helping other Christians know what products are ‘safe’ for them and/or their children.

    And the answer to Q3 is … Yes!

  38. While in Washington DC last week I saw a tour bus that described itself as a “Christian tour.” Not sure what it meant exactly. Are other tour buses not Christian? Do they travel to different places than nonChristians tours? It seemed like a marketing ploy but I am still uncertain of how the product was different.

  39. Sharon says:

    I’m even a little uneasy with using “Christian” to describe human beings. The term has too many definitions/preconceptions attached to it, many of them negative and having nothing to do with the real Christ.

  40. Erica says:

    I would go one step further to propose that when applying the term to oneself it can also be considered self marketing… “& the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” I think it’s worth pointing out the disciples didn’t come up with this term to describe themselves, rather the world did so… It is my opinion that using christian as a label for anyone or anything is a marketing term unless a lost soul uses it to describe a person or ‘thing’ that is so unusual, so weird, so Christ like that the only way to describe it would be by using christian.

  41. Seth says:

    MARKETING.

  42. Lance says:

    I am not a marketer, but how is this different than green, or organic labeling. And why do the prople who call themselves Christians get offended? The safety aspect of labeling is personal comfort. Having met Derek accidentally once in the neighborhood and I have watched him perform on an art and justice tour I get the sense that he is more than offended by labeling and marketing. I got the impression authentic represents his heart.

  43. I think some even use it to market themselves. Throw it around when they think it’ll help.

  44. Ed Carr says:

    I believe that the term is certainly overused and miss leading in marketing. It is my understanding that we are to be followers of Christ. The apostolic church didn’t call themselves Christians. That was a name that others called them when they saw how they behaved and followed Christ’s teachings. Maybe we have a lesson to learn there? Let’s walk the walk and let others call us Christian based on what they observe from our behavior and how we treat others.

  45. Carrie says:

    Hmmm…I think sometimes it’s just a clarifier of what type of music or genre the thing they are selling is. However, it’s also a marketing ploy. I’ve been reading a book by Robert Morris and this is what he says regarding “Christian businesses” who try to get him involved with whatever they are selling. “Why call them “Christian”? Can they be saved? Do they have a soul? Nope. There are Christians and there are businesses. And there are Christians IN businesses that are making a difference”. I’m paraphrasing, of course. But I thought he made a point.
    That being said, I think there are some that truly just want to be a Christian who influences art, movies, or music. And they’re not ashamed of their faith at all but they want to preach to people who need to hear the Gospel so they avoid the Christians genre. There are others who just want to blend in and not talk about their faith in Christ so they shun the Christian label. Only God knows there hearts, really.

  46. Nick Giaconia says:

    An interesting take from someone who has made their living under such a moniker for many years. What would Mr. Webb’s position have been if the “Christian” record label to which he was signed did not exist and therefore be unable to pitch his songs to the never formed “Christian” radio stations who played his songs, which garnered him his Dove award nominations and wins? I don’t think anyone would care, since at that point, he would simply be another person with an opinion and not someone with any kind of visibility.
    It is a double edged sword, to swing in the hammock of that which we despise.

  47. Nate VZ says:

    Well, sadly I think it may becoming a marketing tool.

    However, I used it to my advantage on Saturday when I convinced Holly that the 8 weight boron R.L. Winston Fly Rod I purchased was a “Christian Fly-Rod”…

  48. NancyMon says:

    I laugh everytime I see Christian Fiction at the local Christian bookstore. Christian fiction is an oxymoron. :)

  49. Tom says:

    I totally agree. What next – Christian bicycles? Christian food? Christian gardening tools?

    A reality check is probably long overdue… seriously, someone bought me a ‘Christian’ mug. How can you have a Christian mug? When did it make its confession of faith? As it was being hand painted in some Tiwanese sweat shop?

    Its just a term that allows manufacturers and retailers to bump up the price and aim squarely for a niche market. We need to wake up and smell the Christian coffee.

    Lets face it, the ‘Chrisitan’ brand sells… at least in the USA.

Leave a Reply