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Market-driven or Product-driven?
I had a call the other day from a thoughtful Presbyterian lay
leader. She was trying to puzzle out the response to/ engagement
with religion in the Millenial generation . . . and why so few were
showing up in her church. She had also visited several churches that
were popular with some millenials.
Millenials show a polarized pattern, which isn’t a big surprise,
given that polarization characterizes most everything else in our
culture. Some millenials range from hostile to indifferent to
religion, Christianity and the church. These tend to have been
formed by liberal culture and its higher education. They view
Christianity as intolerant and regressive. Another slice of the
millenial generation is drawn to highly conservative, usually
non-denominational churches. Such churches may be quite
prescriptive, providing clear rules and norms for their anxious
Meanwhile, countless church leaders have asked, “How can we (our
churches/ denominations) attract millenials? What do they want? What
works with them?” And countless articles have been written telling
us what millenials want and how to attract them. Few of these
While there are things we can learn in our churches by asking these
questions, and changes we can (in some cases, should) make, I’m not
this problem/ solution approach goes deep enough.
There’s a base-line question or distinction, drawn from the wider
world of commerce and culture, “Are we market-driven or
product-driven?” Market-driven means we ask ourselves what people
want and try to give it to them. Product-driven means we have some
product/ message/ way of doing and being church that we are
passionate about, try to do it as well as we possibly can, and
welcome those who are interested in it.
Probably some of both are in order, but I tend to think churches are
better off being product-driven than market-driven. We have to find
what we are passionate about, what we believe in, and then do it
with excellence and enthusiasm. If we start from what we think
people want or are looking for, we tend to end up surrendering
ourselves entirely to judgments and opinions of others and losing
integrity. Often these days people are so anxious about membership
decline or “not having the young people” that the opinions or
desires of youth/ millenials are taken too seriously. They are
fawned over, a bit like parents who let young child call the shots.
But this raises the question for a church, what is our “product,” so
to speak? What is our message? What is our vision of the church?
Many mainline congregations seem quite unclear when it comes to
answering such questions.
Often answers come, if they do, from visionary leaders who are
passionate about the church, the gospel, and the Christian faith.
But mainline churches are not always hospitable to such strong
Still, my own sense -- my gut -- is to tilt toward the
product-driven. What do we believe in? What version of church and
gospel are we compelled by? (And it can’t just be, a “we’re not like
them” version of church/ gospel) Are we doing it, and doing it well?
When people see that happening, there is a kind of attraction
exerted, not for all, but for some.