By Name Wittheld
Last night I watched a national television talk show host who had some trouble with his guest’s new method of promoting church attendance. The host, a nonbeliever, clearly had higher expectations for growing a church. The excited guest, a pastor of a megachurch in south Texas, was telling about his church raffling off a house. Every Sunday, those attending would deposit another entry ticket in a box for a chance to win the house in the drawing.
Previously the church had given away other prizes—cars, trucks, motorcycles. But this was the first house. What was the catch? None, really. The more tickets a person deposited (code for the more Sundays he attended), the better his chance of winning.
Joyfully, attendance had skyrocketed and the gospel was being preached to many who would not have heard the good news of Jesus. The church had made it easy for members to invite visitors. No need to talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus. Now the pitch was, “Come to church with me. You might win!”
Let’s Have Fun!
Flip the channel, change the characters and it seems we’ll find a different show with a very similar plot.
At a different church, elementary kids are bringing their friends like never before. Children’s church is fun! There is no Sunday school, but almost an hour of games—basketball, foosball, air hockey, board games. There’s an awesome slide that takes children to their meeting place. The Bible lesson is a simplified version, told in a funny, perhaps irreverent way. There’s an air of excitement with prizes to be won.
If you use your imagination just a little, you could be at Chuck E. Cheese’s. But the good news is being taught to those who might not be there had it not been for the words, “Come to church with me. You will have fun!”
The first scenario might be seen as an aberration. The second is becoming more and more common with churches. One Sunday school curriculum publisher laments the fact that an increasing number of churches across America are doing away with teaching the basics of the Bible. Knowing the books of the Bible? Understanding how to use the Bible? Remembering what we believe and why? They’re exchanging all that for fun and entertainment.
So what happens after these elementary students graduate to junior high? What will keep the seventh-grader coming? More entertainment? And someday, what will it take to keep the adult coming? We already know—maybe winning a car!
The talk show host may have easily concluded: If you need gimmicks to assure attendance in church, then your God must not be all that great.
A Shopper’s Mentality
Max Lucado called his book It’s Not About Me. But many Christians have fallen into the exact opposite way of thinking. They have a shopper’s mentality of evaluating church.
“Me-ism” threatens our worship to God. Me-ism says, I didn’t like the songs or the worship time. I didn’t get anything out of it. I have to be entertained by the latest gadgets. I’ll go to church for what I can get—good feelings, a good time, or . . . a prize.
I’m wondering, does God need our help to make him more palatable? Cannot God’s Holy Spirit convict by the power of his Word in the simplest of ways? Do we think the God-shaped vacuum in our souls might have morphed into a hole that includes both the God shape and something else?
Call me an idealist, but praying and loving someone into the kingdom rings truer than any marketing ploy. In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller describes how the attendance at his church, hovering at 30, began to grow.
We started praying each week that God would teach us to live missional lives, to notice people who needed to be loved. . . . It took me a while to understand that the answer to problems was not marketing or program but rather spirituality. . . . Rather than the church serving itself, the church is serving the lost and lonely.
With regular prayer and fasting the gathering of 30 grew quickly into a crowd of 500. Because of love. Because of prayer.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus showed his anger when the temple, the place of prayer, had lost its focus. Surely most churches today have learned that lesson—or have they?
The author is a concerned member of a Restoration Movement church in Indiana.