Monday, August 20, 2007

Soliciting Souls

A while ago during one of the rare instances where I listen to the radio while driving, I came into the middle of an advertisement. At first I thought it was just another ad for a car dealership or furniture sale with its fast-talking, annoying, over-caffeinated voiceover. But it wasn't; it was an ad for Velocity, one of those "churches for people who don't like church". Velocity holds their services in a local multiplex and has several different flavors of worship, like rock or pop or country. Now while I am not their target market, I don't have anything against these types of churches. It was this particular radio ad that raised my ire.

First indication that this advertisement was out to get my goad was in the middle of discussing why Velocity meets in a movie theater, the narrator barks out, "And no making out in the back row!" Huh? Say what?

Remember, this is an ad for a "church".

But wait, it gets better.

The ad launches into a list of things that you'll experience when you attend a service at Velocity. Some of these items were spiritual, social, then ridiculous. I distinctly remember "You'll get a nickname, " followed by "You'll feel sexy."


I do not consider myself a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but "feeling sexy" is at the absolute bottom of my list of things I expect to experience at a church service. Frankly, I was insulted that the marketing genius' behind this ad thought that "sexy" was right up there with "sacred" and that somehow this declaration would inspire people to show up in throngs to their multiplex sanctuary for a little singing and maybe a Victoria's Secret fashion show.

Come on, people; what the hell? I know there's a philosophy prevalent amongst Christians that says you shouldn't criticize the tactics of other denominations because "they are bringing people to Christ". That only sets you up to suffer a lot of fools and false prophets. Having seen enough of Benny Hinn and the rest of the jokers on TBN, I don't subscribe to that bullshit philosophy. There are wrong ways to win souls, fill pews, and boost your membership. Unfortunately, it seems that in today's modern Christian churches, if your congregation isn't boasting numbers in the thousands, meeting in a warehouse of a McChurch complete with a Starbucks and gym, you're doing something wrong. That's another philosophy I think is total bunk. Look at the Catholic Church; they were packing 'em into Mass during the Middle Ages, but I don't hear anyone calling for a renewal of the Inquisition as a way to win new converts.

There is nothing wrong with keeping the church relevant to the times, but Velocity seems to be taking the notion of modernizing the church a little too far. Frankly, a lot of these tactics smack of desperation. It's as if to say that the teaching of Christ and "Love your neighbor as yourself" aren't cutting the mustard, so we've got to sex it up a bit. Maybe they were being cheeky, but at some point, you've got to reign that shit in or it looks like you don't take Christianity very seriously.

What also concerns me is this notion of a "Get them in the door and then we'll give 'em God" method of evangelizing. Seems like you are putting the cart before the horse. Especially when you are resorting to gimmicky radio ads.

Admittedly, I am a crappy evangelizer. While I have no problems discussing my personal Christian faith, I don't solicit my friends and acquaintances with invitations to attend my church. However, I do think that is the most successful way to bring people into a relationship with God: personal contact with other believers. Not bringing out the jazz hands and shucking and jiving and coffee and donuts and dorky radio ads.

I think my bigger concern is that these marketing tactics used by large McChurches are slowly filtering down to the smaller and moderate-sized churches looking to boost membership. All under the guise of "making the church more approachable". My friend Marv called this being "seeker-friendly". I see the validity in wanting to appeal to a modern, un-churched population.

However, there is also the danger, in this zeal to modernize, of a body of Christian believers compromising the core values of the faith. That terrifies me. The day when I have to sit in church service and hear (what I've already heard once before) the pastor describe Communion as "This thing we do with juice and crackers, " is the day I am out the door. Permanently.

If there's anything that my years in Corporate Hell taught me, is that you don't want to spend so much time and effort on bringing in new customers that you neglect your loyal, existing customer base. Eventually, they'll jump ship.

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