I think our marketing budgets and production budgets have too many zeros on the end of them.  Here is what I mean:

A couple of times per year I receive a large box in the mail from a national church leader conference. The box contains several posters to hang in the church, some personal invitation cards for their upcoming conference and a few goofy gifts. The gifts are of the whoopy cushion, yoyo, and popcorn variety. The whole thing arrives in some pretty high end packaging and of course, my kids enjoy unboxing it all. The experience of opening the package communicates excellence and frivolity, but every time I receive the package I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.

In the last ten years I have attended a sum total of one conference from this organization. It was a fantastic conference, I learned a great deal and had a fun time. They made a strong appeal to give money for drinking water in Africa. They spoke with conviction about this generation and how we should promote justice around the world. I understand they do this every year. I love that – an organization using their platform to shine light and send resources to the neediest among us.

But this is also my beef because the medium negates the message. In this specific case, the message to give money for fresh drinking water is incongruent with the massive concert level production experience of the conference and the expensive marketing budget of the box that arrives in the mail. Could it be that our global effort has too much to do with us feeling good about our global effort, while wrapped in a powerful concert experience, than it does self sacrificing for our global brothers and sisters?

One box in the mail, twice per year multiplied by tens of thousands of alumni attendees. Each box representing significant dollars of marketing expense, from staffing to production to mailing cost. Why not drop some zeros from the end of the marketing budget? You could mail me a note in a simple brown envelope and send the rest of the marketing budget to provide fresh drinking water. In fact that move in itself would send a powerful message.”Instead of sending you a gift you don’t need, we’ve sent the marketing budget to the neediest, most vulnerable people in the world.” I would attend that conference each year simply based on principle.

I don’t mean to pick on one conference company. I find this sort of incongruence all through the modern western church. It was 1990something when I first heard the phrase, now deeply embedded in most of our churches, that “excellence honors God.” And sure, we all needed to lift our game a little a whole lot.

But excellence is expensive. Crazy expensive. In our days of technological marvel, excellence is elusive. How excellent is too excellent? Where do you draw the line?

As long as my brothers and sisters across the globe are living on less than $2 per day and dying of preventable diseases, I’d rather us be less excellent in our marketing and more excellent in our solidarity.  

That is why one family stopped coming to our church. After one service, they compared us to a church they used to attend in another state. The church invested 6 or 7 figures into their weekend experience, looking at their youtube videos. The person said, “One day you guys will be like that church.”

No we never will, I explained. Our “low tech” approach isn’t all we can afford, it is a conscious decision to draw the line and free up resources on behalf of the massively under resourced among us. Our Sunday experience is void of programmable moving lights, but I’ve noticed that some friends of ours in Africa don’t seem to mind.

I think our marketing budgets and production budgets have too many zeros on the end of them.  Instead of spending 5, 6 or 7 figures on these items, I challenge us to spend 3,4 or 5 figures.  We could all do to drop a couple of zeroes.  That money can make a life changing difference around the world and our people will appreciate the congruence between our production and our solidarity.