Would you go to church if it meant free tickets to a baseball game? What about if the church paid your utility bills? Or gave you a free car, house or flashy electronics just for playing along and filling their pews.
A church in Minneapolis is giving away free Twins tickets to first-time visitors to promote an "epic" sermon series with the "epicness" of baseball tickets. But this church is only following a trend. This church in Jacksonville, Florida paid the electricity bill for four visitors who attended their Easter services. But the king of all bribes, this church gave away 16 cars, 250 bicycles, 15,000 prize packs worth hundreds of dollars. electronics and furniture.
I both applaud the creativity and recoil at the thought. On one hand, it's probably effective marketing if your goal is to fill seats. And if someone who wouldn't normally step foot in a church door does because he loves the Twins, I believe God can use that to reach his heart. But realistically, how many new visitors come expecting to find God and develop a weekly habit of church attendance?
When we first looked for churches after our move to KC, one church handed out chips and salsa to its visitors followed up by a $5 gas card in the mail. I don't get salsa. The gas card was for our next visit. But instead of visiting again, I wondered if the money I put in the offering plate would be used for another visitor's gas budget or to help support the children's programs, printing of the programs or outreach to those who need it.
The church we attend now followed up after our first Sunday with a visit to our apartment complete with canvas bag and brochures. The difference is I didn't go to church expecting something in exchange, though who wouldn't give up a Sunday for a new canvas bag?! One day our pastor gave us Popsicles to "feed his sheep" during a sermon because our church has zero air conditioning. And if you haven't caught on from previous blog posts, it's hot here. But no one came there expecting them as a reward.
Even though we're all adults and capable of making informed, responsible choices, we still need bribes. Get a free pedometer if you promise to stop sitting around and use your feet! Win a trip to Hawaii if you lose weight and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes! Get paid cash to stop smoking - as if the chance to live a long life free of lung cancer isn't enough incentive.
Wouldn't it be great if we made choices based on wanting a healthy, fulfilling life with a perspective on something other than ourselves and this world?
If you win church members' hearts in exchange for material goods, are they then committed more to God or more to materialism?