Filmmaker and media consultant Phil Cooke on fine-tuning (or overhauling) how we publicly share the gospel.
1. We’ve forgotten the power of creativity.
It’s interesting that in Genesis 1, God introduced Himself as “Creator.” But for people made in His image, we’ve really dropped the ball. During the Middle Ages, it was Christian artists, writers and sculptors who led the world in creativity. But today, we’re more likely to simply rip off the secular culture. I even had one pastor tell me that “copyright” actually means “your right to copy.” The other day, I walked through a local Christian store, and the shelves were filled with Testamints: The Breath Mint with a Scripture, a Cross USB computer drive (because Jesus saves?) and a “Jesus Died for MYSPACE in Heaven” T-shirt. And most Christian TV and radio programs? Don’t get me started.
2. We don’t understand the power of perception.
In today’s distracted world, our message matters, but so does how we present it. Most cable TV systems feature 300 to 500 channels. Add in billions of websites and social media apps, and our media choices are pretty much unlimited. In my experience, most people with a TV remote take only two to three seconds to decide which channel to watch. In that context, it doesn’t matter how anointed your message is if they don’t watch long enough to hear it. The bottom line is that in this cluttered age, how you’re perceived is the key to someone making a decision to listen to your message.
3. We don’t speak the language of the culture.
Just turn on a typical Christian radio or TV program, and you’ll still hear a language the world doesn’t even begin to understand. Phrases like “washed in the blood,” “ born again,” “prophetic anointing” and “personal relationship with God” litter religious media. But I’ve scoured the Scriptures and just can’t find any place where Jesus used Christian “lingo.” He spoke the language of His culture. Does anyone at your office stand around the water cooler and say things like, “Bob, after work on Friday let’s go to the local bar and have a mighty time of fellowship?” Want to get your message heard? Drop the lingo and speak their language.
4. We don’t understand the power of a name.
In a cluttered media world, names matter. I have a lot of choices, so why should I take the time to hear your message if the name of your church, ministry, media program or book doesn’t engage me? Traveling around the country, I’ve heard church names like Runs Baptist Church, Colon United Methodist Church and Cooter United Methodist. Others include words like Hygiene, Sleeper and End Times (I’m not making this stuff up.) I’m sure these are wonderful churches attended by terrific people. But how many outsiders have seen those and other similar names and just passed on by (probably with a chuckle)? Corporate America spends hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring companies to find just the right name for products and companies. They know a great name can convey meaning, confidence and trust. Want people to take your church, ministry, book or other project seriously? Take a closer look at the name.
5. We don’t recognize the power of a niche.
Ask a typical pastor or ministry leader about his mission, and he or she will say something like, “To reach the world for Christ.” It’s noble sounding and hard to argue with the intention. The only problem is that it’s an impossible goal and only sets you up for failure. When you study the life of Christ, you realize there were plenty of people who walked away from His message. If Jesus didn’t reach everybody, then chances are, neither will you. So the question becomes: Based on your specific calling, talents and area of expertise, who’s the group that’s most likely to respond to your message? Figure that out, and start with them.
The world understands the power of niches. When I was a kid in the ‘60s, we only had a handful of major magazines in the country. Today, literally thousands cover all kinds of subjects. A few years ago, my wife, Kathleen, and I bought a classic 1967 convertible Mustang. Shortly after, I realized there were 17 different magazines published just for classic Mustang owners. The world is focused on reaching target audiences because with very few exceptions, that’s what works.
After writing my book Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Non-Profits Impact the Culture and Others Don’t, I often asked pastors and ministry leaders: “If I held a gun to your head and said you could preach only one message for the rest of your life, what would that be?” Some would answer “God’s grace.” Others responded that they would teach about forgiveness, Bible prophecy, worship, leadership or family relationships. What’s your greatest passion? It’s not that you only teach on that one theme. But that theme becomes a filter through which everything you teach passes. Figure out your passion. Once you do, people will notice.
The key is to start with the smallest niche possible and work from there. The female artist who has won the most Grammy Awards in history isn’t Celine Dion, Beyonce, Barbra Streisand, or even Aretha Franklin. The No. 1 female Grammy winner of all time is bluegrass sensation Alison Krauss. She found her niche and mastered it. As a result, she’s internationally recognized as the world’s best in bluegrass and is now known everywhere.
Master your niche, and the world will notice.
The media matters. What does it say about the culture in which we live that the recent Egyptian uprising was led by a Google employee? If we’re going to share our life-changing message with a culture desperately in need, then we would do well to master the techniques for getting our message heard and understanding the power of today’s media.