“Sexy” Missions and Marketing, Part 3

<Continuation of thoughts on what makes some missions more “sexy” than others… not a recommendation to do things this way. Just noting this reality. Machiavelli, in The Prince, gave concepts of the way politics IS, but NOT necessarily the way it SHOULD BE. I will give some conclusions as to what I think Missions should be in the final part of this series.>

Henry Morton Stanley meets David Livingstone i...
Henry Morton Stanley meets David Livingstone in Ujiji, 1871. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


5.  Sympathetic. Groups that seek to protect endangered species know this. They need a sympathetic species. Giant Pandas or Manatees work well. They have a “cuteness” about them, even if not actual beauty. They are docile and are endangered due to the inconsiderate behavior of humans. California condors are majestic but they are unpleasant to look at close up. They also eat carrion (necessary but unpleasant role). Black-footed ferrets may be cute but they eat prairie dogs who are even higher up on the “cuteness’ factor. In missions, AIDS babies are more sympathetic than adult AIDS victims. Those exploited are more sympathetic than those who “do it to themselves.”

People who move to other countries (not our own) without proper papers (“economic refugees” or “poltical refugees”) are more sympathetic than similar people entering our own country (“illegal aliens”). I have even seen comments from others that appear to suggest that the very idea of ministering to illegal aliens is flawed because you are helping people breaking the law. Those who are victims of human trafficking are more sympathetic if they were abducted against their will or completely fooled. They are less sympathetic if there was SOME level of consent (whether more or less informed in that consent). Disasters that appear to be purely natural (such as earthquake or tsunami) provide more sympathetic victims than those who (ignorantly) do it to themselves (like victims of landslides due to illegal or uncontrolled logging).

6.  Quantifiable. Yes, numbers are not sexy (I spent many years as a mechanical design engineer… trust me, numbers are not sexy). But donors still like to bet on a winner. It is easy (and lazy) to determine the winners by numbers. I was involved in medical missions for several years. It was pretty easy to explain it. In 5 years, we treated 30,000 patients, led over 10,000 in the prayer to receive Christ. Easy to explain. Now we have a pastoral care center. I can list how many were trained. However, can’t really give numbers on those helped by pastoral care, stress defusing, and spiritual counseling. Additionally, much of the success stories are confidential.

An evangelist can list how many people they preached to, and how many “walked the aisle.” Disciplers are often far more effective… but they are hard to quantify. Big churches sound impressive (members, attendance, offering, square meters, etc.) but it is hard to say whether it has more or less impact than a smaller body of committed believers.

Numbers can be useful, and a good metric can aid in issues of accountability. However, it is risky when numbers become a lure… bait. Numbers can be wonderfully informative, but also wonderfully manipulative.

7.  Faddish.  In the late 1800s, the lectures and writings of David Livingstone, and the articles of Henry Stanley, made mission work in “The Dark Continent” an exciting venture. Wouldn’t it be exciting to travel into the jungle, find a little village, stand under a large tree and preach to the locals. There was little interest in places like South or Central America at that time. In more recent times, other things have caught on. Right now, human trafficking is a big deal. Church planting movements have their unique appeal. Living in the Philippines, I can tell you that SOME disasters become faddish. It seems to have to hit a critical mass of images, coverages, and support by media celebrities.

8.  Viral. Being viral includes many of the above factors, but it is still worth a separate status. That is because viral is where advertisement  ultimately gets carried out by the viewers. Humor often helps to make multimedia viral. However, in missions, shock or exaggeration is often utilized. So it helps to show people more desperate, living conditions more deplorable, and damage the most extensive. Most of mission life, just as in real life, is not viral. The abnormal is viral, so one must show abnormal aspects of missions to be viral.

Concluding Thoughts

I don’t like missions and fund-raising for missions that utilizes tactics that false advertise or use techniques that abuse and trick the potential supporters. I wish there was greater discernment in both missions and missions support.

On the other hand, what I have described above… this is reality. One can have an opinion about it… but it may not change anything. As I noted before, Nicoli Machiavelli wrote about how politics works… that is the reality… not necessarily how things should work.

As a friend of mine wrote recently,

The current trend within western missions, is marketing strategy. Each year mission agencies spent thousands of $ … just on promotional materials, presentation materials, DVD’s etc… to try to attract potential supporters and retain existing ones. Today’s missionary has also succumbed to such stategies as well to seek supporters for their mission work. In a sense the church, mission agency and the missionary (not all) have adapted secular methodologies to attract partners hoping that it will result in support for the work. While some would argue that mission methods have to change and adapt to applicate ways of operating in today’s world. Ideally when a missionary is to be sent forth, they should not just be sent with the blessing and prayer of the sending church, but also should be adequately provided for in such a way that the missionary can be as best prepared for the task ahead. To place the burden and responsibility upon the missionary to raise their own support in my view something outdated and uncalled for. It often creates completion among fellow-missionaries seeking support from the same church networks, which can create tension and uneasyness. Additionally it can place the missionary in a very uncomfortable situation whereby they are not good salesman, and can become frustrated that while they have a strong call on their life, and are effective in what they are called to do, but often can’t raise the support they need because they are not good at selling themselves. Personally I don’t feel that it is a biblical practice for someone in the church to have to sell themselves and asking for people to support them, just so that they can be sent out by the church whom have encouraged them to go. Support should be a natural part of sending out a missionary and that the church should also be a part of the solution in finding and raising support for the missionary.

I think there is a lot of truth here. But marketing strategies are with us. Some do them well and some do them poorly. Not sure there is a way to tip the scales and remake the system. Perhaps the best we can do is show proper wisdom and discernment when it comes to missions. When one does use marketing… at least ensure it is honest (even if it is a bit manipulative). Who knows… maybe doing things the right way will catch on…


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