In these shifting times, the church has to stay relevant. This may mean incorporating social media or newer technologies to relate to a changing demographic, but one principle must remain in all church marketing: love. To elaborate, let’s first examine a theory by Abraham Maslow.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was explained in 1943 in an essay, “The Theory of Human Motivation.” This concept is often represented by a pyramid with the most primal needs at the bottom.
The base of the pyramid, physical needs, includes breathing, food, water, sleep, homeostasis, and excretion. These are basic requirements for life. The next level, safety and security, is where people seek stable environments. These instincts can be seen in those who survive war or abusive homes.
After physical and safety needs are met, a person thinks about level three, love. Here, people seek acceptance and belonging through friends, family, and sexual intimacy. This leads to the fourth level which is self-esteem. Esteem can be acquired through recognition for accomplishments.
The last level in Maslow’s hierarchy is self- actualization. “What a man can be, he must be,” Maslow sums up the tip of the pyramid. Once all the pyramid-needs have been met, one can strive to reach his or her full potential. Effective evangelism requires us to meet people’s needs at every level.
Ministry in Motion
Last year, my Uncle Stacy’s friend Tammy was living with an abusive alcoholic named Johnny. Uncle Stacy considered violently confronting Johnny for treating her so poorly. Johnny didn’t work, didn’t have a car, and was often inebriated by midmorning. One day, an idea hit my uncle. Johnny needs help. An alcoholic himself, Uncle Stacy realized that Johnny’s habits were out of control and saw beyond his unattractive character. Johnny’s low standard of living, day-long drinking, and belligerence toward Tammy were all products of a broken soul.
“God, You and I gotta help this guy,” he prayed sincerely before driving to Johnny’s apartment. After entering the living room, Uncle Stacy sat down to talk with him.
“I can’t do this,” the intoxicated man shook his head.
“You can do it, and I’m going to help you,” Uncle Stacy assured. Something penetrated Johnny’s drunkenness and he cry.
It wasn’t without difficulty that Uncle Stacy and Tammy were able to check him into the hospital’s detox that morning, but finally a helpful nurse led them through the steps. Johnny got the help he needed that morning thanks to “the Big Man upstairs,” Uncle Stacy says.
In every stage of their lives we must meet people where they are. Johnny could have died if no one intervened. Uncle Stacy made the effort to save him from immediate physical damage. As I mentioned, my uncle is also an alcoholic. He didn’t need to be perfect or clean up before helping a fellow human being. God called. He answered. Simple spirituality.
Therefore, the church must go beyond weekly Sabbath spoon-feeding. Sharing Jesus cannot always be the first step. If someone is hungry, are you going to throw a Bible at them or feed them? Unless the Scriptures are salted, perhaps food is the better option. The spiritual feeding can come later.
Called to Meet Needs
After food and physical safety are fulfilled, people need love and a sense of belonging. Church must be a place of comfort and acceptance. At College View Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, we put ashtrays outside the doors to meet smokers where they are in life. What about AA or NA meetings? Are we comfortable enough to hold these meetings in our church? Whether they’re recovering or they’ve been clean for years, church members could lead these groups. Imagine if community people felt safe enough to haul their troubles to church. Imagine if the church were a nurturing environment where broken, disjointed people could come to be made whole.
After a person’s fundamental needs are fulfilled, it could be time to address spiritual needs. It’s during this time we must pray for clear motives and heavenly guidance. Do we rush them to the nearest Adventist church? Or are there other steps that could be taken? God doesn’t ask all His children to simply sell the Seventh-day Adventist church. An understanding of God and a mature relationship with Jesus are the basics of salvation and spirituality—not specific denominational beliefs.
As followers of Christ, we’re commissioned to seek and save the lost as Jesus did. When someone one needs help, they need help. We’re called to venture beyond strict religion and into the realm of spirituality. We’re called to meet people’s needs. We’re called to market Jesus.
Author Josh Marshall is a sophomore majoring in journalism at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.