From a pastor friend  … a serious question, and I would like to hear how you would answer this.


My business friends often like to talk about what their organization’s “value proposition” is (  Long story short, their value proposition is what sets their company apart from the competition.  They might differentiate themselves by offering a product that no one else offers.   Or it may be that they offer a product or service that other companies offer but they offer it in a unique way that sets them apart.

So coming back to the question I raised earlier regarding what makes the local church unique.  Why should the local church be compelling to a young person?  What is our value proposition?

I’d be curious to hear your take on the answer to that question.  In some ways the justice question is a good test case for a possible answer.   So both IJM and the local church do justice.  But what makes the local church’s efforts to pursue justice unique? Of course I’m interested in your perspective beyond the issue of doing justice as well.

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  • RJS

    I find this whole idea – of church having a “value proposition”- deeply disturbing.

    Our only offering is the gospel of Jesus Christ and our only function is to serve as the community of the people of God, the body of Christ. This is a family not a business.

    Frankly, right now I have a love-hate relationship with “local church” as the concept is evolving in evangelicalism … and I lean mostly to the negative side (although there is a lot of good too). Church is irrelevant when it is trying to be consumer-relevant in the sense implied by business ideas including such things as “value propositions.”

  • Evelyn

    Leaving aside RJS’s valid concerns, a straight answer might be: that it is in a position to ‘do justice’ in the local community. Which IJM is not – at least, not in the ‘local’ communities implied here.

    As RJS says: Our only offering is the gospel of Jesus Christ and our only function is to serve as the community of the people of God, the body of Christ.

    Only the LOCAL church knows the specific local needs / ways to serve the community best. IOW, there is not ‘value proposition’ for the idea of local church beyond the generic, but any given local church ought to have something specific to that locality that makes it ‘compelling’. My experience of young people (why are they being targeted here btw?) is that they are drawn to integrity. A church that serves its community sacrificially is a good thing – regardless of numbers (which I’m guessing is the other implied side of this: we need a value proposition in order to boost our numbers, esp. among the young. Do I read that right?).

  • Robin

    I would have to say that any value proposition would have to be centered on the gospel. Proclaiming that he is the king, that forgiveness of sins is available, and that the local church is his chosen instrument for completing his purposes on this earth. The functions of the local church…mission, evangelism, teaching, discipleship, baptism, Lord’s Supper, fellowship, justice, etc. are all secondary to, and flow from his gospel and his commission.

    I would feel very uncomfortable with a value proposition that put one of the secondary issues to the forefront, whether it was “we do justice” or “we baptize people the second they’re converted” or “we have really cool music”

  • Jim

    Maybe our “value proposition” is that we are one of the few bodies left in America who does not think about their “value proposition.”

  • The problem with a value proposition is that it seeks to win the loyalty of consumers and must keep their loyalty through that unique value(s). It is not wrong to hope that the church will be attractive to young people, but that attraction is never enough to develop the mutuality necessary to embrace and form people within the community. We’ve made volunteers and consumers, not disciples.

    Instead, we are facing a crisis of fidelity, where relationship to the church (i.e. other believers) in the context of living into God’s kingdom community and mission, is all too easily given up or put aside. Consumer loyalty fails to reflect the kind of mutual, covenanted relationship that God calls us to. Closer would be a marriage, though the failure of marriages reflects the depth of the fidelity issue. However, in this way, both the local church and the young people are equally and mutually responsible.

  • DRT

    I am one of those business people who continually talk about value propositions and find tremendous merit in them.

    But, if we apply them to the local church we run considerable risk in making it about us and our desires instead of Jesus.

    The value proposition is actually quite simple. There are other people there who are trying to follow Jesus.

  • Bill Stauffer

    It seems to me that Jesus offered a value proposition.

    “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

    We give up something that we value – our lives – to get something better. The value proposition discussion is particularly troubling when it deals with things less than the restoration of all things.

  • Prodigal Daughter

    What sets the local church apart in my mind is that it is a place where we experience the gospel: we give and receive and are reminded of the gospel. We all live, we all sin, we forgive, we are forgiven. By Christ. By one another. By ourselves. We are reminded of our sinful human-ness and we are accepted and loved anyway. As we receive, we are more able to give. And as we are able to give, it extends beyond the walls of the church into the community.

  • Ned

    I’ll be a voice of disagreement here. I think it’s a wonderful exercise to think about the value proposition of the church. Maybe it would help to come at it from this direction: Does the church in general or my local church in particular have any reason to exist? Do we offer any value to our world? If so, we have a value proposition, and we would be wise to think carefully about how that value is expressed. I think part of the concern being voiced here is in thinking that we should use a value statement to show why our church is better or has more to offer than the church communities around us. That would be true if other churches were our competition. They’re not. Our competition is the prince of darkness and his world system. We need to be able to tell a compelling story of hope and redemption to a world captive to this lostness.

  • Great comments.

    “customer loyalty” I love this phrase as a description of what churches have been working towards of too long. My home church is wonderful in many ways, but is struggling, in my opinion, with trying to make disciples out of consumers. Even finding volunteers seems difficult and our church has 3000+ to draw from.

    Bill you’re absolutely correct regarding Christ’s value proposition. The “value” of following Christ is only in choosing to die with him daily. Not exactly good marketing material! It’s not supposed to be and there, I think, is a the major failing of many churches. They ask “how can we make the words palatable?” instead of “how can we incarnate those words in our community?”

    So, I agree that the “value proposition” of local churches HAS to be lived in love first. Any value that comes above justice (including “Truth”) is idolatry and sets the church up as an “opiate for the community”.

  • phil_style

    If churches want to chase after the terminology and behaviors of business (or should I say, business management schools) then fine. But they should expect the whole hog; business law, business taxes, profit motivated decision making, shareholders, customers, public relations …

    Alternatively, give up the marketing, follow your leader and put your hand too looking after people – even if it costs you everything.

  • michael

    The Gospel in it’s complete, non-truncated form.

    I will concur with several comments that have noted the challenges of trying to differentiate or “add value” to a local church by beginning to look like culture. (see earlier JC post on giving away TV’s on Easter for just one example).

    The bigger question churches should wrestle with is HOW are they living out and communicating the Gospel.

  • Mark Brown

    To take out a doctrinal axe, the value proposition of the local church is that is the only place where we can be sure that God meets us. His promises stand behind Word and Sacrament in those gatherings. That doesn’t limit God to showing up elsewhere, but it is promised there. We might take it as a sign of the hardness of our hearts or our general lost-ness that we don’t value or see the presence of God or that we go chasing other gospels and ways.

  • I tend to agree with Nate, and michael. Beyond that, I do not have a problem with what the church is supposed to be, what it is intended to be, and what it can be. I very often have a problem with how it is doing that — or if it is doing that. If we’re all theory we become self-contained and useless. We must never be right at the expense of being loving. I do believe in church, especially local church, but that doesn’t necessarily have to take on the form of the Sunday morning, pastor-driven event. I believe in Christian community where believers know what they are about and seek ways to work together to serve their neighbors and thereby reach the world.

  • Keith Irwin


    Perhaps the church is evolving into a “value-proposition” model because that is how nearly every aspect of today’s cultures are run. It’s either this or that, and almost everyone has their best interests in mind. I would argue that it is our responsibility to show that the Gospel is in everyone’s best interest… because it is. So let’s “sell” our “product” to them and move away from these terms that make it sound like a business when it’s not, but follows similar, unavoidable principles.

    We have Jesus… and we have to get to know Jesus well, and help other people get to know Jesus well, to understand why he separates Christianity in a positive way from every alternative. Sure, there is some really scary sounding stuff about following Jesus – but this is a reality and when people see our authenticity (Maybe our “value-proposition” should be being authentic), they will want to check out if this is “it.”

  • Fish

    Faith not works is the ultimate value proposition. It promises everything in return for zero investment. What a deal!

  • MatthewS

    As to the first question –

    We serve at a small rural church. Small group of Middle School kids. I get them to put away their iPods and they stare at the floor as much as me. I don’t know that they have a real meaningful walk with God as it is right now, let alone in a few years when they move into a dorm. I try to talk big picture, I try to engage some theology, I try to express concern for who they are as people. They mostly want to talk about video games or zone out.

    It’s easy enough to talk here on this forum about the theory of what church is, and its easy enough to pick on the terminology in the question and criticize the business terminology and all that – but I’d challenge people to really think about how you are supposed to persuade a kid that Jesus and the Bible and spiritual formation and all this stuff should matter to him when he’s mostly worried about getting version 4 of the newest game, and hoping that Mary Doe doesn’t think he’s a loser, and hoping he doesn’t get an F in Spanish next Wednesday. College feels like a million years away to these guys, their dad feels distant, church is the thing that interrupts them sleeping in on Sunday.

    And cutting through this mental haze they hear your voice saying that Jesus really does matter to their life… and what is it that you are telling them that is persuasive?

  • Joey Elliott

    An equally important question in this post apparently not being addressed is “why should the local church be compelling for a young person?” The answers are many, though of course may not be present in all local churches, perhaps especially lacking in those that think in terms of “value propositions” only. And these answers should be prefaced by the fact that a good local church is not only seeking to be “compelling”, but also authentic, biblical, and faithful. Thankfully, that approach is indeed very compelling.

    Why should the local church be compelling for a young person???

    1. It exalts Jesus Christ, who is the desire of every young person’s heart.
    2. It proclaims the Bible, which is God’s witness to Himself, and which contains the truth that leads to life for every young person.
    3. It contains authentic community, which is a necessary and desired component of every young person’s existence.
    4. It practices biblical unity in diversity, which appeals to the desire in young people to be clear but also real.
    5. It gives the call to go (in local and foreign missions), which appeals to the energetic, ambitious, activist inherent quality in all young people.

    There are more…

  • number.06

    The church lives and dies by a narrative, not a proposition.

  • David LaDow

    In the words of Dorothy Day, “She’s (the Church) a whore, but she’s my mother.

  • There is a _core_ which all churches must live into. That doesn’t change. A United Nations survey indicates over 23,000 denominations and more being generated all the time. Not sure what they use as a criteria but that number disturbs me because it points to greater and greater fragmentation – probably based on esoteric components. Pretty sure the Reformers did not have this kind of fragmentation in mind. Other than surface differences in style and emphasis, buildings and programs, and such, I am not sure a church could actually state much difference in _core_ values, and if the _core_ values of the Faith itself are obscured by other components, then is the church doing the work of its mission statement – Mtt 28:18-20? I wonder how the Apostles would answer this question, or for that matter, how Jesus would address it. I do know that para-church organizations could answer that question easily because of their special foci, but a local church is suppose to be a worshiping missional community first and anything else later. How does one package THAT as a commodity for public consumption? I just don’t know.

  • Adam

    I think the phrase value proposition is merely a new semantic for the question Why? Why is the church important? Why is church important to me? Maybe it sounds selfish and that I’m only looking for what I get, but I don’t think this is entirely wrong. I think it’s ok for people to ask what they will get out religion, or church, or christ. All give and take relationships require getting something.

    But how we answer that question is vitally important. I think, most of the time, the answer to the value proposition is too small. Give people the full package. The value proposition of the church is life.

  • RJS


    It certainly isn’t wrong to ask why church is important, and it also isn’t wrong to think about how to engage people (young, old, inbetween) in the church. But part of the process, I think, involving some deep thought about what church is. A business sells a product, the church invites people into a way of life and the local church is (I think) a family of people engaged on the path of that way of life.

  • First, since when did the church become a business? That’s wrong assumption #1 that nobody seems able to avoid in church discussions today, from branding and values to who to keep people from leaving them. When it’s a business, we think in terms of business branding and values. Then it sets one “church” against another “church.” Competition, free market, etc.

    Second, I find it equally odd when “churches” brand themselves based on what would attract visitors and not based on what is happening inside the “church.” What appears as a description is but do not yet have.

  • Who is Number 1? You are Number 6.

    Well said Number.6! I become more convinced every day that the gospel cannot ever be propositionally explained. The power of the gospel to attract you people does not lie in convincing them to believe that it is propositionally true, but in incarnating the Way of Christ in so that they experience in the church love and acceptance and understanding that simply doesn’t make sense.

    We’re so consumer driven that it’s just had to even see how the church can get away from the “gospel as product” way of being without radically changing the structure of “church” from the ground up.

  • Jeremy

    I think the visceral reaction to business language is understandable but misguided. Asking for a “value proposition” is simply asking “what sets us apart?” I know a lot of us hate thinking in terms of “what God (or the church) can do for you!” but the truth is, Paul does it. Reward theology is present and an important part of what we believe. It also gets us to look at ourselves and ask whether or not we’re providing value or taking up space, or better yet, “what role are we filling that isn’t already being filled by everyone else?”

    They’re important questions. Don’t let the business language throw you off. You can ask business-style questions without going too far in the wrong direction.

  • Jeremy

    Pronoun confusion there…”It also gets us..” was a reference to examining value prop, not reward theology…undeveloped point collides with a sudden change in direction. Lovely.

  • I’m in agreement with many of the comments so far. I’m in disagreement with many of the comments so far.

    I don’t think it’s sufficient to advise, as Jeremy does, to not let business language throw us off. There is a vast world of difference between the business world and the Church — and there should be.

    The Church is called to be different. Concepts like the value proposition inevitably bring with them the mindset of business culture, which in my opinion is designed to cater to and produce consumers. When we allowed this to be applied to the Church, we got seeker churches and megachurches that have produced a whole generation of Christians (at least in name) whose faith has been shallow at best, and nominal at worst.

    I’ve been in ministry for 13 years, and I can personally count on one hand the number of people I’ve met who came from a church that relied heavily on business/marketing concepts that had received what I would consider an adequate grounding in the Word, or quality discipleship. I realize this is anecdotal but there is plenty of research — including one study done by Willow Creek — that supports the idea that the business model for church simply doesn’t produce disciples.

  • Rob Henderson

    I bristled one day when someone referred to me as a salesman. I told him that I was “absolutely not” a salesman. He says, “Sure you are. You’re trying to sell Christianity.” I told that the day I become a salesman of Christianity I would get out of the ministry.

    I do believe that the church and me as a pastor can and do learn valuable lessons that businesses succeed with or fail at. However, without the working of the Holy Spirit in what we are doing, it will be a colossal failure not matter how the results might look to the world.

    Besides, I remember my Lord once telling his followers, “Upon this rock ‘I’ WILL BUILD MY CHURCH…” Jesus will build his church in his way and style as we are obedient to Him who walks among the lampstands.

  • I think the value proposition of the church is salvation. Salvation is participation in the life who is Jesus of Nazareth. Church is where (and I believe how) this happens.

    I taught at noonday Mass today on the startling question Jesus asks Saul of Tarsus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) Saul persecuted people integrated into Christ. There are some other texts that seem to speak of our integration into Christ. “So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present” (1 Cor 5:4). “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” (1 Cor 6:15a). “In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, . . . (1 Cor 11:18a).”

    In the last text, I prefer to read that “when you come together as church.” When I read “as a church” the multiplicity of our congregations is emphasised rather than the single theological (indeed christiological!) phenonemon which is Church. The later appears to be St. Paul’s focus in the passage. He states bluntly that our bodies are members (i.e. limbs and organs) of Christ. Somehow St. Paul can be physically absent but spiritually present with the assembled church in Corinth (1 Cor 5:4). It was this Church (not in Corinth, but the Church that came to Corinth with Paul) that Saul was persecuting, the same Church of which Jesus rightly uses the pronoun, “me.” Staggering.

    I have no idea how to make this relevant to middle school students or senior citizens. I wish I did. Prayer (individual and the corporate prayer of the body) and Love are the primary activities that appear sensible. Maybe I sould call them “action items” sense we’re talking about value proposition. I don’t think many folks (believing and unbelieving) grasp this value proposition. So it’s not what they’re looking for. But I hope it’s what we’ll all find. Though “it” is really the “me” who is Jesus in Acts 9.

  • There are a number of guru-style buzz-words coined today that describe “us” and “our organization” instead of the body of Christ, and words that refer more to “about” doing something than to actually doing it. Add “value proposition.”

    If the question, “What makes us different,” is meant to compare the church to the world, then we are already failing to teach the gospel when we have to even ask the question. If the question refers to a comparison to other churches so we can do better than they, we have failed because we are dividing the body of Christ by competing for human resources and “measurable value.” (Valued by whom? Jesus or someone else?) What is this like? — adding “good will” and “known trade-name” value as intangible assets to our balance sheet so our group’s stock price will go up when we have an IPO?

    If the question, “What about us is different,” refers to “what unique spiritual gift(s) has the Holy Spirit given to us that me might use it in submission, unselfishness, and love to complement the gifts of other parts of the body of Christ so that the whole church is built up and made a more effective witness of unity to the world,” then the question takes a different direction.

    The last rendition of the question points to Jesus and building up the church He died for.

    The other renditions point to ourselves and to a competitive human institution (yes, like a business). That is evidence of the infiltration of humanistic thinking in the church.

  • “Why should the local church be compelling to a young person?”

    Because it changes lives.
    Because its locus is love, service, redemption.
    Because it is where the world now finds Jesus Christ living, moving, loving, redeeming.

    i.e. it should be these things. Is it? Well….

    “What is our value proposition?”
    The love of God; the life of Christ; ‘Men Made New’
    The Ultimate Recycling Program 😉

  • Billy

    The Kingdom of God, the presence of God, the power of the Good News!