My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

31 May 2006

Go to church & get gas

Thanks to Aunt Sarah, who sent me an article about a church in Arizona offering free gas cards to new members and visitors. Why? To remove a possible excuse for going to church, of course! What happens when your church is so focused on visitors and growth? Your focus becomes your marketing strategy, which this church has in spades.

Putting aside the sarcasm for a moment, this is really, really sad. These people are believers; they love Jesus, they have believed on him for salvation. But they're getting important parts of the church wrong. Lest we put overdue focus on the first church of gas, this is a phenomena that spans our country. Their love for the lost is commendable, and ought to rebuke many of us. But the church doesn't exist for the lost; it exists for our bridegroom. It doesn't exist by our worldly wisdom; it exists by our King's power. What a drastic compromise we have made with the world.

I guess what put me over the edge on this one was this particular church's emphasis on creating a brand. From their website: At The XXXXX, we will create a brand... We desire to be the first “Brand” of church that comes to a non-attender’s mind when thinking of or looking for a church. I would point out here that an emphasis on marketing and "branding" will likely lead to the opposite of their goal: they will turn off those they are trying to reach. This will happen because we've been marketed to our whole life. I don't need another product; I need a church. If you have to sell your church to me, it's a product, not a church. I don't need someone else to pander to me, I need a church that believes God - not me - is the center of life.

Where in Scripture is the purpose of worship to attract - or even minister to - unbelievers? Surely the lost are called to faith by Biblical preaching, but the purpose of worship has never been centered on those outside the covenant. Where in the Bible does God ask us to come up with marketing strategies? How weak is our faith in Christ's promise to build His church that we feel the freedom to push aside the Holy Spirit and buy people into church?

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Note: I originally had links in this post to the article and the church's website. I removed them, wanting instead to comment on the problem at-large than simply take pot shots at one church.

7 comments:

Ellen Olivetti said...

Wow! Well, your comments strike many chords. Being in the marketing field as a profession, I am not as cynical as many are to its overall purposes. I believe the purpose of marketing is not just to attract, but to inform. So, I do believe there is a place for a concerted effort at outreach (which some may call marketing). In fact, we are called to outreach repeatedly in Scripture.

You make the statement, "Their love for the lost is commendable and ought to rebuke many of us." But, you drop that idea like a hot potato in favor of blasting the whole idea of "marketing the church."

So, let's spend a little time thinking about their "love for the lost." I have been in churches that are so self-focused, so internalized, so interested in the form of "worship" rather than the essence of it, that people get complacent about the lost of this world and make no effort at all to reach them. They're happy with their salvation and gee, it would be nice if the rest of the world agreed but at least, they have their salvation.

At least, people who are out there, trying to get people in to hear the Word are doing something, even if their efforts are scorned by those who believe the church is above being attractive.

Sometimes, so much effort is put into not being seeker-sensitive that churches end up being seeker-insensitive. Churches like that are often forboding to the newcomer, unwelcoming and threatening. Aren't we called to seek the lost, tell them of Christ and welcome them to our doors? How can they believe unless they hear the truth? Let's at least make our churches not unattractive so people will feel safe and welcome coming in the doors.

I don't think for a minute that we should water down the truth of the gospel or not preach the whole counsel of God. But, I also think we should be out there in the communities, trying everything we can (within reason, of course) to get people to come and listen to the Word of God. I really don't see that as "pushing aside the Holy Spirit." We have something fantastic - we have the Truth. And we should be bubbling and talking and telling everyone at every turn, "Come and hear the Truth. You will be welcome. You will be safe. And you will hear things you have never heard before."

We can all cite instances when churches have gone overboard in this area - and I'm not for that either. We're not giving out gas so people can find it easy to come to church. But, I think the church as a whole can easily do the opposite - become an actual stumbling block to people who are interested and seeking the Truth.

We can give the attitude, "Here we are. We are the church. If you accept Christ, you can come in but don't expect us to make it easy for you. We are formidable. We are serious about our worship. And, if you are just seeking, let us know when you are serious, too."

You asked where in Scripture is the purpose of worship to attract unbelievers? I guess I would ask where does it say we should go out of our way to be unattractive to them?

Jared said...

Hi Mom!

In response to your comments, I'll take the opportunity to clarify a few of my thoughts which probably weren't clear in the post:

1. Obviously, I'm not against outreach, concerted outreach, or fliers, mailings, etc. I do think they can be done (and often are done) in ways dishonoring to God and disingenuous about the gospel. But my point isn't against outreach; rather, it's for a proper understanding of the church, especially worship. And then how that understanding impacts our outward mission.

2. You intimate that I believe the "church is above being attractive." Thankfully, Scripture speaks plainly to this issue. We are to some the aroma of life and to some the smell of death. (2 Cor. 2:16). This assumes that we're living in close enough proximity to unbelievers that they "get" what our life is about - and are either attracted or offended by it.
I don't believe we are above being attractive (one of my more frivolous goals for the new church is to have the coolest website in our denomination). I do believe that, by simply living lives changed by Christ, we will be attractive to some and unattractive to others. To try to be attractive to all is simply out of bounds, Scripturally. That is, Scripture doesn't say we should go out of our way to be unattractive to them - but it does say that, by virtue of our union with Christ, we are automatically unattractive to some. Trying to overcome this spiritual fact would be silly.

3. We agree on the need to preach the whole counsel of God; problem is, the churches I'm talking about don't. These are churches that survey their neighborhoods and preach on whatever their neighbors want to hear. This particular church's may series was on "What's keeping you up at night?" Such "felt needs" preaching coincides with a focus that is first outward rather than upward.
If we talked more at length, we may or may not agree on using every method reasonable to reach out to the lost. You know better than most the best method is living in the world with the love of Christ.

4. I don't know exactly what you mean you talk about churches putting effort into not being seeker-sensitive. I've never heard of a church trying to be insensitive. The question is, though, what is our focus in worship? If it is making people comfortable, then we are off track. If it is entering into God's presence to praise Him and be changed by Him (and doing that in a manner that pleases Him), then we ought not to worry about whether or not the worship service proper is comfortable to unbelievers. What we should worry about is how well we welcome and love everyone who comes to worship. Though they may be uncomfortable initially, the love of people is far more winsome than any style of worship. Though worship can be formidable to the unbeliever, and though we must be serious about our worship, real fellowship and true warmth is what's commanded (1 Cor. 13), not attractiveness. Again, I'm all for removing barriers for newcomers and unbelievers. But removing barriers isn't the first (or even 2d, 3d, 4th, etc.) purpose of worship.
Additionally, I would add that the greatest thing we can offer to them is not necessarily immediate comfort, but eternal peace. In other words, no one enters the kingdom of heaven comfortably; it is an inherently uncomfortable, humiliating thing to cast yourself at the foot of the cross. But beyond that is the greatest comfort known to man: adoption into God's family.

5. If the church views worship as an evangelism event, then we will become necessarily tied to the next big thing - whatever outreach idea we think of next. Our view of worship's success will be in counting visitors and conversions, rather than whether or not God was praised in spirit and truth. While it seems exciting at first glance to be out there on the front lines, trying new tricks to get folks into the pews, in the end it will be a cycle of fads and gimmicks without substance.
My heart here is that the church would simply realize who she is and who she isn't. We aren't a business or a brand; pastors aren't professionals; our mission's success has nothing to do with cleverness and everything to do with faithfulness and the Spirit's power. I also firmly believe that when the church has a Biblical view of herself (the mercifully elected bride of Christ), we will then be the most attractive we can be.

Finally, the reason I was so upset by this specific church's behavior is that I can't, for the life of me, figure out how paying people to come to church isn't a thinly baptized form of spiritual prostitution - Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! Sell your soul to the highest bidder!

Jared said...

Let me also say that, when we do mailings, fliers, websites, etc., it is wise and prudent to put thought into such things, to have recognizable themes that run between them, to make them attractive, etc. If this is a marketing plan, then I have no problem with it. In fact, we have a group assembled to put together such things for the new church. (But that plan won't be a major part of the church - simply a tool of our outward face)

ellyn olivetti said...

Jared:

Thanks for your comments. As I suspected when I wrote, we agree on much more than we disagree on. I just wanted to raise come questions, and you clarified what I was uncertain about.

The whole idea of "marketing the church" is one I have struggled with, trying to find the proper way to use my talents in outreach through postcards, flyers, etc. that show joy and creativity, welcoming people into church so they can hear the Word. I do agree with you that the message of the gospel in itself sets us apart from the world, so I do not want to try to make church seem like just another entertainment venue. And I do want the worship service to be focused on the God we serve and his glory. I just want to do whatever I can to get people there to hear the Word. I think that is Biblical.

So, I am always interested in a godly way to use outreach/marketing in His kingdom. I have some very good books on the subject, which you may want to borrow.

I didn't mean to seem so negative in my comments. I really just wanted to pose the other side of the issue and hear your thoughts on the subject.

Mike Spreng said...

Right! I just don't see that kind of "evangelism" in the Scripture. Feed the poor? even with gas cards? yes, but making the church out to be some kind of desperate business is ridiculous, to say the least. Look...we want converts...and the first step of evangelism is to present God’s law, even in an ethical form (Calvin calls this “the first use of the law.”). Is giving money to those who are really not in need of it, ethical? I think not! I think, if anything, this is a good way to attract reprobate. The Seeker sensitive churches have been doing this for some time now, and now the unbelievers (those that took the gas card) are running the churches with no sign of conversion.

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