Monday, August 10, 2009

Do Not Convert Register

In ‘Voting for Jesus: Christianity and Politics in Australia’, Quarterly Essay, Amanda Lohrey discusses Brian Houston, leader of Hillsong and Assemblies of God in Australia:

Houston, by contrast, resembles a motivational speaker, the very picture of dynamic movement, and indeed on the DVD I’m watching, he seems to suggest that salvation is all about moving forward. There is insistent repetition of the words ‘growth’, ‘increase’, change, momentum, all words used by business, and in its own way, this is a kind of corporate religious speak, punctuated by its own commercials for the sale of the CD of the speech currently being delivered, and concluding with the injunction of the good CEO to his shareholders: “Remember the best is yet to come.”

Although she is speaking specifically about Brian Houston here, it could be a description of any number of Christian preachers around the world. Sermons often sound more like motivational talks that anything else, where the focus is on how God can make your life better, rather than what you can do for him. There is frequent reference to DVDs, CDs and other products, often mentioned along with the words, ‘I really pray you get this because it will bless you.’ And anything touching on evangelism (which quite a lot of it does) comes across like a sales speech.

Part of the reason for this may lie in the fact that the types of churches that tend to do this are pretty young, comparatively speaking, and have perhaps been influenced more by the surrounding culture than other traditional churches. We live in a consumer world, filled with advertisements, marketing and a whole heap of products and services on offer. In such a competitive market, companies need to convince us that their product or service is worthwhile. And billions of dollars is spent on marketing and advertising campaigns in order to do this.

And so our world is filled with a lot of messages telling us that this product or service will improve our life in some way, or that we’ll be missing out if we don’t get it. And because there are so many messages out there, companies need to do something to get our attention. Advertisements no longer simply tell us what’s on offer and why we should get it. They need to entertain us, shock us, humour us, yell at us.

And so it seems that many Christian churches have simply entered this world. Christianity is no longer just about serving Christ. Today’s consumer wants to know what’s in it for me. How is this going to improve my life? And so we fill sermons with messages about how God answers prayers, gives you money and moves you forward onto better things. And because we live in an entertainment and advertisement saturated world, the message needs to be big. It needs to get our attention. And when Christians want to convert someone to Christianity, they deliver the sales pitch.

But one of the problems with the consumer world we live in is that we have heard so many sales talks that we have grown cynical. I don’t know about you, but every time I would answer the phone to hear ‘We are going to give you a new phone’, I would feel like hanging up. I’ve heard it before. I know they’re just trying to sell me something. And at one stage, I was getting about five of these phone calls a day. I didn’t mind the odd sales call. But it was just too much. So I put myself on the ‘Do Not Call Register’. As it happened, I still get a few sales call a week, from charities trying to sell me raffle tickets. Apparently charities are exempt from complying with the register. And it doesn’t matter how good their charity is or how worthwhile the prize in their raffle is, when I get those phone calls I just want to hang up.

And I wonder whether we’re really doing Christianity a huge disserve by turning it into a sales talk. When Christians emphasise the benefits and the blessings that will come our way, they do tend to sound like a holy advertisement. And people of today have heard a lot of advertisements. Many of them have grown cynical. The minute someone starts trying to sell them something, they turn off. They have heard it before. Not interested, thank you.

Has anyone ever noticed that the look you sometimes get when you say you are a Christian is the exact same look that people give when they open the door to a stranger? It’s that look of ‘Whatever you’re trying to sell, I don’t want it.’ Instead of placing themselves on the ‘Do Not Call Register’, they’ve placed themselves on the ‘Do Not Convert Register’.

Christianity is not just another product, among all the other products, that needs a great marketing campaign, a catchy jingle and a good sales talk. Christianity is so much more than that. But I am afraid that many people will start to think of it as ‘just another product’ if that’s the way we continue to ‘sell it’. Christianity doesn’t need to be sold. It’s not a gimmick to keep you out of hell. The bible is not a motivational book that will show you had to lead a good life in 10 easy commandments. And signing up for Christianity does not come with a 100-day, prayers-answered or money-back-guarantee.

Christianity is about recognising the God who made us and the Christ who saved us. We don’t follow him because we’re going to get something out of it. We follow because God is worthy of our worship and our service.


  1. You may be interested in The Thinking Theologian, who was on staff at Hillsong for some years and has written his thoughts:

  2. Thanks, I'll take a look at it.



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