Voices: Practice what you promote

Airplane painted to promote the Fyre Festival, which according to reports, never even happened, and was a public relations nightmare. (Photo: johnklos / CC BY-SA 2.0 via flickr)

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Fyre Festival—promoted as the most decadent music festival of all time—never happened.

The event founder is now in jail for fraud, and lawsuits have been filed to recover the millions of dollars paid by people who planned to attend or businesses that were to provide services for the event.

While the story is wacky, I wonder what Christians can learn from it.

Learning from failed promotions

The event, marketed primarily to millennials in the spring of 2017, has become a running joke in pop culture. The promised once-in-a-lifetime experience on a deserted island in the Bahamas turned out to be a sham.

Promotional videos on social media portrayed that any normal 27-year-old could live like a celebrity for three days if he or she paid a few thousand dollars.

Models and singers changed their profile pictures and invited their followers to join them for the party. Buzz happened and tickets rapidly sold out.

Unfortunately, the lavish marketing did not match the reality of the planning and infrastructure. In the end, attendees tweeted pictures of old FEMA tents, not luxury homes.

Mass chaos reminiscent of Lord of the Flies broke out. It was a far cry from a luxury event.

My thoughts turn to the opportunities and dangers associated with marketing, including promotion of churches and related events and programs. This is probably because I lead promotion efforts for the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering.

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Good marketing helps to get out a true word about an organization or opportunity.

People, however, sometimes are tempted to think good marketing is simply getting a crowd or big gifts. That kind of marketing is good only if it is true.

To market something falsely is fraud, whether or not it is the type of fraud that can get you jailed.

Marketing as the promotion of true stories

The telling of stories is an important part of church and nonprofit marketing.

Ministries need to tell others what is happening and how Jesus transforms lives. Lives and communities are transformed when Christians come together in unity. These testimonies are beautiful and need to be proclaimed.

As we tell stories, however, we need to maintain our integrity.

We have a responsibility to share the goodness of the gospel in action, not portray a false reality.

For example, it may be tempting to preach a prosperity gospel, such as, “Accept Jesus and suffering goes away.”

Or it may be easy to tell someone battling addiction or mental illness, “Come to church and you will be healed.”

Unfortunately, these messages may misrepresent the word of God and lead to heartache and potential disdain for Christ.

It is too easy in a social media-driven world to get sucked into wanting to create an elaborate false reality. In that environment, we can convey what we wish, not what is.

It is good to have goals, dreams and visions of what might be, but it is important in our church and nonprofit marketing that we communicate what is real, clearly labeling a hoped-for reality as just what it is—hoped for.

Amazingly, when Christ followers share what is true in a beautiful way, hearts are stirred and worship happens. There is no need for false representation.

The joy of promoting true stories

I share these thoughts as a fellow sojourner who wishes to share stories in authentic and true ways.

Every time I visit a Texas Baptist Hunger Offering ministry, I am reminded of God’s goodness at work in communities.

It is a privilege to share stories of women and men who are giving up their lives to serve others, invest in relationships and work towards long term solutions for suffering.

For example, two weekends ago, our Hunger Offering team visited Alief Coalition for the Homeless in Houston and was blown away by Pastor Parris and his team at Agape Bible Church.

This ministry serves homeless students in their community and even houses boys who are unaccompanied. The ministry works with many partners—churches of many denominations, Alief ISD, Child Protective Services and local businesses—to make sure every child has access to resources and a support system.

At multiple points, each of us teared up while recording the video.

Stories like these and so many others are waiting to be spread.

It seems like motivation is a good litmus test in marketing in the Christian world. Are we promoting ourselves or are we promoting God’s kingdom work through us?

We can lean into David’s prayer: “I will sing of faithful love and justice, I will sing praise to you, Lord. I will pay attention to the way of integrity. When will you come to me? I will love with a heart of integrity in my house” (Psalm 101:1-2, CSB).

Fyre Festival was a disaster, but it can serve as a good reminder: The gospel is so outrageously beautiful in itself that it needs no false representation or hyperbole.

Ali Corona is the Hunger & Care Ministries Specialist for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and is a member of First Baptist Church in Marble Falls.

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