Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bribery Evangelism

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.


rlschultz said...

Recently, my WELS congregation has really ramped up their CG methods. They are offering for sale to members those items which you have listed as gifts to visitors. They are really redoubling their efforts to get more people in the door. Still, who needs another pen, refrigerator magnet or commuter cup? Allegedly, these items are being offered to our members as "evangelism tools". So, in that way, when non-members see these item in use, they will ask about the church and the door is then opened for an evangelism. The folks who come up with these boneheaded ideas do not work in the secular world and attend too many synod workshops on evangelism. The reality is that very few church members have time to talk about their faith if they are supposed to be working. Furthermore, Luther has noted on more than one occasion that a Christian glorifies God in the work that they do.
Getting back to the gifts, my congregation is looking for members who would be willing to distribute "welcoming gifts" to visitors. Now, there is your bribe, or at least a variation of what you have described. Gone are the days when a pastor makes an evangelism call to an interested prospect. Instead of speaking of the free gift of God's grace, we have to offer a basket of goodies or some other trinkets.

Anonymous said...

You are a few years behind on your cash-give-away plan. I recall about 10 years ago one four-letter synod pastor telling me that his congregation was thinking about advertising to the community that they stuff cash randomly in the hymnals on various Sundays. "Come to church, and you might find $100 in your hymnal!" They argued that using the money from their Evangelism budget in this way would bring more people to church than all their other outreach efforts. It was seriously considered, by I don't know if it was every carried out.

Angry Lutherans said...




Angry Lutherans said...


$100 you say??? Where is this place, and can you let me in an hour before the service starts???

I'd heard of that being done with $5 in a nonLutheran church many years ago, but $100?! They could evangelize me for that much, provided I didn't have to continue attending.


Sr. Kate said...

For your consideration, here are a few more adjectives to add to “creepy” and “desperate.” How about “pushy,” “in-your-face,” and “Greeks-bearing-gifts.”

I never did get into the Cookie Call business (homemade cookies were just too much like work.) Thankfully, that fad seems to have run its course. Since Bribery Evangelism is just a subset of Flakey Evangelism Methods, I hope the following isn’t too far off-topic. At various times long, long ago I littered the neighborhoods around the church with VBS fliers, church info packets, Sunday School goodie bags, etc. Result: it doesn’t work. Even longer ago I went door-to-door with that phony “religious survey.” Result: it doesn’t work. I even called perfect strangers on the phone with the same sort of “survey.” Result: it doesn’t work. For years my car sported an “Ask Me About the WELS” bumper sticker. Result: Zero inquiries. Well, at least the Evangelism Committee was doing something.

By the way, the cookie calls didn’t work either. Anyone ever hear of Sisyphus? He’s that other Greek.

Anonymous said...

giving away trinkets and gifts is no way to get people interested in joining your church. due to my business i am on the road and often get a chance to attend various lutheran churches around the country as a visitor. they don't know if i'm a new person in town or the lifelong lutheran just passing thru and visiting. sadly more often than not, i can walk into the church, sit thru the service and walk out the door afterwards without one person acknowledging me. a friendly face or greeting would go alot further towards a person returning than would a keychain or sippy cup. what's the point of spending all that money evangelizing and canvassing the neighborhoods when nobody even speaks to visitors when they do show up? hmmmm

Former WELSian.... said...

Well--St. Mark's in De Pere offers people 100 bucks in the form of a gift card for an "unchurched" person to come and "critique" the church. This I know from a direct conversation with Parlow himself (a conversation I did not seek btw).

I just laugh about it because it's so ridiculous to use greed or real need to basically trick people into church because we know better than the Holy Spirit I guess.

Anyways, I have 5 kids--if a church came to my door and offered me a 100 bucks to a store of my choice (St. Marks will do grocery stores, department stores--whatever the person wants)--I would so agree to do it!! I mean a 100 bucks is a big part of my grocery bill and honest if they are that stupid to throw money out the door..well....

rlschultz said...

Sr. Kate,
I'll bet that you are not the only one who has engaged in these exercises in futility called evangelism. I have witnessed the exact scenario unfold in my congregation. It got so bad that the evangelism committee was disbanded. It was started back up again and is trying every trick in the book now. Only a fool would do the same thing twice and expect different results. If I may go out on a limb, my theory is that we are being shown what to expect when we depend upon our methods rather than the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace.
former WELSian -
Now would this be the same Pastor Parlow who was busted for plagarizing Baptist sermons? Why am I not surprised?
One of the problems associated with these gimmicks is the inherent deceitfulness of a bait and switch scheme. If you use crass marketing schemes and then switch to Law and Gospel, you are not being honest. One pastor commented that whatever you use to get folks into your church, you must also use to keep them in there. It is amazing to see what happens when you no longer believe in the efficacy of the Word.

Sr. Kate said...

Anonymous: Agreed. A simple, polite, uncontrived greeting speaks volumes.

Former WELSian: You just dredged up a repressed memory that had been safely buried in my subconscious: another survey. Visitors were handed a form and instructed to check off their likes and dislikes about the service. There was also space for suggestions about what could be changed or improved upon to make the service more to their liking. The survey was also given to members. That experiment was mercifully short lived. The few visitors that came during that time must have thought we were wacky. We probably would have gotten more visitors except this was the ‘80s and the $100 bribe hadn’t been invented yet. The member responses were all over the map and revealed a woeful lack of sound Lutheran catechesis in many instances, so I suppose the survey was useful for that reason alone. There was no follow-up, however, just a futile attempt to appease the lowest common denominator.

Rlschultz: You are quite correct: “It is amazing to see what happens when you no longer believe in the efficacy of the Word.”

Anonymous said...

speaking of uncontrived, it's sad that so many churches these days have assigned 'greeters'. as if you are off the hook from speaking to visitors and others unless you are scheduled to.

Anonymous said...

In our LCMS TX congregation, we baked bread and took it to our second time visitors the following week after that visit. This was not bribery but a way to say, thank you for coming, and we are bringing you this gift of bread to say that we hope you return again. Frankly many who subsequently became members said that gesture was appreciated and unexpected. We never feel it is a gimmick to get them to join. As for greeters: again, we do have greeters who are welcoming everyone visitors and members alike. But as ours is a friendly congregation, that is not the only people who will walk up and meet new people. Also, we place a phone call to visitors as soon as we can following first time visits to our congregation. I don't feel even a visitors packet (giving info about the congregation) given to visitors, that might include a pen, is a gimmick or a bribe. I've never heard it called such a thing and I am in a confessional congregation.Sorry, I think some of the comments are just a bit jadded...

Former Welsian... said...

I wrote about the St. Mark thing of giving out the 100 dollar gift card.

To Anon, I don't believe baking bread and going to a person's house to say "hello" is bad at all. Nor do I think it is "gimmicky." Baking food and sharing with those important to us is "church growth" at all.

I also don't think a welcome packet with info about the church is bad either. Personally, I like having visual materials in front of me as I try to see what the church offers to support our family and bond us to other believers.

What you are talking about is reaching out--giving gifts to others in love and keeping new members informed.

Your description with giving out bread came across as one built on love. It is not generic at all--it's one person reaching out to another.

I am not jaded, but I do cringe at bribery or using greed to motivate one to share the "love" of Christ.

Sharing food with a prospect member is hardly bribery nor does it encourage greed.

Penn Foster Student said...

I will say that the only nice and useful gifts I every received from a church wasn't Lutheran, but Evangelical Presbyterian. I had grown up in a Baptist home, but never understood true Christianity and eventually swore off religion. Then after becoming a Freemason (OK, don't start; I quit :-) ) I decided to "check it out" to "Become a better person. After going for a few weeks to Quaker meetings, I "decided" I wanted to learn about Jesus. I showed up at the Presbyterian church and they gave me a modern translation bible and a reading of the book of St. John's gospel on tape. It was the first time I understood what I was reading. I had tons of bibles, but all KJV and the 'Ol English was getting in the way. Now that was a gift.

Bill Sinkhorn