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Whatever it takes, right?  I mean, anything that gets people in church is okay, right?  Because, after all, everybody needs to hear the gospel, so the ends justifies the means, right?  Maybe not.  What are the ethics of outreach and when do we cross the line from compassion to conniving?  

I read about one church a couple of years ago which offered a prize of $10,000 to a lucky worship attender.  All you had to do was show up.  At a pre-determined point in the service, everyone would be asked to look under their seat and pull out the little card taped to it.  The lucky winner was awarded $10,000 — just for coming to church.  Is that paying people to come to church?  If so, is it wrong?

Of course, some inner city missions used to do a variation of the same thing.  Homeless people were offered a free meal, but first they had to sit through a worship service complete with hymn singing, sermon, and invitation to receive Christ.  I know this happened because I preached at those services several times.  “We’ll feed you, but first you’ve got to come to church.”  

Years ago I heard a missionary talk about the need to carefully separate caring ministries, like providing food, from evangelism.  Hungry people would do anything to get food, including tell Christian missionaries they had accepted Christ.  My missionary friend said, “We don’t want to make ‘rice Christians’ out of people.” Good insight and maybe we need to apply it to our own US outreach strategies.  

Have you heard of outreach strategies that cross an ethical line?  What were they and why did you think they were unethical?  Have you ever crossed that line, and what made you realize you had?  I’m interested in hearing your stories.  Should be an interesting topic.