Seth Godin is a marketing expert whose advice I value highly. Along with Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerilla Marketing series, Godin’s book Purple Cow has been central to how I think about “marketing” Unitarian Universalism.
Marketing people have a tendency to go off the deep end, however, and I’m beginning to think that’s where Godin has gone. His latest marketing initiative is called The Domino Project. He says he’s going to “reinvent books,” primarily (it seems) by building an online community through his blog that will be a built-in market for his new book, and then publishing the book directly through Amazon.
I find this to be intensely uninteresting. My partner has been writing, printing, and selling her own books for a dozen years; she knew her market in advance, cultivated them, and maintains personal connections with them. She learned that Amazon has a tendency to exploit people: they lower the selling price of a book by cutting the amount that goes to writers and publishers and at the same time increasing their own profit margin. Half of what Godin seems to be proposing in his Domino Project is what good authors have been doing for years, and the other half seems to be promoting an exploitative corporation.
Worse yet, from my point of view, all Godin seems to be doing is coming up with ways to market his own books. None of this applies to the kind of marketing I’m doing all the time. In short, Godin has pretty much lost me — so now he’s gone from my blogroll, having been replaced with the Guerilla Marketing blog.
My dad is getting a knee replacement, so he’s in the hospital for a few days. Several of his friends visited him, friends who also happen to belong to his congregation. He belongs to a small group in his congregation (a so-called “extended family,” a type of small group that predates the current fad for small group ministries), and during their meeting they called him up and all talked with him.
None of this implies that people who belong to congregations are any better than people who don’t belong to congregations. But congregations tend to set up structures that help us reach out to each other; and congregations tend to set expectations that we will reach out to each other.
Sometimes I tend to get caught up in the details of congregational life: increasing efficiency of administration; figuring out how to get the database to sort the data in useful ways; making sure we have adequate supervision for the children on Sunday mornings; training volunteers; etc.
But I belong to a congregation because I’m a fallible being, I screw up on a regular basis, and I want to be changed for the better. I have rarely been able to change for the better on my own, so I need a community of people to help keep me in touch with something that is larger and better than my self, and to hold me accountable to the highest ideals of humanity.
I also belong to a congregation because when I have been faced with the inevitable pain and unpleasantness that life throws at all of us, I have gotten comfort and support from being a part of a congregation. (Yes, we ministers have to be careful not to exploit the people in our congregations to help us meet our own needs; but ministers can be ministered to by congregations in ways that aren’t exploitative.)
If people aren’t getting transformed and supported by a congregation, trying to achieve growth is a fairly pointless exercise. If, on the other hand, people are being transformed and supported by a congregation, we might wish that the congregation would grow so that more people can be transformed and supported, but growth is less important than the fact that the congregation is doing what it is meant to do.