Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pushing the Envelope

It is the desire of every Christian to see others come to Christ. We are always looking for ways to introduce the gospel to people and to best use our resources to witness to others and glorify the Lord. One of the final commands of our Lord was for the church to evangelize. In Matthew 28 he tells his disciples Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in1 the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Many of us, however, feel inadequate as evangelists and are intimidated by the process thinking that we may not have the training or experience to do it properly. Many of us feel much more comfortable inviting others to come to church with us rather than trying to witness the gospel on our own. We feel that if we can just get people to the church they would have the best opportunity of having their questions answered.

As I was driving on a local freeway I noticed that a local church  had posted a billboard that said “Northridge Church is for Hypocrites”. Apparently there are two other billboards around town, one that says “Northridge Church is for Liars”, and the other which says “Northridge Church is for Losers”. I am not sure exactly what the purpose of this ad campaign is although I have to assume that they are trying to generate some buzz and get people to visit by playing upon certain stereotypes that unbelievers often have of those who attend church. I am not sure how effective this particular campaign will be but I assume they will undoubtedly get a few more people to check out their website to see who they are. Do the ends justify the means when it comes to this kind of thing?

The shift of church services from a worship focus to an evangelistic focus has been underway for many generations and is the result of a number of social as well as theological developments. I doubt that most Christians would oppose having an evangelistic element in the church service but making the worship service the primary evangelical platform has led to some curious innovations over the years. One is an increase in the sophistication of the advertising and marketing of church services. Particular churches are branded and then they market to their target demographic. I believe that the campaign mentioned above is an example of that.

Another is the expansion of the “ministry” activities to include a broad range of opportunities for people to socialize that leaders believe will appeal to those they are trying to reach. These attempts have often been criticized as a lack of reliance on the Holy Spirit, the power of the gospel and as appeals to the flesh. This is not a new argument. The following cartoon appeared in the fundamentalist journal The King’s Business in May of 1919.

The modern trend, however, is for this expansion of activities to become part of the worship service itself. For Easter last year a church in Texas was raffling off cars and other high priced prizes in order to get people to come. Most of us have seen or heard of similar examples. There have been many very well done examinations of these trends written and I am not going to try in this short space to duplicate those efforts but I will leave you with this observation:

Our generation is inundated with sophisticated marketing approaches. We are used to being able to customize our environment to suit our own individual tastes. Truth and community have become customizable. We are able to get our news only from those who agree with us. Using our ipods and mp3 players we continually feed back to ourselves the kind of music and entertainment that we have selected for ourselves. Using social networks we can even control how our friends and family interact with us to some degree. Unfortunately we are able to insulate ourselves from most challenges to our settled way of thinking. In this environment the best thing we can do to be relevant is to focus on the plain, straightforward preaching of the foolishness of the gospel. We all need to hear that there is God who is much bigger than we are who demands that we meet Him on His terms. We need to hear that we are corrupt sinners whose only hope is to cry out for the grace of God without which we remain an offense to His Holiness. We need to know that by the power of His Spirit we can become a new creation no longer bound to our lying, hypocritical, and inadequate old natures.

I pray that this is what Northridge is planning to do.


  1. I couldn't agree with your second to last paragraph more. I too, saw the sign board and thought "my goodness gracious me".
    I am saddened and frightened too, of the way things are now. We are society of instant gratification finding it easier to communicate through a piece of technology rather than in person and somewhere a long the line the element of respect seems to have taken a very laid back roll. I mean I think its crazy. I have never heard of Churches raffling off cars to get people there - whatever happened to going OUT to the people and spreading the word of God. But you know you have to try and walk in forgiveness. Being saved is not always the easiest road. I find myself repenting a lot but at the end of the day God knows my heart no matter what I say to who. I can't hide from him. I am encouraged by knowing that he promises us something 100 times better then we know on earth!

  2. Over 15,000 visitors to the website in a month because of this...

  3. Just curious. Is it just people checking out the site to see what the signs are about or has it generated an increase in actual visits to the church?