In efforts to be “friendly” and “welcoming” some four-letter Lutheran synod churches have adopted the practice of promising gifts to prospective visitors. In some cases, these gifts are forcefully thrust at actual visitors whether they want them or not, because the congregation must at all times appear “friendly” and “welcoming” (often and easily confused with “creepy” and “desperate”). Yes, visitor, even if you really had no interest in a T-shirt, travel mug, bookmark, and pen proclaiming the contact information and service times of St. Felicity* Lutheran Church, we will stuff all this crap into the trunk of your car anyway and have a smile on our faces while doing it.
Why would a Lutheran church want to use the same marketing gimmicks as get-rich-quick scam artists who meet in hotel conference rooms? The only answer we’ve heard is “because then more visitors will come”. However, this doesn’t seem to happen. There are stories of vast storerooms of congregational gear gone unclaimed for years because, surprisingly, lost souls don’t care enough about coffee cups to bring themselves to attend your service to get one. We’ve even heard of congregations handing out coupons at public community events promising their wares free of charge to anyone who visits a service and brings in a coupon. To date, not one coupon has been redeemed.
For this post we’ll ignore the “freebie” and “give-away” theology and address the product issue instead. Every real estate office and insurance agency gives away the same sort of stuff the churches are handing out. Maybe the congregations need to differentiate themselves in the minds of potential consumers by giving out something people want but can’t get from other companies.
We suggest cash. Pens wrapped in twenty-dollar bills, T-shirts with fifties pinned to the sleeves, and travel mugs full to the brim with singles. Promise that and see how many new visitors you get. Some may argue that with the cash/merchandising system your visitors may not be coming for the right reason, but that’s a load of hooey. If the same congregation was trying to get people in the doors with cheap products previously, this is no different; it’s just a higher quality bribe.
*For those readers who don’t know the stories of the saints, google her. For anyone who doesn’t know the definition of her name, bene, cum Latine nescias, nolo manus meas in te maculare.