You may have heard about elaborate gimmicks churches will use in attempts to attract visitors and/or media attention. Sermon series on sex or money, giving away free gifts like plasma TVs, guitars and even brand new expensive cars. We also like to take something that’s popular in the secular world, add some Christian seasoning and repackage it. For example, a church will steal the logo from Desperate Housewives and call their sermon series “Desperate Households.” My friend Matt told me of a sermon series his church did based on The Matrix called “The Gospel: Reloaded.”
Never mind that our money and resources would be better served feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and reaching out to hurting and needy people. But these gimmicks also show people that the Church doesn’t have much truth or life experience left; it’s jumped the shark and started using cheap attractions and thrills.
Preachers are always challenged to get our attention, and as the years go by there are more distractions and pop culture trends to keep up with. There’s nothing wrong with using various methods and trends to help communicate the message of the Gospel. But too often, I fear that we pick a gimmick or trend and then find a way to make a message fit along with it, instead of the other way around.
In 2006 Granger Community Church in Granger, IN began a series on sex and used creative billboards (met with the expected curiosity and controversy) to advertise their sermon series. It seems they used their gimmick the right way: as a platform to preach messages about sex within marriage and other sexual morality issues. In that case, hopefully the money was well spent as it did attract people.
In a series about the race of life, a pastor I know spent money and resources traveling to Talladega racetrack to video himself driving a race car. What did this accomplish? I sat there wondering how much money and time was spent on that, which could have been used for real needs in the church and community. You may have seen the following video on youtube. What purpose is there in driving a motorcycle into the sanctuary? All this accomplished was to make a funny viral video…
Jesus communicated in ways people understood, so it’s good to use the culture around us but he also had a clear purpose. Non-believers generally aren’t going to visit your church because of a gimmick or stunt. I think more often than not, we do these things to keep the existing believers from getting bored. Seekers are looking for an experience with God, and to connect with genuine people. Yet many churches think gimmicks will get people in the seats and attract visitors. When visitors arrive, they need to not only find a cool church that has great technology, edgy graphics, and cool gimmicks. They need to find an encounter with Jesus, solid Biblical teaching and real people to connect with.
But wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need so many gimmicks? If our lives were such amazing billboards for Christ that people would want to know what we have that they don’t? Wouldn’t it be way cooler if our church were known for taking care of the needy and volunteering for local charities (even the secular ones)? If the only marketing we needed was word-of-mouth because people feel so loved and cared for at our church? What if your church were known for walking the walk and holding people accountable, avoiding controversy and scandals, and handling money properly? And above all, if we were known for exemplifying God’s love. That’s how Jesus said people would know we are His followers. Not by our billboards, free cars and stunts but love.
What’s the craziest gimmick you’ve ever seen a church use to attract attention?