THE BLOG
09/22/2010 04:47 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Your Crust Tastes Like Rubber: How the Church Can Learn from Domino's Pizza

What the heck do you do if everyone thinks your pizza sucks? Domino's Pizza faced this grim question a few years ago after several costumer surveys came back with disparaging results. Rather than suppress the negative feedback or resort to ugly corporate backbiting, they devised a new marketing strategy--be brutally, unrepentantly honest. To be honest, I too thought Domino's sucked. But my faith in the crappiness of their pizza was rattled last year when Domino's made a series of ads and Youtube.com videos about why they sucked and what they were going to do about it. In essence, they said, "Our pizza is bad, we want to make it better, and we need your help." Throwing all their eggs in one basket, they banked on redefining the way the world saw the Domino's brand. If the public didn't like the pizza chain's new and improved offerings, they would likely be doomed to bankruptcy.

On Aug. 30, Yahoo! Finance reported that Domino's strategy paid off. Even though the economy is almost as bad as their former marinara sauce, Domino's is on the rebound. Of course, it's hard for me to trust this ad campaign fully -- Domino's is out to make a profit, after all -- but I think it gets to a kernel of truth in today's marketing. There is an overabundance of bull on the airwaves that sells a lifestyle, entertainment, or worse, a new kind of crust.

Domino's pizza of yesteryear was painfully bad. I certainly noticed. Living in Seattle a few years ago, Domino's was the last place I would have ordered pizza from. Only the least discerning customer would have willingly purchased their lackluster pies. Senior management had options: they could "reinvent themselves," try feebly to launch a magical new product, or tear down the house and redo their pizza from scratch. Instead, Domino's stated the obvious and apologized for making a race-to-the-bottom pizza.

For a long time the church has talked. We've saturated American culture through politics, the media, and protests. We preach at people, tell them how to live, and if David Kinnanman's statistics are any indication -- 87 percent of non-Christians believe that Christians are judgmental -- my generation is sick of it. Anglican Bishop Todd Hunter has often said, "We are not starting from a clean slate with this (millennial) generation, when preaching the gospel, we are starting from -1 or -2."

As a church, we try to sell people a religion: we put up billboards and have door greeters hand out Starbucks cards. As a church, we keep "reinventing ourselves" to be relevant to the culture. In a sense, we are pitching bad pizza. The bad news for us is that the hard sell is dead -- especially with the millennial generation.

It's time to start listening to our own focus groups. My friend Jim Henderson, author of The Outsider Interviews, is a major proponent of the practice of evangelizing with your ears. Henderson, along with Bishop Todd Hunter and Craig Spinks, traveled the country in 2008 to interview young people -- inside and outside of Christianity -- about how they feel about Christianity. These authors found a common theme throughout their research: stop talking at "us."

This hearkens back to an old adage of motherly wisdom: "You have two ears and one mouth for a reason." Henderson has built a lot of his work around sitting down in front of people and listening. Trust me, sit down in front of someone and actually listen. If they figure out you're a Christian, you will impress them.

Listening takes the humility not to speak. You have to sit across from someone, drop your agenda, and start caring. You have to remember names, hold back urges to be right, eat together, and understand the other. That's listening -- it's the secret sauce of Christianity.