Posted by Vogeler on March 17, 2007
I’ve recently become a bit dissatisfied with some methods churches use to reach the lost.
I’m speaking of what I call gimmicks. More and more churches are turning to slick marketing campaigns, “cool” services, billboard “teasers” (a phrase or picture designed to gain interest) to reach the lost, to “get them in the door.”
A perfect example of this is Next Level Church, in Florida. There is a huge controversy right now concerning their messages series “My Great Sex Life”. They rented a billboard featuring simple drawings of a male and female (similar to the universal public restroom identifiers) and a website URL that led to a flash video that talked about sex gone wrong (in a limited fashion) and then sent the viewer to the church’s site. This has resulted in a lot of public interest, and media coverage.
So why do I have issues with this approach? It’s certainly not because I have a problem with Pastor Matt Keller or his staff (while I have never met any of them personally, I have heard nothing but good about Pastor Matt which leads me to believe he is a sound, Biblically-based man of God). I also have no problem with the subject matter. Sex (and the misuse of sex)is such a huge part of our society, it’s the church’s responsibility to teach Biblically about it. The only reason I mentioned this church specifically is because it’s very much in the public eye right now. I think it’s symbolic of a growing trend in churches.
It’s a fact in this nation that churches close their doors every day. People are not coming to Christ with any regularity, if at all. We, as Christians, are failing our unsaved neighbors. And because of this, I believe that some churches and leaders are grasping at anything they can to increase attendance, and reach the unchurched. That’s where this current trend in “shock evangelism” comes in. If you can shock people, if you can gain their interest, you might actually get them to attend just to see what it’s all about. So far, so good. But what happens next? Do people get saved at these events? Does this advance the Kingdom of God?
Speaking from personal experience (I’ve only been saved for a little less than 4 years, so I still know the unsaved mindset), this sort of thing would immediately stand out for what it is, a gimmick, and I would immediately say, “nah.” Now, of course, Pastor Matt and these other leaders are sincere. They are doing this to try to further the Kingdom of God. I’m not saying they’re attempting to delude people. I’m saying they’re methods are not the most effective, and their methods are not the methods used by Jesus, the apostles, and the early church.
I study cultural anthropology, both past and present, so I am well aware of cultural differences between Jesus’ time and place and our own. Modern media and technology are good things, and have their place in our society, and our churches. But Jesus never resorted to man-made gimmicks. Nor did his disciples. They attracted a huge following by going to where the people were, not by trying to get the people to come to them. They performed signs and wonders in the Name of Jesus through the power of Holy Spirit to inspire reverent awe in the people. They built relationships with non-Christians (Jesus being the perfect example of this!!), and maintained those relationships. And, once a person became a believer, the new convert was discipled, was taught, and was sent out to spread the good news.
So why aren’t our churches following this model? First, I think it’s because of a focus on the church (the building and the organization) as the place where all Christian activity takes place. Instead of taking church to the people, we want to bring people to the church, get them “cleaned up” and “Christianized.” A second reason, and I think this is especially telling, is that most Christians no longer have any sort of a relationship with non-Christians. Or perhaps not most Christians, who go to work in a secular world,but almost certainly most of our leadership. At a recent gathering of 20-something Christian adults, the consensus was that most of them had little to no contact or relationship with unbelievers. You can read about it here.
So, why do Christians have these attitudes? I think it’s because the church in America has grown soft and weak, and lazy. The world is a hard place. It’s messy, bloody, painful. Spending time with non-Christians is often uncomfortable. Building relationships with the unsaved takes work, it takes love, it takes compassion. Getting outside of our beautiful stained-glass “vanity fairs” is uncomfortable. It’s messy. It’s hard.
I know of at least two leaders who are doing things differently. And, with astounding success (by success I mean changed lives, people accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, and furtherance of the Kingdom of God, which is not a physical kingdom but a spiritual one). Pastor Mark Hadfield, of Scotland, and John Lunt of Dallas, Texas. Pastor Mark is involved with Healing on the Streets, and John Lunt has a thriving prayer and evangelism ministry with the homeless of his city. Check them out.
Please, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that our current churches are worthless, or that no healing or work of God is taking place. I’m just saying that the current trend in shock tactics concerns me, when it would be a better use of our resources (time and money) to model Christ, and go to where the hurt people are, instead of trying to attract them to us.