For a whole year [Paul and Barnabas] met with the church and taught a great many people.
And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians
— Acts 11:26 —
Marketing is a big business. From 2000–2006, Coca-Cola spent 15.5 billion dollars to advertise their products to the global market. In 2009, Apple Computers spent half a billion dollars on their advertising, which is a third of what Microsoft paid out in 2009 (1.4 Billion). These leading companies invest incredible capital into these self-promotion schemes for the purpose of cashing in on the customers they solicit.
Genuine Converts are God’s Marketing Strategy
But what about the church? Will advertising help achieve Great Commission success? What is God’s marketing strategy? Surely as the Lord of all creation (Ps 24:1), he has ample resources to fund such a project; as Maker of the Milky Way, he has the creative intuition to impress audiences. Yet, Jesus’ ministry is not marked by such promotion. In the Gospels and Acts, we find something more personal, if not even more hidden.
In Acts 11, as the church spread into the world, Luke records how gospel converts were first called “Christians” in Antioch. What’s interesting is that “Christian” is only used two others times in the Bible (Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:11). In other words, this is not how the early church usually described itself.
This moniker was not self-selected in a Public Relations meeting. Rather, it was hung on the Christians, like a degrading nickname. It was not a term of endearment but a designation of scorn. In the first-century, calling someone a Christian was like running a political smear campaign. It wasn’t good for the public image.Yet, for churches commissioned to reach the world, this was and is God’s marketing strategy.
Eschewing PR strategies, God calls sinners to believe on Jesus for eternal life. He doesn’t spend billions of dollars on infomercials, billboards, or celebrity endorsements. He redeems drug addicts, overpowers the unbelief of agnostics, and saves church-goers from self-reliant religion. He forgives any and all who will turn from their idols and make Christ their Lord and Savior. This God’s “marketing strategy.”
The Word Does the Work
The result of God’s evangelistic marketing strategy are grace-filled churches, like the one in Antioch, filled with “little-Christs.” God recreates fallen image-bearers, one at a time, and they become a rising army of billboards—telling of God’s redeeming grace.
When churches recognize this, they will spend less time on hyped-up events, slick advertisements, and self-promotion to an interested audience. Instead, they will see the greatest way to tell the world about Jesus is to be like him (1 John 3:1–2) and tell others about him. What Acts 11:26 records is instructive in this regard. It says that Paul and Barnabas regularly assembled with the disciples in Antioch to pray and worship (cf. Acts 13:1–3). It focused on the teaching and application of God’s word.
As the people of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God, gathered to hear the word of God, Christ manifested himself in the church of God. And as a result, Antioch took notice! Even while labeling them ‘Christians,’ many believed. In fact, the entire Mediterranean would soon be impacted by this unassuming marketing strategy when the Antiochian Church sent Paul and Barnabas to preach the Word and plant churches in other cities (Acts 13:1ff).
Applying This Approach Today
Today this strategy still works. And in an era that increases its hostility against ‘Christians,’ it must be recaptured. We must trust in the power of the Word coupled with our Christ-like witness.
Indeed, may God give us grace to do just that. May his marketing strategy be ours. May we grow more like Christ everyday as we study His Word and savor His Son. And may we unashamedly pronounce his superlative gospel in a world of competing messages.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
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