Tuesday, September 29, 2009

iChurch 2.0

Australians have decided they’re not happy with the name of Vegemite’s new product. There were complaints when Vegemite was taken over by an American company. There were murmurs when they put out a new product. But it’s nothing compared to the uproar that iSnack 2.0 has caused.

So what does all this have to do with Christianity? Well, not much. But there are some lessons to be learnt here.

Some people have suggested that Vegemite deliberately picked a bad name, in order to generate a lot of publicity. But publicity doesn’t always translate into sales – let alone brand loyalty. I’m sure there’s some people who will try iSnack 2.0 just because it’s in the news. But the real question is will they keep eating it? I tried it, back when it was simply called Name Me. But I refuse to eat a product with such a dumb name.

Another marketing campaign that has generated a bit of publicity is the Jesus, All About Life campaign, run by Australian Christian Churches. But again, just because people are talking about it doesn’t mean they’re going to start following Jesus. In fact, a bad marketing campaign can actually keep people away from the churches. The saying, ‘Any publicity is good publicity,’ is not a saying that should apply to Christians. And dare I suggest that the best advertisement for Christianity is to fill the world with Christians who do their best to act like Christ.

Another problem with iSnack 2.0 is that its attempt to be relevant to the younger generation has just made them look ridiculous. Back when I was in school, sitting in the playground, eating Vegemite sandwiches, we called people try-hards. Try-hards were people who tried too hard to be cool. So instead of looking cool, they just looked stupid. iSnack 2.0 is a try-hard name.

And sometimes the church can also fall into try-hard mode. We try to be ‘relevant’ and ‘trendy’, and end up failing miserably. And people aren’t actually that stupid. They’re not going to suddenly become interested in something just because it has an ‘i’ in front of its name or something else that shows they understand today’s world. And they can see when someone is trying too hard to be trendy. Most of the time, they’re not impressed. And often, sometimes we’d be better off not trying to be trendy at all.

One reason why I think iSnack 2.0 received such a bad reception is because it’s an Australian icon. It’s like the Sydney Opera House, only edible – although this may be debated by people who aren’t Australians. But if you are an Aussie, you’re used to Vegemite. You grew up eating the stuff. And that’s one of the reasons why it is an Australian icon. It never changes. The product we eat now looks the same, tastes the same and has the same logo as the product from our youth. For a long time, we even had the same jingle and the same rosy cheeks. It was a constant in an ever-changing world. And we liked that.

We make a mistake when we think that everything needs to change to be any good. Sure, there are some products where we always want the newest and the best. Most of us would be horrified to go back to our first phone or first computer. We want to know that these products are continually improving and giving us their latest versions. But just because we feel this way about technology doesn’t mean we feel this way about everything. There are some things we want to stay the same.

There are those that always want the latest and newest version of church. They’re continually looking for improvements that can be made and fixing up any problems. And sometimes this can be a good thing. However, not everybody feels this way. Some people want a church that doesn’t change. Some people prefer a church that is constant, rather than one that is tossed here and there by cultural waves. And this can also apply to people who aren’t even in the church. I feel sorry for anyone who makes a decision to return to the church of their youth, only to find it has been replaced by a newer, unrecognisable version.

Some Christians do the same with Jesus, too. They’re not content to follow the first version of Jesus. They want a new and improved version. And they tell everybody else that they must update Jesus 1.0 to iJesus 8.7.3 as well. This newer version gets rid of all the problems of the past. They’ve removed suffering, guilt and sacrifice and replaced them with blessings, fun and electric guitars. Why would anyone stick with Jesus 1.0 when iJesus 8.7.3 is so much more user friendly?

The newest is not always the best. And quite often, it’s the original version that is the only authentic version. iSnack 2.0 is not Vegemite. It will never become an Australian icon. It’s a passing fad that will soon pass when people get sick of twittering how awful the new name is. And iJesus 8.7.3 is also a passing fad, along with iChurch 2.0. And Jesus and the Church should never be passing fads. They should be like the original Vegemite – a constant in an ever-changing world.


  1. You refuse to eat a product with a dumb name despite it's other appeal? That sounds like prejudice WWJD.

  2. Jesus would never discriminate against a person for having a dumb name. I don't know if you've realised this, but iSnack 2.0 isn't actually a person. It's a product that deliberately uses a name in order to attract more sales. And many of the purchases we do make are influenced, in some way, by the names they have. That's why an enormous amount of money is spent trying to find the right names for products.

    Seriously, prejudice - against a spread. I'll tell you what else Jesus would do. He would spend more time worrying about how people are being treated, rather than sticking up for the rights of products that may lose sales because of the awful names they have chosen.

  3. Jesus should be like Vegemite? Ah, he must be so proud to have people like you spreading his message.

  4. I like your passion! It all comes down to the fact that Jesus message never changes. The challenge for "the church" is to ensure the application of that message is relevant. Relevance doesn't mean trendy...it just has to be perceived by the people receiving it as having some practical application to their daily life - otherwise it is just religion. Thaks for sharing!

  5. TL - very funny. Perhaps I should have called this post Spreading the Christian message.

    David - Thank you. I think perhaps passion is one of those things that determine whether the church is being relevant or simply trying too hard to be trendy. If you do something because you are passionate about it, people will see that passion. If you do something solely because you think it's trendy, it doesn't come across so well.



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