Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Poor Selling of Salvation

Imagine that you are visiting a carpet shop for the first time. Imagine the scene unfolding thus:

You are met at the door by a man who smiles at you warmly. As you cross the threshold of the flooring emporium, the gentleman says, 'You need a carpet, don't you?'. Before you have a chance to reply, the man continues: 'yes, that's right - a carpet - a lounge carpet I think. Yes, you look like you need a lounge carpet to me.' You try to venture into the shop a little further, but the warm smiling man persists, saying 'a blue one isn't it? You look like just the kind of person who wants a blue lounge carpet. We have lots of lovely blue lounge carpets.' Still you have said nothing, but politeness and idle curiosity keep you there. You look at a wide array of the finest carpets, all shades of blue - thick-pile, short-pile, looped, tufted. There is not a blue lounge carpet that you have not seen this day. The helpful assistant presses you for a choice, some indication of preference. He has worked hard and given you much time, the benefits of his considerable training and experience, and his love for carpet is compelling. You have said very little until now, perhaps save for making affirmative noises and appreciative grunts. Genuine niceness on your part and his determination to send you home with a blue lounge carpet have seen you narrow what you have seen down to three samples. 'Well?' the man encourages, 'which one will you go for?' Finally you pluck up the courage and say, wringing your hands and feeling like a complete heel: 'I came in for bathroom vinyl, actually'. 

This is an example of poor selling. It happens day by day by day in many places and is not good practice. If it persists, it lowers turnover and thereby profit and in the end, the shop shuts. 

But it is what we do in some of our churches. 

Now, 'selling' is only illustrative, but this was a phenomenon that I identified in conversation with a friend of mine, himself of the charismatic tradition. It is the 'let us tell you what you need syndrome', and is in all but name, bad 'selling'. 

Good 'selling' is about having a heart to meet the needs of people. It involves providing an approrpriate welcome, space and time for the person to browse and orientate their thoughts and choices, enquiring as to their needs, matching their needs with the correct benefits of what we believe we have to 'sell' - offering choices where possible, even in the event that we have to be honest if our 'product' isn't fully what the person claims to need. If all has gone well, it is appropriate to ask for the 'sale', mentioning the pertinent extras, managing future expectations for the process going-forward and then commending the 'sale'. The need to "go the extra mile" is crucial, perhaps revisiting that person some time later to see if the 'product' met the needs as expected. This is the broad framework of competant selling, and on this I know what I am talking about! 

Bad evangelism is like poor selling. It makes assumptions, chooses incorrect pathways for seekers and thereby renders the encounter's success to the realms of 'hoping for the best', and in the end, is largely fruitless. This stuff happens, as I have discovered myself. Someone tried to sell me a blue lounge carpet once when I was delighted with the one I had. I have never returned to that 'shop' since.


  1. As my computer just wiped my comment! I believe God calls and leads us individually within the church we call home. It is easy for churches to present their style of religion and expect all to be sold on the idea. Any who are not either move churches or give up altogether. Churches can often be bogged down with success; as if their selling a successful brand. I bet the pastor of a 10,000 member super church can not name all the members of his congregation. I wonder how many ministers of smaller churches can do too. I remember in the 80s a strong movement for spiritual directors to help guide christians to discover God's call and direction in their lives. Fr Ken Leech was an advocate for this. It was popular within the anglocatholic tradition at that time. But does anyone have the time to be a spiritual director? Is busyness the real reason we are given a "ready made" religion rather than a "home cooked" one?

  2. Thank you for your comment - you are right and insightful to raise the issue of 'bespoke' verus 'off the peg' - as this too is part of the same problem.

    in other words ... one of these blue samples must be the right one!



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