Recently, Business Insider unearthed a seven-year-old Salon article featuring Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch. In it, Jeffries makes a revealing, if unsurprising, statement about his company’s marketing technique. Essentially, A&F excludes certain kinds of people to elevate its brand aura. Jeffries says,
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
How does A&F make sure it targets only the “cool kids”? By hiring only the cool kids.
“That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
The comments sparked a sizable backlash, including a spoof “Attractive & Fat” photo advertisement and a #FitchtheHomeless movement that seeks to downgrade A&F’s image by giving A&F clothing to homeless people. Jeffries later apologized (sort of) in a Facebook post, offering his regrets but maintaining that his words were taken out of context.
Curiously, and frighteningly, A&F’s scheme seems little different from the way many churches target their audiences. Visit any sample of “contemporary” churches, and you’ll see the technique at work—only young, hip people on stage, because that’s what they want to attract. Visit a selection of “traditional” congregations, and you’ll see an equal but opposite approach—anyone but young, hip people on stage! Visit a few family-centered, suburban churches, and you’ll see it again—promotional materials, programming, and sermon series all targeting young families with children. Conferences and seminars teach the approach as a basic outreach principle.
While it’s axiomatic that a church will attract people similar to those it puts on stage, we must beware the temptation to target the “cool kids.” If we include only the young, the hip, or the attractive in leading worship, or if we target only young families with children in our promotions and programs, we may send a tacit, unwelcoming message to those outside the target zone. Further, we might build a church that’s simply too monolithic to resemble the church described (and prescribed!) in Scripture.
In the New Testament ideal, the church gives special attention to older men and older women (Titus 2:2-3). Widows enroll in a place of service (1 Timothy 5:9-14), the single person receives exhortation, and the one married to an unbeliever finds encouragement (1 Corinthians 7:8-16). The church considers the poor (2 Corinthians 8:1-7), honors the less honorable (1 Corinthians 12), and gives the orphan a home (James 1:27).
Really, the only thing exclusive about the gospel is salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Otherwise, it is a classless, ageless, multiethnic, inclusive religion—the gospel is for all who believe. It subverts the culture of the “cool.” Jesus himself dismantled any notion that he was only for the “cool kids.” The disabled, the diseased, and the socially ostracized all found his attention. He was, decidedly, on the side of the “uncool” (Luke 4:18-19) and generally against the “cool” (Luke 5:32; Matthew 23:27).
If the church is only for the “cool kids,” then perhaps it isn’t a church at all. Jesus’ church is the body of Christ, made of up many members. When staging, promoting, and programming, let’s practice a bit more truth in advertising.
For an example of a church promotion that really looks like a church, watch the video linked below. I know very little about Grace Community Church in San Antonio, but this clip drips with Scripture in both content and image.
Dr. Chuck Fuller comes to Anderson University with 13 years of experience in pastoral ministry, serving churches in Kentucky and Indiana. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from Campbellsville University, and an MDiv and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His primary field of study for the Ph.D. was in Christian preaching, with additional studies in systematic theology and philosophy. Before arriving at AU, Dr. Fuller was pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and adjunct professor of Christian preaching at Boyce College of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Additionally, Dr. Fuller has served on committees and boards of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Married to Jessie, Dr. Fuller and his wife have two children–Kaylen Marie and Ian Charles. Jessie holds a Bachelor of Bible from Ozark Christian College, with a concentration in deaf ministry. Currently, Jessie works as a stay-at-home mom and brilliant culinary artist.
Homiletical theology comprises Dr. Fuller’s primary research area, as demonstrated in his recent book, The Trouble With “Truth Through Personality”: Phillips Brooks, Incarnation, and the Evangelical Boundaries of Preaching. Dr. Fuller also presented a paper, titled “The Pulpit at the Precipice of Heresy,” at the 2010 meeting of the Evangelical Homiletical Society.