I got a flyer in the mail last week from a new church in town. I've met the pastor and his wife. They seem normal.
The thing that struck me about their flyer is that you almost couldn't tell it was for a church. Sure it did say "Join us for the grand opening at Coralville's Newest church", but the front of the flyer had a guy in an Iowa Hawkeyes sweatshirt holding a football, next to the question, "Who is this champion coach?"
On the flip side was a little bio of the pastor, next to his grinning mug shot: "Meet a guy who will bring out the 'champion' in you. Someone who has proven not all champions eat their wheaties. Rather there is a Champion in us all! Joe Smith* is a 9 time coach of the year with over 700 career wins and 35 championshis. This former principal is a 23 year school veteran who has coached football, basketball, and baseball. He is a Disney educator of the year finalist, and a 3 time Who's Who Among American Teachers. Joe Smith is considered by many to be a master communicator and motivator who helps deal with real life issues and questions head-on. He is encouraging, funny, and passionate about providing inspiration for daily living."
Beneath Joe Smith's bio was a picture of the worship pastors, next to the heading, "What to expect at NEW CHURCH*:" with the following bulleted answers:
*CASUAL, laid back atmosphere;
*WORSHIP/MUSIC by popular artist Bill Brown*;
*EXCITING ADVENTURES for KIDS at Iowa Children's Museum, nursery-6th grade;
*A RELEVANT message that makes sense and applies to YOUR life;
*People who are ACTUALLY HAVING FUN--Bordedom Factor Zero!"
There is too much to say about this ad. I will just jump in on a small point and come back later. Here's the thing: I think people will come. People love the Iowa Hawkeyes around here. I bet people will go to church if they think it has something to do with football. Also, the Children's Museum is a huge and expensive experience that many families (if they don't already have a membership) would love to do for free. The "artist Bill Brown" leading worship is sure to be a draw as well, seeing that he's "popular."
Joe Smith has a great bio. It's the kind of thing people in Iowa City flock to--resumes, achievements. He's got instant respect, and lucky for him since he's starting a church and wants people to come (and lots of people dont' go to church). But I can't help hating the fact that this all feels so gimmicky and false. I dont' doubt for a second the sincerity of the hearts of these people, but their strategies sadden me.
Red flags go up when you have to work this hard for people to get to church. Red flags when you have to say in your flyer that people "ACTUALLY HAVE FUN" at your church. And if anyone tells me straight up, "Boredom Factor Zero," I'm willing to bet 100$ the Boredom Factor is off the charts.
The whole thing sounds club-ish, scouts-ish, as well as corporate. I hate clubs, and I hate companies that try to sell themselves on their "authentic," "fun," and "personal" streaks. If you have to sell yourself, then that doesn't make it authentic, fun, or personal.
I understand church growth issues. I'm sure this pastor has some limited funding from the mothership (his church's denominational headquarters). The funding will last so many months. When it stops, he better have a congregation of some sort so he can feed his kids, as well as feed the other hungry people in the community, pay rent the theater and the children's museum, pay for advertisements, sound equipment, etc, etc, etc. And how one gets warm bodies in the door of your new church when you dont' know anyone else in town is you advertise. You get a couple shots through the USPS with your limited budget and you have to take your best--say what you need in order to get those people through the door. And then, after you tell them about Jesus, maybe some of them will stick around.
This doesn't make it any easier.
*not his real name