When Christian Marketing Collides with Family Values

Orginally published on Wednesday, February 08, 2006 at 2:27 PM
by Todd Rhoades

Sucks I stopped dead in my tracks when my eyes saw this picture on the cover of Christian Retailing Magazine this month.

Am I a fuddy-duddy?

I know that the word 'sucks' has gained wide-spread acceptance in the Christian community as of late.  Heck, I even have a link to ChurchMarketingSucks.com here on this blog.

But it's not a word that I honestly use much; and am still startled sometimes when those around me throw it around as casually as they do.

Let me just say this:  I don't allow my kids to use the word 'sucks'.  And I definitely wouldn't allow them to wear it on a T-shirt.

It could just by my traditional, fundy background.  It might be that I'm not keen on all the hip young talk.  Or it might be that I actually remember what the word 'sucks' meant when I was in high school back in the eighties.

My kid's friends say it freely (I know because they've say it around me).  But I've tried to key my kids on to a 'higher standard' that I expect from them.  I hope they oblige their father.

And now, a "Christian" T-shirt comes out to help me along in my parenting.  Hell Sucks. (or as they promote it on their website H***Sucks.  They're description:

"We had to do it. White lettering on black is simple and straight-forward. We also carry one with red lettering on a black tee with red stitching.  Now, if we can only get up the nerve to say it!"

So... am I a fuddy duddy?  How do you adjust when even the Christian culture goes a step too far (in your or my opinion?)

What rules do you have for language in your family?  in your youth group?  in your church?  (the other words that we hear ALL THE TIME that we don't allow are things like 'freakin', 'frickin', or 'friggin'.)  Those words are off limits at our house (at least with the kids around!)

Love to hear your input on this one!


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 TRACKBACKS: (0) There are 47 Comments:

  • Posted by Mark O. Wilson

    You’re not a fuddy duddy.  I agree with you.  It reminds me of the time I let an intern preach his first sermon on Sunday morning.  In his message, he was trying to make a point with some football illustration—and he said, “The Vikings suck. . .”

    There was an audible gasp in the sanctuary,and I don’t think anybody over 40 heard another word he said after that.

    We had two services at that time, and between them, I pulled him aside, “Listen, you really mustn’t say the Vikings suck.  That’s really offensive.”

    But there was one redeeming factor—he didn’t say that about the Packers!

  • Posted by Kevin B.

    I don’t get the point.  Who is the shirt designed for, Christians or the lost?  I really think we are becoming more and more irrelevant to those outside the church.

    Todd, I’m with you on this.  I don’t use the word or allow my kids either

  • Posted by

    I’m with you, Todd--I remember what it meant way back when, too.  And frankly, I think that’s what it still means, regardless of how cavalierly (is that a word?) it is used today.  Sometimes I think Christians do/say such things just to invite others (Christians?) to take issue with it, and so they can argue back and try prove some point (what, I’m not quite sure).

    I’m not an “in-your-face” type when it comes to evangelism, but somehow I still think a black tee with white letters that read somethign like, “jesus” or “jesuslovesyou” or “youmatter...tojesus” would ultimately have a much greater impact on the unbelievers who see it.

    Just my two cents…


  • Posted by dan ohlerking

    i just posted something with a link to churchmarketingsucks and i felt a little odd typing it out cuz we don’t say it either and for the same reasons as you, todd.

    i actually have a little more trouble with stuff that is what i understand “profanity” to be - misusing words that should have tremendous value and devaluing their meaning (diffusing their importance).  that’s why GD will never be acceptable in my home.  and why to me h*** used out of context or in a hotter than h*** way will also not be acceptable.  if something is hotter, then hell isn’t quite so bad, huh?

    it also goes to the use of “i’m starved” and “i’m dying of thirst” and stuff like that.  my family is very involved in work with AIDS orphans and i don’t want my kids’ memories of seeing real starvation and dying to be tainted by something like needing a glass of gatorade or something.

    i guess where some of the other words we don’t use (like the one in question in this post) and the big vulgar one and other crude ones are in my estimation is just that - crude and vulgar and unnecessary to have flying around my house.  there’s no need for them.  there’s other words that can be used if we need to express a thought - even if it needs a little more kick to express how strong we feel.

    there’s simply better words than these.

  • Posted by

    Does anyone actually have experience with a Christian t-shirt playing a major role in the salvation of another? I only find them to be useful in identifying ourselves and reminding ourselves, “OK, I’ve got the Cross Training shirt on today, let’s not snap at the Burger King chick if she forgets the cheese on the whopper.” Testimonies, please, of those formerly unchurched/lostwho were positively affected by a Christian t-shirt that played a major role in moving them toward Christ.

  • Posted by Matt

    Interesting post.  I’m 22, on a church staff, and am quite guilty of using both “sucks” and “freakin/friggin/etc.” Now, for me, these are euphamisms that I have unconciously adopted after becoming a Christian because my mouth used to be a little dirty before.  My parents cussed like sailors and despite their threats those words became part of my normal vocabulary.

    I’m kind of torn over the issue of whether or not these words should be in my vocabulary.  There is just so much more emphasis and meaning when I say something “sucked” than when I say something “stinked.” I realize the same could be said of contemporary cus words...but even some of them were intentionally developed as euphamisms for even earlier curses and now have simply taken their place as the present curse.  Round and round we go.

    Now I would never use these words in a sermon (if I preached)...but only because I know some older generations assign a different meaning to those words and it would be disrespectful to them even if those my age wouldn’t even blink.

    I also completely understand parents telling their kids not to use certain euphamisms like suck.  I may even find myself doing that one day.  But I would offer that context is a HUGE pretext for what I say.  In other words, I choose not to use certain words when talking with my grandparents that I could care less about using with my friends.  My grandma is insulted by the word “poop” if that gives you any frame of reference.  Do you have an issue with “poop”, Todd?  hehe.

    But this same generation (at least in my family) is also offended by using ANY word, proper or improper, that refers to “certain body parts.” ANY.

    I think curses will always be around and will be different for different generations.  But changing your speech to honor another’s context is, in my opinion, a way of honoring God.  Did that make sense?

    Context.  Context.  Context.

  • Posted by Matt

    After all, Todd.  You used the word “Heck” in your original article.  Just another euphamism.

  • Posted by Todd Rhoades

    Exactly… heck, gosh, gosh dang, all ephamism.  That is true.

    Don’t have trouble with the word poop.  Another big word I hear teens say all the time is ‘crap’.  Doesn’t bother me as much; but still; not a nice sounding word.


  • Posted by Todd Rhoades

    I have a sister-in-law that says Oh Shite (long i sound).  For some reason that always cracks me up.

    (She also says ‘bat out of heck’

    Go figure.


  • Posted by Matt


    I can’t believe I forgot crap.  I use that all the time not even realizing.

    I know several people who watch sci-fi shows like Farscape and Battlestar Galactica where each show’s “world” has completely different curses and slang.  I’ve always thought that was a clever way of getting around censors.  But it gets kinda scary for me when these people actually start using that same show’s language.  I just can’t take them seriously.  heh.

  • Posted by


    Tell your sister-in-law to say, “ Shiite.”
    Then she can tell everyone they’re just full of radical Islamic ideas.

  • Posted by Ian


    Out of curiosity how do condone endorsing churchmarketingsucks.com after this post?

  • Posted by Samuel

    The thing that bugs me about this t-shirt is not the “sucks” part, rather it’s the lack of seriousness when approaching the topic of “hell”. I believe this t-shirt, hellsucks, shows a far bigger problem in our culture in our ignorance towards the arch-nemesis of our faith.

    Prodding and making fun of the devil and or his future dwelling is far from humorous...much less, far from actually educating those about hell.

    As for the word “sucks”....not my favorite word to use, but nevertheless I use it.

  • Posted by

    Ok...i’m of the genration of sucks, Friggin, ETC. the shirt does not bother m, because the word has change in context from a couple of generations.  some words change from good to bad, like the term for a bundle of sticks and a homosexual, or being happy and gay.  The shirt of for a their generation, as a attention getter, its not ment for my parents, but its a bold way for students to express thier faith in thier way, not in our Tradionial ways. thier are alot of stories in the Bible that would be controversial t-shirts, like Jesus Saves Whores”..ok tha’s alitte extreme, but this genration is communicating differnt, we can help clean up some of that using our lense of experince or embrassed studnets expressing thier faith in a world that has such a wide spectrum of vaules, beiefs, ETC. so in short, the shirt rocks!

  • Posted by Todd Rhoades

    I’m not really condoning it… I do think they post some really good things there… at least things that I find interesting.

    It’s not a website that I would recommend to my kids; nor is it a word that I, personally, would include in any of my website names.  And if they were selling T-Shirts, I’d pass.

    They also address this issue at their website:

    Some people take issue with our use of the word ‘sucks’, and we understand their concerns. Growing up, some on our team weren’t even allowed to use the word, and our moms still don’t like it.

    Looking to the Bible, we don’t find a list of ‘naughty’ words to stay away from. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul admonishes us to watch the way we talk. This doesn’t refer to specific words, but to the character of what we say. Looking through the book of Job and the book of Psalms, there are some pretty choice words used by men of God. In Job 3:8, Job says “May those who are good at cursing curse that day” (MSG). There’s plenty of precedence when it comes to being authentic in our emotions and feelings—that includes the words we use.

    Which is exactly what we’re doing with the name Church Marketing Sucks.

    We’re being authentic. We’re being real. We’re doing the same thing we’re asking the church to do when it comes to communicating and marketing who they are.

    Profanity is culturally and contextually defined. There’s nothing inherently bad about any word. In our changing culture previously profane words are losing their original unwholesome associations. ‘Suck’ no longer references a sexual act in today’s context. Instead, it means something disagreeable or offensive (some might say our defense of the word ‘suck’ sucks). Likewise you could be just as profane and unwholesome using clinical language—it’s the context that makes the difference.

    In the end we’re trying to help the church. We have better things to do than argue word choice, and we think the church does, too.

    Many recall a familiar message by Tony Campolo where he uses the four-letter “s” word. Iterations exist all over the place (including the Internet), but the context goes something like “[This many] children have died of hunger today and you don’t give a s--t! In fact, you are more concerned with the fact that I said ‘s--t’ than [this many] children died of hunger.”

    While this story may be a little harsh to those of you who don’t like our word choice, the point remains. Too often the church gets distracted by lesser things and misses the point. Our point is that church marketing is lame and needs some help. We’re using strong language to get your attention and make that point, but the point isn’t our word choice—it’s church marketing.

    Read through the site. We hope what we’re doing pleases God and is helping churches around the world, and that isn’t lessened by a word thought to be vulgar once upon a time. If you don’t think so, we apologize for offending you.

    In fact, we understand your concern and have made an alternate url available: ChurchMarketingStinks.com. It will redirect to ChurchMarketingSucks.com, but if you have a problem printing the word ‘sucks’ we’d encourage you to use this less offensive alternative.

    So, actually, I think they’re using it’s shock value to get some attention of the people they’re trying to reach.  Seems to be working for them; but again it’s not something I’d do personally.

    But to answer your question; there is enough of good value there that I include the link.  We’re all grown up here; so I think we can click on it without have dirty thoughts.  Not so sure my 12/14 year olds could do the same.


  • Posted by Todd Rhoades

    Yeah, we just had this long discussion on the meaning of words over on the ‘fundamentalism’ topic. 

    I understand the meaning of words change.  That’s why I really don’t want to be called a fundamentalist.

    So… let me as you this.  When people use the word ‘sucks’ today, do they think of it as just an expression; or do they think of it as a euphamism for oral sex?  My guess is that some who use the word these days do not know from whense it came or what it means?  Could I be wrong?


  • Posted by

    I see the point.  Shirt made me laugh.  I come also from the generation who uses the word suck.  It really is a word I would like to take out of my vocab.  I guess I never thought about the meaning behind the word.  Hmm.

  • Posted by Chris Marsden

    This is one of those that I could easily argue either way.  On the one hand, we hit our thumb with a hammer and scream OUCH!!!!  If in our heart we are not reacting to pain but thinking all sorts of evil about the hammer, the nail, the kid who was holding the board and let it slip, what difference does it matter what word we used.  One of Jesus’ points in the Sermon on the Mount was that the heart is the measure of sin, not just the actions. 

    On the other hand, our preacher (previous church) used the pharse screwed up pretty regularly.  In todays day, that phrase is pretty tame and compared to his past, that phrase was really tame.  But one of our elders came up to him one day and said, “when you you say screwed up, our older members here f***ed up.” He actually said the word but I star it out here because of the audience of your blog.  It is not appropriate.

    We have to take into consideration our audience.  I use the word crap a lot.  In my mind, crap means junk, not a pile of dog stuff.  But I am careful not to use that word when speaking with older people because in their mind they see a pile of dog stuff and I might as well of said Sh*t.

    Paul said he bacame all the things to all people, that means knowing your audience and speaking appropriately.  Should we encourage these questionable words?  Probably not.  Should we make a big deal about words that ultimately are just cultural anyways?  I don’t think so either.  Americans constantly joke about the word bloody.  I type it here and find nothing wrong with it at all.  Most of you will find nothing wrong with it.  But British people would probably have prefered me type out f**k than bloody.  In fact a couple of british ministers I have met say damn and hell pretty frequently but took great offense at bloody.

  • Posted by Ian

    We are together in the fact we are raising or children to avoid those words.  That’s good. But since I have been quite outspoken on my own blog about churchmarketingsucks and pimpmychurch I was hoping you were going to take the next step and drop them from your must read blogs.  The content may be great but I hear there are some decent articles in Playboy too. In fact I vowed when I started my blog that if those 2 websites disappear so would Raiders.  You can get the ball rolling and put the pressure on by dropping them Todd. Your site is very influential. ROTLC would be history in the blogosphere.

  • Posted by

    not bothered by the word or the shirt.  I prefer that shirt over one mimmicking Burger King or Coke or Nike...you get the point.  I lead a pretty progressive church, I guess...I’ve used “crap” several times and even used “sucks” once.  Never had anyone say something about “crap” and only one person was offended by “sucks”—and frankly, she’s the type of person that I sort of like tweeking and exactly the sort of person that Campolo was egging on during his talk.

    To add to what was written above...context...context...context.

  • Posted by

    I had no idea “suck” was a euphamism for anything...I thought it was an emphatic “stinks”.

    Nonetheless, I don’t use it.  I remember back to my first job out of college: my sister called to tell me my little hand held vacuum cleaner didn’t work.  I said “sure it sucks” and got the strangest look from my boss...so I quit using the word.  I blush now to realize what he thought!

  • Posted by

    i would think they think of it as something that is bad or stinks, because oral sex its own lingo! I Get amazed at how a T-shirt can cause a committee meeting or an uproar, but homless, widows, Fathers kids fade into the back. i once went to an Eastman Curtis camp and they had, a t-shirt that @ the time seemed cool, its Said “i suck rug” ok @ the time it seemed cool till the mom’s saw most of the yoth wearing the t-shirt, by the way it was the last time i saw those t-shirts, we have to laugh at ourselves sometimes. We need a blog on tattoos, talk about a war party! lol! have a great God filled day!


  • Posted by

    I’ll weigh in as another parent who didn’t allow the word sucks, stupid, pissed off, friggin and several others.  We didn’t let our kids watch The Simpsons and screened all the PG13 movies we allowed.  Now they are 27 and 25 years old.  They say all the words we didn’t allow.  I’m quite sure that somewhere around Jr. High these words (and worse) started slipping out behind our backs.  One evening they confessed to now owning DVDs of all the seasons of The Simpsons.

    Some might think we parented poorly because our values didn’t “stick.” (One son is, at the moment, a prodigal - so our faith values are being questioned, and I believe will become his own eventually).  Like any parent of grown kids, there are things we would do differently if we knew then what we know now.  However, the “values” which we attempted to teach our kids by forbidding these words did indeed “stick.” They are values which reflect treating people with honor and dignity, respecting the difference between people, submitting our “rights” to others.  Our boys have these values, which is why they don’t use those words around us.  They know that we know better, and that we can’t put a bar of soap in their mouth anymore.  That is what the elder at Chris’ church was explaining to the Sr. Pastor. Having some differences in the way we talk isn’t being duplicitous, it’s being respectful.


  • Posted by


    “So… am I a fuddy duddy?”

    Uh, yes and no.

    There’s little doubt that to YOU the word connotes a vulgar action however, the word “sucks” has long been commandeered to mean something different to the younger users of today. 

    Just as the word “gay” has been hijacked to mean something totally different today than it meant 25 - 30 years ago, “sucks,” at least to the younger generation simply implies something or someone who is inadequate or poor, as in performance or quality.

    But how many words to we as adults use that our parents never would have thought about using, especially in “church” circles?  What about “crap?” How many on this forum uses that word with relative frequency?  I’ve heard it used intensely by staff members from various “churches,” where no one seems to matter.

    It’s just more of the desensitizing of our culture.

  • Posted by Bernie Dehler

    My older sister banned the word “sucks” from her family, and I never knew why… til Todd disclosed it.  I’m 43… I think I barely missed that generational euphamism… or maybe the area I grew-up in missed it… or maybe I was just sheltered…


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