This post is inspired by a few incidents in the last few months where the issue of “sexiness” of certain mission work came up. Sexiness here doesn’t (normally at least) have anything to do with sex. Rather, the slang marketing usage is here referenced. It has to do with the attractiveness or desirability of the work to those disconnected from the importance or effectiveness of the work. This got me thinking.<Warning: Do NOT assume that I am making recommendations here. In the final part, I will give my opinions on the issue. The rest is simply describing things as I feel they presently exist.>
I don’t really know anything about marketing. (This alone may be enough of a reason not to read this post.) I never took a class in it and have never read a book on it. I got some modest training in TQM (Total Quality Management) in my engineering days, where I learned that
- Every person you provide a service for is your “customer” and
- One should never seek to satisfy customer expectations. Rather, one should always seek to “delight” the customer.
Delighting isn’t simply about doing more, it is also about setting the expectations lower. Promise less, do more. If a cereal box says it has an awesome toy inside, it is likely that that toy will be judged critically to see whether it meets the expectation of “awesomeness.” On the other hand, if the cereal box was purchased with no expectation of a toy inside, and one is found, it will tend to delight even if the toy falls well short of the standard of awesome. Or, take for example if I was asked by my boss to design a cooling system for an electronic cabinet, he would ask me how long it would take. I would think to myself that I could probably do it in about 4 weeks. I would tell him that I could design it in 6 weeks, and then finish the work in 5 weeks. The result is that everyone is happy (delighted… hopefully). I am not stressed and my customer got more than he expected. Marketing involves luring in new potential customers, and then retaining old customers. Marketing is often more focused on new customers acquisition than old customer retention (anyone who has dealt with phone companies and banks in the the US has felt the rapid transition from being courted to being forgotten).
So what does all of this have to do missions? Missionaries have customers and potential customers as well (by the definition above). Missionaries serve God, but I will, for this post, ignore this “customer” relationship. Missionaries also serve mission agencies. They serve supporters. They serve the people they work with.
For this post, let’s focus on the relationship with present supporters and potential future supporters. In the case of potential future supporters, the focus is on enticing new “business.” For present supporters, it is retention and expansion.
So what is “Sexy Missions?” I would, first of all, not bring into the equation the core of missions. Core issues have to do with the purpose of missions, and the effectivity of missions. One can have effective missions that is sexy or not. One can have ineffective missions that is sexy or not. I would also not include related issues such as content, theology, or efficiency. Again, I am using the slang understanding of sexy to involve alluring, attractive, or desirable from a marketing standpoint.
Anyway, here are a few characteristics that come to mind. Remember, I am not a marketer… this is just based on my observation. Note, the following items are FAR from independent from each other. There is a lot of overlap, but the ideas have value thought independently.
1. Concrete. People seem to find that which is concrete (or of substance) more sexy than that which is abstract (lacking substance). People are more attracted to church buildings being built or schools set up. They are typically less attracted to development of curricula, or discipleship programs. I think part of it is easier to picture in one’s mind. One can picture a building more easily than a program or a social grouping. This is one reason, I suppose that when one is asked to picture a church, one pictures a building, even though we understand that a church is first of all a social grouping, and many churches exist without a building (but no Biblical church exists without people). Talk about a radio station and transmitter in a mountaintop in a distant land and it tends to excite more interest than the programming of that same station.
2. Sensual. This is related to the first to some extent. I am using the term “sensual” because it has a double meaning. In one sense, sensual means to be something that can be sensed. We appreciate things we can actually, not just potentially, sense. We like things we can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. I have a friend who is a missionary whose website has no pictures. Just black letters on a white screen. The ministry he is involved in has opportunity for great pictures and sounds (working with orphans and children from broken homes). He, chose not utilize pictures and sounds because he did not want to exploit the children. I respect that, but it is not surprising that his website gets few hits. I have known of missionaries getting a group of people to raise their hands in response to some question (such as “Who likes ice cream?”) and then uses the picture as showing people responding to the gospel. This is of course highly immoral. But the reason they do this despicable thing is that people can’t see changed hearts, but they can see raised hands.
A second meaning for sensual is alluring (particularly visually). Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but people learn quickly that some images have an aesthetic that attracts curiosity and interest, while others don’t. Ugliness may be shown at times, but often as a “before” picture to be followed by a more alluring “after” picture.
<Will continue with part 2>