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.
Wednesday I fly to San Diego for the National Outreach Convention — NOC2008! I’m leading the workshop, Small Churches Make Good Neighbors: 10 Ways Your Church Can Change Your Community.
I hope you’re meeting me there, but if not, you can follow all the action at NOC2008 right here. I’ll Twitter the event several times a day (see my Twitter posts on the right column of my blog — feed readers have to click thru to see them).
Also, I’m posting photos of NOC2008 to my Facebook here —
— so you can join in the fun!
I’ll also post the best ideas I come across each day, so stay tuned for lots of good, helpful stuff. So, Friend me on FB, follow me on Twitter, and keep up here each day. See you in San Diego!
Seth Godin has an excellent post on marketing in a recession. His point is this:
“When times are good, buying things is a sport. It’s a reward. The story we tell ourselves is that we deserve it, that we want it and why not?
When the mass psychology changes and times are seen as not so good, the story we tell ourselves changes as well. Now, we buy out of defense, to avoid trouble. Or we buy because something will never be as cheap again. Or we buy smaller items for the same sense of reward.
Of course, the two different extremes can lead you to buy the very same thing. It’s not the thing so much as it’s the story.” — Seth Godin
What does this have to do with church? We’re in the story business. We need to tell the story of God so those who hear it change the story they tell themselves about God. Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, has some clues for us. But here are some examples of how we can help others change the story they tell themselves:
- Their story: “The church doesn’t respect other points of view.” Change this story by actually getting to know some non-church people, not to get them to come to church, but just to be their friend. Listen to them, treat them with respect, back off on the hard-sell, and hear what they are saying. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to listen until you can understand their viewpoint.
- Their story: “The church is only interested in me for my money, time, etc.” We are guilty of this often. We see people as prospects, potential church members. What if we saw and related to them as people? Period. What if we served with no thought of anything that might benefit us or our ministry?
- Their story: “I don’t need God. I can handle life on my own.” Here I would tell my story. I’m glad they can handle life, but I find God’s direction, guidance, and purpose to be essential to living my life. No argument, no debate — just two people telling their stories to each other.
The old approach to evangelism was a sales pitch — present the gospel, ask for a commitment, overcome objections, close the deal. A better way is for the other person to change the story they tell themselves; then, they’re open to finding a new story. Maybe the one you’ve found. What do you think? Is this too indirect? Any experiences to share with helping people change the story they tell themselves?