I’m on my way home from attending Catalyst East. This is the leadership forum birthed by the Leadership Network; more than 13,000 attended the three-day event at the Gwinnett Arena, northeast of Atlanta.
Having come out of the Christian book publishing industry, I thought I’d seen it all in terms of slick marketing and product movement. Those guys in CBA are rank amateurs in comparison to the Catalyst team – although part of this week’s event saw a contingent of Christian publishers plying their wares.
There are several fascinating elements of Catalyst to write about, but here I want to focus on the marketing of product. Happily for you, the reader, this column will also be the coming-out party for my own revolutionary Bible study; more about that later.
Catalyst is unlike other Christian gatherings. Heck, it isn’t even all Christian, as evidenced by some speakers who probably don’t identify with the religion. They are selected for their business leadership qualities.
Wednesday was the day for workshops, and I thought this was a big deal, although the crowds that followed on Thursday and Friday obliterated opening day.
Workshops were led by a host of compelling speakers, ranging from Lynne Hybels (presenting her view of the Arab-Israeli conflict), to Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who is openly gay.
The target demographic for Catalyst/Leadership Network is the 20-something crowd. Sandals, Keith Richards-style hair, balloons and iPads dominated.
Nothing, though, stood out like the product sales. It’s become quite sophisticated, and I fell for it like everyone else. To a degree.
One of the frustrations of a workshop schedule is that one cannot attend more than one at a time. I wanted the audio from only one “lab” (as Catalyst likes to call them), but in order to get it, I had to buy the $199 “Experience” kit … and kick in an extra $50 for the audio, which I can download in a few days. To my knowledge, that was the only way to come close to the full experience of speakers.
Additionally, like a country bumpkin, I wandered into the arena to hear the first speaker on Thursday and was asked by a nice young lady if I had a seat. I scanned the capacity crowd, and replied that I did not, that I would stand. She told me that due to fire codes, they couldn’t allow that. I left the arena and bought the Experience kit.
I went from booth to booth, inquiring about the latest books by the likes of Perry Noble, Steven Furtick, David Platt and the rest of the young turks who make up evangelical leadership today. We’re a long way from a young Jerry Falwell training up young champions for Christ.
In the lead-up to Catalyst, I was struck by the degree to which celebrity evangelical pastors use their congregations to market themselves. This seems obvious, since anyone can access www.elevationchurch.org, www.newspring.cc or www.lifechurch.tv (don’t miss Perry Noble’s 90-day Tithing Challenge!).
Yet Furtick took exception to my Twitter message noting this phenomenon. He even sort of called me out, which was precious.
Is anyone else staggered by the sophisticated marketing methods the modern Christian leaders use?
I stopped at the Broadman & Holman booth and asked about a March 2013 simulcast with David Platt, the 33-year-old pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, in Birmingham, Ala. (on the church’s website, there is even a photo of Platt with what appears to be an Indian man, not unlike the image of the Beatles meeting with their Hindu gurus a generation ago. Such photo ops are very important to the new breed of pastor, who likes to display his multi-cultural efforts. I’m sure Mr. Platt is a very nice young man.).
In order to watch the simulcast, “Secret Church,” I have to have a friend. Or 50. I cannot watch it alone, because the requirement to sign up is a group willing to watch. And I’d have to pony up $49. I might do it anyway; heck, I already splurged for the Experience Kit, which came with a nifty canvas bag.
I next visited the Zondervan booth and was told that for $149, I could purchase (“Limited Offer!”) “The Story,” a curriculum kit featuring a new quasi-Bible: “‘The Story’ is helping people in churches everywhere experience Scripture like never before. Carefully selected verses from the Bible are organized chronologically. From Genesis to Revelation, your church members will come to understand God’s story and their stories intersect with it.”
Will they? Will they come to “understand God’s story,” if it isn’t really God’s Word? And would they even have the chance to do that while they are focused on how their own stories intersect with God’s story?
Do you see how self-absorbed today’s American evangelical culture has become, and how the marketing gurus have tapped into the narcissism?
As an aside, at Catalyst, I noticed an epidemic of lifting Old Testament passages and making them “our story,” “your story,” “my story.” Until recently, they were the stories of, primarily, the Jews. But that’s too stifling for today’s audience. I must know how everything relates to me.
By the way, along with the kit for “The Story,” a whole slew of pre-packaged Max Lucado sermons helps the pastor devote more time to … studying how to market himself in order to become the next Andy Stanley? I don’t know. My question is, why would any self-respecting pastor deliver pre-packaged sermons from someone else? Whatever happened to expository preaching? Sermon preparation?
Finally, for now, I thumbed through the new catalog from Lifeway Church Resources, which features books from such change agents as Ed Young, Jr. and Erwin McManus. All 207 pages. Books, DVDs, curriculum, even movies!
Which brings me to the unveiling/launch of my own brand-new Bible study, which I hope will become all the rage. Here it is:
- A Bible
- A pen
You might want a concordance, too. But this is basically it.
I’m calling it “The Bible Bible Study.” Now, you won’t see a video from a pastor in skinny jeans. There isn’t a download e-book that explains how you can insert your story/name into every chapter of the Bible. There isn’t even a single nugget of wisdom from Andy Stanley.
“The Bible Bible Study” won’t get me invited to speak at Catalyst East 2013. But in Romans 10:17, we read that true faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
Sorry, Pastor Furtick, but that’s the greater truth.