Marketing vs Sales for The Mission and Messenger

I was re-reading a book on Peter Drucker, who was my generation’s leadership and management Guru. (A Class with Drucker by William Cohen) I came to a chapter on Marketing and Sales and it got me thinking.

For Drucker, marketing was central to strategically leading any organization. Sales, on the other hand, was merely a second or third tier tactical issue. I had never thought much about these distinctions or their application to us in missions.

To Drucker, the clear distinction between marketing and sales was that in marketing you found out what your customer wanted and then you built that into your product. Since what you produced was what was wanted or needed, a well- designed and carefully manufactured product hardly needed to be sold. What you produced met the customer’s needs and desires. Sales on the other hand had to do with pushing things on people where there was little intrinsic need or desire. Selling had to do with the creating or manipulating need or desire. According to Drucker, sales dealt with tactics, not strategy. Strategy always trumps tactics. If your strategy is wrong, your tactics will never lead to success. According to Drucker, marketing based on solid research enables an entity to construct an effective corporate strategy.

As I thought about this sales and marketing distinction raised by Drucker, my thoughts were immediately drawn to our ministry in two areas, the mission and our messengers or missionaries. In both areas of missions we seem to be predominately in a selling mode.

When Jo and I went to Brazil almost 50 years ago, the field of mission research was just emerging. Research, formal or informal, is important for effective ministry. We as a young mission team understood that we needed to know what the desires and needs of the Brazilian Church were. Serving that Church was our mission. Desires and needs are not always the same, but for the person on mission with God, there is the assurance that the Holy Spirit has gone before us preparing the way for our witness to His grace.

The desires and needs of those we are called to serve can be a powerful indicator of strategic direction. Answering the question, “What has God done to prepare our way forward,” Drucker might consider a first step in marketing. As a team of young guys just learning the language, we sought to find out what God was saying to His Church across Brazil, and we built our ministry strategy on that knowledge. He blessed our efforts, and lasting benefits have accrued to the Church down through the decades. Far too often, without any “market research” we assume we already know what our mission is and assume the answer to the questions about needs and desires around us. We then start frenetically selling what we know and are comfortable with.

The second area I thought about as I reflected on the Drucker’s marketing / sales distinctives was the recruiting of those missionaries who would join us in our mission. Growth for the mission force of traditional missions has been a challenge of late. Many mission personnel departments I have met with are diligently selling the mission, selling the need, selling the method. God has not stopped speaking to members of His Church. It is incumbent upon us to find out what God is saying to people in His Body about their involvement in today’s world. What are their needs and desires?

This generation of serious followers of Jesus is thinking about His mission in different ways, ways that may seem strange to us, ways that don’t fit well with our established structures. It is incumbent upon those of us in traditional missions to take the time and make the effort to find out what God is saying to this generation and not reject their needs and desires just because they don’t match up well with our present organizational offerings or programs. We all have an unconscious tendency (we don’t like to admit it) to think that the Holy Spirit stopped speaking when He gave us our own vision or dream. God is still in the dream and vision business. They just may look different from generation to generation.

Christ’s purpose of glorifying God the Father through a called out people who, equipped by the Holy Spirit, demonstrate His character and proclaim his Word has never changed and never will. Generations have responded to God’s call through a wide variety of organizational forms. Our “modern” mission establishment is only one of the latest iterations.
Stewardship demands that we in mission leadership be responsible marketers both among those we desire to see impacted by Christ’s message and among this generation of people here in the US we desire to serve as they live out their obedience to God’s call to disciple the nations. Good and godly marketing is an effort to understand how God has gone before us as He uses us to prepare a people for Himself. In that process we can all be made to more closely resemble Jesus.

I think that means less selling of what we have and more Spirit-guided marketing to discover what God is doing and saying as He draws this and future generations into His future.

Your friend and fellow pilgrim, … Paul


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