I have now heard it all. Okay, maybe not. But surely this is close.
Some church is offering gas cards to get folks to visit. I have no doubt some folks will proclaim, “How innovative! How creative!” Some might say, “Wish I had thought of that.”
I say, what happened to Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (ESV).
I can already hear someone say, “Now Edwin, we believe the gospel is God’s power to save, but we’ve got to get people here to hear that gospel or they won’t be saved.” I say, what happened to Mark 16:15: “And he said to them, ‘Go…'” (ESV)? God didn’t ask us to figure out ways to get people to “come to church.” He asked us to go to them. It might be one thing if a congregation was giving free gas to its members so they could travel the highways and byways talking to folks about the gospel. But since when is our job to figure out how to get people to come to church?
But that’s not all. Do we really want to be the people who say God’s gospel is powerful enough to save, but only after a certain point? Do we really want to be the people who say the gospel is not powerful enough to save people from start to finish? Do we really think God needs us to get them so far and then He’ll take over? Or do we think the Gospel is powerful enough to get people interested in hearing it and then in obeying it?
Perhaps the problem is the average Christian is, well, average. Maybe if we could move beyond being unremarkably average and really let the Gospel change our lives, other people might get curious about what is going on in our churches.
I can also already hear someone else say, “Now Edwin, we are not ashamed of the Gospel.” Let’s get real. When our Vacation Bible Schools look more like county fairs with free crafts and bouncy rides, we certainly aren’t saying we think the Gospel can hold its own. When our assemblies look more like rock concerts or club hopping, we certainly aren’t happy with just the Gospel. When we are trying to get people to “come to church” by appealing to their fleshly desires with free gas or with parties for the teenagers, mixers for the young singles, babysitting for the parents and other such appeals, we are saying we just don’t think the Gospel alone will cut it. When someone asks us, “What do you have for my kids?” and we bow our heads, kick the dirt and say, “Just the Gospel,” we are showing embarrassment and shame. We should be able to hold our heads high and say, “We have the Gospel that saves. We have it for you, for your kids, for your grandkids and for everyone in your whole family.”
Let’s face it, a church giving away free gas will get more people in the pews. But free gas doesn’t put anyone in heaven. Only the gospel of Jesus can do that. God is not saying to us, “Help me. I’ve got the saving gospel but no one wants to listen to it. Do something, please.”
Why don’t we just live the gospel, teach the gospel and let the gospel govern our churches. Yes, I know not many people are into the gospel. Not many people are going to want to “come to church” if all they get out of it is the gospel message. But what good are we doing trying to manipulate people into hearing the gospel? What good are we doing saying God’s gospel is not enough to save people from start to finish?
I’ll say it again, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”
Jim Canada says
This is a fantastic post Edwin. I think you really captured the lack of confidence that so many people seem to have in the Gospel whether they are willing to admit it or not.
By the way, if you are converted by the gospel I know that makes you a follower of Jesus, so if you are converted by cheeseburgers in the rec center does that make you a disciple of Ronald McDonald? just wondering…
Edwin, you bring up some good points. I think the key thing is the "bait and switch" approach. You know, like the resort condos do: Come for the weekend, on us, and all you have to do is listne to a little-bitty pitch about owning a unit.
Some of the other stuff you mention, in my opinion, isn't "instead of the Gospel" or "to prop up the Gospel." In a lot, maybe most, of the cases I think churches are reaching people where they are as opposed to trying to lure them in.
So I don't see what many churches do as being ashamed of the Gospel or denigrating the power of the Gospel. I see it as another way of being relational with people inside and outside the church.
All that being said, the concept of bribing people to come to church gets under my skin.
Thanks for the thought provoking posts. Keep 'em coming.
Bubba, can you explain further how you believe the issues above are just meeting people where they are? Further, if this is how we do that, is there anything in the NT that showed Jesus or the apostles meeting people where they were by trying to attract them with things other than a godly life and the gospel?
I need more info to see how that fits.
Edwin, I guess what I'm getting at is that Jesus didn't tell people that they had to change to hear the Gospel. They could be who they were and where they were. The change in people typically comes after hearing the Gospel.
So, meeting people where they are means not being the kind of church that says people have to be a certain way or dress/act a certain way. As long as Scripture is the foundation and guide of all we do, what's wrong with a service that has live music performed or a place to get coffee and a danish?
When it's more of a show for the sake of being a show than for the glory of God and worship of God, then we have a problem.
I have seen more people embrace the Gospel and accept Christ outside the walls of a church than inside one. I'm all for the "Go" aspect and think that we need to take the Gospel with us when we walk out of the church each week. That's probably the biggest thing Christians need to be doing instead of figuring out how to entice folks to a particular building.
Maybe I've missed the main point, I'm not sure. I just get my back up a bit when I see different styles of church painted with the "Not the Gospel" brush just because they do some things different.
Does that help clarify at all?
Thanks again for the posts.
Thanks Bubba for the clarification. I don't want to plug headlong into a debate about this, however, for sake of more clarification and forcing us all to think, I would like to pursue this one step further.
I certainly do not want to paint churches as "not the Gospel" just because they do something differently from the congregation of which I am a part. However, I do get concerned when I see churches do things differently from what the New Testament talks about.
If the entertainment route is just meeting people where they are, why didn't Jesus use it? If the coffee and Danish route is a great way to get people to come, why didn't the Christians of the New Testament use it?
I agree that Jesus met people where they were. But that meant He showed them the love they needed and gave them the Gospel message at the point where it would help them. That didn't mean He tried to create artificial means to get people interested in Him. In fact, when I read John 6, it appears to me Jesus did that exact opposite. The people were at the point that if He had just kept giving them food, they would have stayed. Instead, He highlighted how they were missing the boat. 6000 people abandoned Him that day. The only ones who stayed were the ones who had come to realize He had the Words of Life.
I certainly don't think we should purposefully try to push people away. At the same time, I don't think we are living the simple life of Christ (as a friend of mine calls it) when we try to make artificial means to get people interested in Jesus.
Keep challenging my thinking.
OK. I'm on to what you're saying. It's the "come for the food, stay for Gospel" approach that you're getting at. In that sense, I agree.
That's along the lines of the old "bait and switch" youth groups that were popular in the late 70's and through the 80's.
We're getting to motivations and not necessarily methods. If, for example, a church has a "contemporary service" (media, non-hymn music, flashy, etc), they are OK if it is purely for praise and worship. If on the other hand, the service is that way to make the church more palatable to people (i.e., so they have a reason to come), then that's counter to what we are taught by Jesus.
I guess the related question would be "how do you think churches today should deal with popular culture, if at all?"
Food for a future post perhaps.