The older I get, the more suspicious I become of shopping malls. Do you know they’ve studied human psychology and designed the whole mall to increase your buying behavior? They know exactly what flooring to use, what height to raise the ceiling, what colour schemes work best, what music to play, how to dress shop windows and how to position shops to maximize your spending. All I know is that when I go to a bright, new, shiny mall, I experience a mix of two emotions; one which suddenly makes me realize how desperately I needed new clothes, shoes, trinkets and knick-knacks to make me happy; and one which can smell manipulation a mile away and screams at me to leave as quickly as possible, and protect my heart and my wallet. My usual strategy is to stick to my local shops, and avoid stepping into these malls in the first place.
I worry that many churches are reading from the same marketing manual as shopping mall designers. I am concerned they are using similar techniques to influence consumer behaviour. I visited a different church recently and saw all the familiar marketing tricks; a beautifully presented, inoffensive and neutral building; friendly, welcoming people placed at strategic locations, smiling and establishing eye-contact with me; an intense time of group singing which directly altered my emotional state and made me feel like a small part of something bigger; a dynamic speaker who started the sermon off with humor and stories to establish his credibility, then weaved in an emotional hook to complete the sale.
The whole experience made me feel like a target, like a “potential customer”. It felt smooth and slick, coached and orchestrated. Even though I’m a regular church attender and know how sincere people’s motives were, my natural skepticism kicked into gear and warned me to hold back from the obvious emotional manipulation. It left me feeling a bit unsettled.
I love what this church was trying to do – and so very many churches like it. I know that God’s people are earnestly trying to present a comfortable, emotionally engaging, high-quality presentation of God’s message to the world. Many of these churches don’t understand why the world is staying away from their “seeker-sensitive” services. The people around us are natives in a marketing world. They know what we’re trying to do – shift their belief systems, convert them to a different way of thinking. And many of them will take steps to guard themselves and their emotions by avoiding stepping into our buildings in the first place.