Advertise The Good News!
By Dr. Bruce Creed

The ancient Greek philosophers first codified the rhetorical principles we still use today, noting that the principle duty of the rhetorical practitioner was to “teach, delight, and move.” From that ancient time, when one man claimed that he could teach others to be better speakers, humans have deployed persuasive advertising in order to “move” each other, and to sell their goods and ideas in the marketplace. Another of the important lessons the ancients taught us about the marketplace is that the buyer should beware – some messages are better than others.

In the Middle Ages, St. Augustine wrote “On Christian Doctrine,” claiming that if the pagans were able to “teach, delight, and move” audiences in order to promote their messages, Christians should do no less than to teach, delight, and move their audiences for the sake of the gospel. Since the time of St. Augustine, Christians have debated the utility and appropriateness of using rhetorical principals of persuasion to spread the gospel.

So, we should ask ourselves whether advertising is compatible with the Christian message. Can advertising help us to spread the good news? Should churches use advertising to increase their memberships or to attract people into their programs? If a church has a wonderful program for youth, but not many youth participating, why shouldn’t they advertise? Since church programs have positive impacts on their communities, is there any harm in advertising if the message is a positive Christian one?

Ours is a busy, consumer-driven culture. Advertising is able to get our attention, and so we sell everything as a product, whether the product is cheese or a political candidate. Advertising is able to penetrate our consciousness and give us the incentive to consume. Since everybody is busy, including our youth, is there any harm in getting their attention through advertising?

Advertising is an integral part of our consumer-driven culture, but Christians are often encouraged to disconnect themselves from worldly notions. We are supposed to be “in the world, but not of the world.” We should, then, as Christians, take care to make certain that we are advertising for the sake of the gospel. St. Augustine would probably approve of our use of persuasion to “move” our audience toward the gospel of Christ.

If an ad is targeted to a particular audience and if it gets their attention, the creators of the ad can be said to have read their audience well. This is the primary formula for advertising–tailoring a particular message to a particular audience. Church workers can and should be aware of their audience and know as much about them as possible, in order to reach them.

Advertising is an effective means of connecting specific emotions with ideas. Music and images appeal to us on an emotional level, and advertisers who use them often use them to associate deeply held ideas with the ideas and concepts they want to point out in the message they are “selling.” There are many wonderful ideas we can use to “move” our audiences to take advantage of the wholesome Christian fellowship available to them in our churches.

Advertising provides us with the opportunity to develop an awareness of the fit between the idea being advertised and our interests. Advertising also spreads awareness of ideas among communities. Therefore, there is no real harm in advertising. However, churches should still consider its value carefully. Likewise, church workers who want to attract a particular audience among their congregation should be aware that in close-knit communities, word-of-mouth advertising is probably more efficient and less expensive.

Dr. Bruce Creed serves as associate professor of communcation for Concordia University, Nebraska. Bruce and his wife Stacy live near Concordia’s campus in Seward, Neb.