Marketing Missions

Missionaries sometimes have a difficult time getting the attention of the busy (and distracted) churches that send them. It’s really hard to compete with the flashy ad campaigns of nonprofits that have contractually-obligated celebrity endorsements and seemingly limitless resources. Costly partnerships in intangible work with unreliable results can be a hard sell. Sometimes, ministry just isn’t cool.

The answer? Marketing. Missionaries (and their advocates) present their work in ways that grab attention and pull at heart strings- even if it means defying logic (or sound theology).

Consider the “10/40 Window,” that so-called “Final Frontier” of evangelical missions. It’s finite, measurable, and descriptive. It’s marketing. It establishes a first-tier of priority “no one deserves to hear twice until all these unreached people have had the opportunity to hear once.” Of course, a “10/40 window” focus comes at the expense of those people groups unfortunate enough to live too far north or south. It also overlooks the fact that Christianity was born in the heart of this very “window.” But it doesn’t matter, because the concept has served to focus the missionary efforts of the American church like never before.

Really, it’s all marketing. The difficulty of life on the field. The prayer card photo of the (large) missionary family all dressed alike. The personal stories. The prayer requests. The tales of hardships. The mythology of the martyrs. The photos of people who are so obviously different from us, the clearly depicted need.

Missions cannot be separated from the marketing it depends on. Too bad so much of it is a poor knockoff of the tactics employed by the world in the pre-electronic age. I’m praying for new marketers for missions. People who can cast vision for lived transformed, for redemptive relationships that shape culture through radical Christ-centralization. I’d love to see missions marketed as “This is what you were made to do. Anything else will leave you frustrated, unfulfilled, and wanting.” We need a campaign that emphasizes the supernatural element and God’s divine orchestration of people and resources. Something interactive and engaging- a way to get the word out that doesn’t feel manipulative, competitive, or revisionist.

Until then, won’t you join me in praying that the Lord of the Harvest would send more workers?