• Paul Rutherford


Updated: Jun 10

You live and learn. Apparently, Jesus would have shopped at Aldi.

So says the Rt Reverend Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Reading, in a 'positioning' statement he made today. The Church of England's biggest problem is that it's too much like Marks & Spencer.

As only a distant observer of the machinations of the Anglican Church (to whit, women and gay priests), I am not qualified to pass comment on theological or doctrinal disputes.

But apparently, the Church's attendance problem aren't to do with core beliefs. It's about marketing.

Simply put, it's too up-market. It's a premium brand that appeals to a middle-class audience and, in doing so, alienates a massive potential segment.

Many of the people who the Rt Reverend speaks with think that you have to be 'highly educated, suited and booted' to attend Church. Which disappoints him greatly, because Jesus would have shopped at Asda.

Of course, Rev Cottrell was speaking metaphorically (one hopes), and used the image to make a point about widening the appeal of his organisation and its teachings. But why use supermarkets?

The Church and 'marketing' have never been easy bedfellows. Churchads.net - a 10-year repository of campaigns for local use - is an uncomfortable mix of bad puns and trendy imagery, whose sole purpose is to cause controversy and gain column inches.

Given that any use of Christian iconography in any context will flush out at least one rent-a-quote MP to scream 'blasphemy', it always succeeds. But to what end?

Rather than rise above the venality of the marketplace, the Church keeps falling into pseudo-marketing-speak, and undermines its own position by playing to the rules of a fundamentally different game.

The Bishop's comments continue in that vein, choosing a consumer metaphor to 'reach out' to his audience. If you're judged buy the company you keep, then Jesus would be socio-economically BC1C2.

Which rather misses the point.

If Jesus were physically here today, wouldn't he be spending more time with immigrant sex workers, drug addicts, the mentally ill and the heavily indebted? The homeless, the lonely aged and the abused?

In times of considerable anxiety, the Church can - indeed does - provide a sanctuary of fellowship, support and pastoral care.

Shouldn't that be the core message of the Church, rather than which loyalty card He'd prefer?

#wellsprings #church #marketing #jesus #aldi #bishop #reading

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