While I was sitting in the dentist’s waiting room the other day, feeling the need to find something to occupy my brain, I reached over for a brochure on the table next to me. It was a brochure designed to promote the dentist’s business. Hopefully, a patient (like me) would pick one up, take it home, and pass it along to a friend or neighbor.
I studied the brochure and became fixated on the smiling faces on its cover. It seemed very familiar to me and I wondered where I had seen this “strategy” employed before. Then it dawned on me that portraying smiling faces was also used by a church on a highway billboard, another church had used big smiles for a flyer and smiling faces (including those of cute children) were also seen on the home page of a church website.
I found this marketing approach fascinating, since as a former advertising executive/creative director I was trained to look for the unique things that would set my client’s products or services apart from others. In this case, both the dentist and the churches mentioned above chose to stand out by fitting in! Obviously, they wanted universal acceptance.
But what if a particular church or denomination had something truly unique and different to offer? Could I ever hope to convince such a novel church (or its board) to do some breakthrough and hard-hitting advertising?
For instance, what if a church could make the claim that it could offer people better smiles than a dentist? The challenge of such an advertising push would be to convince people that smiles represent different qualities of happiness.
When a dentist fixes our teeth this improves our appearance and confidence and truly gives us something to be happy about (at least temporarily). However, the biggest selling point a dentist can make is that he or she has the newest technology and science in “painless” dentistry.
A church also provides comfort for those who seek relief from life’s painful experiences. In the same way that a dentist uses novocaine to numb the nerves, a priest offers comforting words of God’s Infinite love for us. But once a patient is properly anesthetized, a dentist does some real drilling. Without the drilling, nothing is accomplished or remedied.
Therefore, a church’s unique advertising campaign would promote the church as performing “spiritual dentistry.” Such a campaign would point out the similarities between dentistry and obtaining God’s heavenly kingdom. Dentists fix tooth decay so that we can properly digest food. Similarly, church ministers offer spiritual food in their counseling and sermons. These spiritual teachings and lessons must be broken down, digested, and assimilated into our lives just like terrestrial sustenance. But just as bad teeth and tooth decay hinders proper eating, harmful ideas and emotions can hinder our thinking and the proper absorption of God’s message.
So a church that wanted to separate itself from all the others would have to offer a method of effective pain management that allowed for drilling through to the negative aspects and compulsions of a person’s inner life. Convincing parishioners that they should be open to the painful procedure of self-discovery (introspection) of one’s negative traits is such a “hard” sell that most churches tip toe around this step. Most people would flee a church if it brought them any degree of discomfort. Too many people attend church for validation rather than regeneration – so the clergy dares not rock the boat.
But a new kind of church would startle us as much as offer comfort – just as Jesus startled everyone with new teachings and challenged each of us to look within when He walked the earth.
We accept the pain of going to the dentist because we understand its benefit. We need a new kind of church that will help us understand the benefit of applying God’s tenets to our lives and not inject us with the “novocaine” that the crucifixion wiped away our sins without any effort on our part and that we should be happy and smiling, in spite of ourselves.
The best smiles come from deep within the spirit, which seeks true eternal happiness. This requires spiritual dentistry.