As anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or transform their life in a meaningful way already knows, there is no lack of books, programs or equipment on the market to help make that a reality. That doesn’t mean it will ever happen, because there is no book, program or equipment by itself that can overcome the biological realities that caused the problem in the first place.
The products that draw the most attention, as well as the most credit card numbers, are the ones with the most dramatic “before” and “after” pictures of what is supposed to be the result of buying their particular product. Regardless of the accuracy of the claims, pictures that show a dramatic transformation in a person’s life will make other people want to try it for themselves, hoping against hope, that it might do the same for them. That is because evidence creates hope; evidence creates faith. It doesn’t matter whether the product is a weight loss program, basketball shoes, a new car, or even the gospel: evidence sells.
Selling is an art; selling is a science. Most of all, selling involves the relationship between two people, whether in a crowd or in a one-on-one conversation. Even an on-line sale, where one computer talks to another computer, actually involves someone on one end trying to determine what might prompt someone on the other end to buy what they are selling.
Selling is the ability to influence, to encourage, to convince, and/or to motivate someone to change their “before” to the “after” they believe would improve their jobs or their lives. For those of us whose livelihood depends on our ability to create that reality, we know there is a fine line between making a presentation and making a sale. While the average success rate for a salesman may be 3-5%, the success rate for the best salesmen in any particular industry or endeavor, is astronomical by comparison.
That defines the difference between selling with a passion and a purpose, and selling for a pay check. It also defines the difference between proclaiming the gospel, and actually selling it to those who need it most. I would put the inspired writers of Scripture into that category of salesmen: selling with a passion and a purpose.
In the church, we are having a massive sales problem, evidenced by the exodus of young people currently running away from the greatest “product” on earth. It’s not that they are necessarily running away from the timeless teachings of Jesus, which should be easier to sell than those giving away the Publishers Clearinghouse ten million dollar prize. They are running away from the way we have packaged these teachings, making them so unattractive by the numerous religious restrictions we have encased them with.
Trying to sell the gospel with theological barnacles attached to it is like watching Secretariat trying to run a race with a wagon hitched behind him. That is why millennials are now returning the product back to the store of their youth that tried to sell it to them, without allowing them to take it for a test drive for themselves. If we would just demonstrate for them how to get the most out of Jesus’ teachings to transform their lives, there would be nothing to run away from. This is not a product problem; it’s a sales problem.
There have been several books, articles and blogs written by the top salesmen on earth, sharing advice about how they achieved their success. And although they probably didn’t know it, almost every bit of advice they offer was first used by Jesus to connect with the people who followed him. These include:
- Relationship building- all sales is personal. Learn what motivates them. Learn what their hopes, dreams and fears are and connect the aspect of your product that best addresses their needs. That is what Jesus did. It is very possible that Jesus did not actually need a miracle to know everything about the woman at the well; maybe just the power of observation.
- Learn your product- know your product backwards, forwards and upside down. That doesn’t mean we should beat people over the head with our Bibles. In fact, just the opposite. Just as you wouldn’t want a car salesman to have to pull out a brochure to answer your questions, don’t throw a bunch of Bible verses at people who would be turned off by them. Just be prepared to answer any question thrown at you in terms they can understand. I may have memorized several books of the Bible but I can’t imagine any situation where I would ever quote a passage as part of the selling process.
- Live Your Product- there is no better sales pitch for the gospel than a life fully committed to living it.
- Sell what they will buy- there are 15-20 distinct aspects of Jesus’ teachings that can have a transformative effect on a person’s life. Through your relationship building, present the one they think they need, not the one you think they need. A person might go to a dealership and buy a car with great gas mileage, but later find out about the incredible sound system or comfort of the ride. Don’t try to throw the whole gospel at them; just the portion they think they need. It’s okay if they later find out about a dessert called heaven.
- Attention to Detail- nothing connects people more than an unfailing attention to detail. Remembering the names of children, schools, grandchildren, anniversary dates, etc. is a telling sign that you really do care about more than just making a sale. People sell to people, and there is no better advertisement for the teachings of Jesus than how it affects us.
It turns people off when we try to tell people what we think they should believe. Just tell them what you believe and why you believe it and let the evidence of your life be the advertisement for its effectiveness. That is the most effective way to sell the gospel to the world in the 21st century.
It may go against the grain for how the gospel has been presented over the centuries but there has never been a time in history where literacy has been so pervasive, that people can read it for themselves. Rather than proclaim it, explain it, and let the chips fall where they may.
Let’s become the most effective sales staff the gospel has ever had. And let’s demonstrate the power of God in our lives so that millennials will want to be a part of whatever is causing it. Let’s be the “after” picture that helps make the sale.
(By the way, the apostle Paul may have made tents, but somebody had to sell them)