Friday, February 15, 2008

Key Differentiators

In my "work life," I've been looking into a number of software packages (CRM/ERP for those who are curious). There are many to choose from, but these vendors are in a rather peculiar position. In order to succeed, their software must be easy to use. To accomplish this, most have chosen to mimic the universally familiar layout of Microsoft Outlook. At the same time, they must distinguish themselves from their competitors... who are also mimicking MS Outlook. So how do you stand out in a crowd of look-alikes?

These software demos nearly always start and end with "Key Differentiators:" the software vendor's answer to the question, "What sets this product apart?" They don't waste time laying the foundation of why CRM/ERP is important... they assume that by the time you're looking at a demo, you're already convinced of its value. Each vendor is convinced that his/her product serves one particular market better than any other. Their job is not to show you that you need software, but to convince you that their version of the software is better.

I've been thinking about this in relation to evangelism and church marketing. It's probably safe to say that most churches promote their key differentiators (the nonessential things that make them unique) rather than their core functionality (the message of the Gospel). And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the Gospel message isn't hidden under all that nonessential stuff & there is a clear presentation of it during the services. We can't assume that everyone who comes to check out a church understands the Gospel message.

But things start to get weird when a group sees some of its key differentiators as absolute essentials. A new Oneness Pentecostal association formed recently. One of their "key differentiators" is a very strict set of holiness standards. The founders left the UPC because they felt the UPC was too liberal in that area. Issues of outward appearance and behavior are extremely important to them--important enough to form a splinter group--and probably important enough to be a life-or-death salvation issue in their eyes.

Then there's "caste" Christianity, where the key differentiators aren't absolute essentials... but embracing them makes you a higher class of Christian. For example, most Word of Faith folks don't believe that speaking in tongues is essential for salvation, but if you don't speak in tongues, you don't have the "full Gospel." You're a second-class Christian. Because you don't embrace what they teach, you can't possibly understand the deep things of God...

Thankfully, all churches aren't that way... and I really appreciate that about my church. It isn't a "traditional church" the way most people would imagine it -- no stained glass, no smells-n-bells, no pews -- so our promotional stuff (mailers, touch cards, etc) isn't "churchy." It isn't a Gospel tract either. But if someone sees one of our mailers and comes to a service (or even listens to one on our website), they will hear about Jesus and have an opportunity to begin a relationship with Him.

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