I recently passed a local church and my eye caught the message on their sign. It read: ‘Come in for Pokemon; Stay for Worship’.
I do not know what thought processes went into the posting of that message. Was the leadership involved or was it put up without their knowledge? I will not cast aspersions on their love for the Lord nor say these aren’t honest believers.
But it raises an important question we should all be ready to ponder: how low are local churches willing to sink to put people in the pews?
This is not a commentary on ‘Pokemon Go’- my opinion on that fad is irrelevant to this discussion. My argument is that many (most?) local churches have no idea of why they exist or what they are supposed to be doing. They are convinced that their success depends entirely on how many people attend, or are on the membership rolls. Therefore they feel they must do whatever they can; buy into any and every hype or fad; try every gimmick to get people interested, not in Christ or the Gospel, but in their particular organization.
Enough is enough.
I know the counter-arguments people will use, wanting to sound supportive and magnanimous. Some will inevitably say the church is ‘trying to be relevant’.
The relevance of the Church is not in the adoption of cultural fads. What if someone does ‘come in for Pokemon’? When they get bored, what will keep them there? Another gimmick? Another fad? Do we honestly think that someone who comes into a local church playing ‘Pokemon Go’ is truly going to care about staying for worship? The relevance of the Church is in her message of hope and the Word of salvation. The relevance of the Church is in the clear assessment of the human condition and the power of Jesus to change lives. The relevance of the Church is in offering true community in a fragmented society.
Others will say. The church is just trying to ‘meet people where they are at’.
Does this mean a church should host a strip club to attract lechers? ‘Come in for porno- stay for worship’. Or should we open bars to attract the drunks? ‘Come in for a snort- stay for worship’. Meeting people where they are at means we engage the lost in the context of the community outside the church doors. And don’t ask if that means Christians should evangelize in bars and strip clubs- you know that is a ridiculous assertion. It means getting to know people through normal, everyday community connections; finding out who they are, what they struggle with and then build a relationship to the point where we can share the hope of Jesus with them.
Still others will contend that what matters is not how they come in, but that they come in, and then have an opportunity to hear the Gospel.
I would challenge you to read the Gospels and Acts with that idea in mind. When did Jesus or the Apostles use gimmicks to get people’s attention? What happened to people who showed up with the wrong ideas or motives? Those who responded to the Gospel were those driven to Christ by their need, not those who drifted by from curiosity. Can the Lord touch someone who comes into a local church with the wrong motives? Absolutely! But it isn’t something we should necessarily bet on. Furthermore, is a local church which relies on gimmicks to get people in, all that committed to the Gospel? Let’s be honest, the Gospel exposes people’s sin and need, and if a person came in looking for fun and games, chances are high they will hit the road as soon as the message gets tough. Go read John 6 to see this reality.
Gimmicks do not work. They do not swell the attendance in a local church and they absolutely do not build the Body of Christ. In the end pursuing gimmicks leaves us disappointed. So we seek new fads, new gimmicks- and the cycle continues.
The Church was never intended to be reduced to inviting people into buildings. Rather it was intended to invite people to know Jesus by going out into the world. I suggest we try the Lord’s way: trusting the Holy Spirit and seeking to build relationships which will then draw people to want to know the Good News of Jesus. Then, when people come in to our worship centers, we will know that they come in with the right heart and for the right reasons. They will come in- and stay -for Jesus.