Jesus really knew how to put butts in the seats.
Ever since Jesus left, leaving behind essentially no instructions to his disciples about how they were to make disciples, people have been trying to recreate that one of a kind Jesus showtime magic that attracted people to him. If Jesus wanted to stay in the tabloids, he knew how to do it, stirring up controversy with the right people, or just trashing a temple here and there. If he was in a more positive mood, he’d just feed a few thousand people, or take a hike across a lake.
And because no one since Jesus has been able to pull off any of those crowd pleasers, preachers have been endlessly trying to recapture the same ability to get people to come to church, with varying results. If a pastor isn’t a bonified healer, things can get kind of sideshowy, and fast. I’ve seen a couple of these events. I attended a church that held a “Blessing of the Animals” day. People brought their pets and the pastor sprinkled them with not quite holy water (it was an Episcopal church.) I was in a church when a motorcycle roared up the aisle onto the stage for some meaningless non sequitor.
But it’s only the truly special people who come up with great spectacles to trick people into showing up.
Let’s take a look back, shall we, on some of the church’s more memorable gimmicks.
Peter and the others come as close as anyone to Jesus’ ability to draw a crowd simply by appearing to be drunk at nine in the morning.
Unable to show an actual manifestation of God, the Holy Spirit, Kevin the disciple starts up a church and attracts new visitors by raffling off a brand new donkey.
Churches start selling get-out-of-jail-free cards, cleverly called “Indulgences.”
Michaelangelo is commissioned to fill churches with lots of pictures of naked people.
1800s to present
Phillipinos re-enact live crucifixions every Easter with participants having nails pounded through their hands and feet, making The Great Passion Play at Eureka Springs, Arkansas look a little bit lame in its production values and mere simulated crucifixion.
Bingo is invented, which is not gambling, much to the delight of elderly people everywhere who do not have enough to do.
An Arkansas church builds a new children’s sanctuary complete with a baptistry that resembles a fire engine that shoots confetti at the audience. At this point, I wish the donkey raffle wasn’t the only thing I was making up.
Paige Patterson rides into a seminary chapel in a Hummer, dressed as General Patton, with blank-firing machine guns blazing, proving once and for all that Christianity is a religion of peace, and if you hippies don’t believe us, we will run over you with Hummers.
A Brazilian church starts a new men’s club: a fight club in the basement. Mark Driscoll secretly becomes a little bit jealous.
An Arkansas Methodist church is sued for having a fight club…at it’s daycare. It is exactly what you would think. Three and four year olds being taught to fight until one of them cried. Clearly, no one in the church actually watched “Fight Club,” as the means of ending a fight is “tapping out,” not crying. Also, did any of these church workers go over the first rule of fight club with these kids? The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club.
A Kentucky pastor invites his town to show up to his church on “Bring Your Gun to Church Day.” Patriotic songs complete the event. Area Muslims decide to have more sense then the Christians and do not host a “Bring Your Gun to Mosque Day.”
Ed Young Jr. gives away thirteen cars on Mother’s Day, because he wishes he was Oprah, and has a slight crush on Joel Osteen. He also feels that preaching about sex while sitting on a bed on stage was not enough of a gimmick, and he can do better. Then he goes home and thinks up a really catchy and humble sounding subtitle for his blog “The thoughts and writings of one of this century’s most intriguing and inspiring leaders and pastors.” Although we are only a tenth of the way through this century, Ed apparently still believes he will still make the list of the most “inspiring” and “intriguing” pastors, when it is compiled again in ninety years. Don’t believe it?
Nashville’s “most dynamic church,” Cornerstone Church, hosts a three day rodeo, indoor fireworks display, and patriotic music concert. That is exactly what I would expect from Nashville’s most dynamic church…Is “dynamic” the right word?
September 11, 2010
Dove World Outreach Center, a church with a name that could not sound like more of a scam if it tried, is hosting the first ever “International Burn a Koran Day,” which again succeeds in making almost every other group of people, except cannibals seem more reasonable.
What are churches communicating with these gimmicks? I would say we’re communicating that we think people are gullible, we are not to be trusted, and we don’t believe that Jesus has much value, because we think we need to do silly publicity stunts to get people to pay attention to us like a bunch of five year olds trying to do magic tricks and tell jokes. Have you ever heard a five year old tell a decent joke? They can’t do it. Children don’t know how to tell good jokes. The adults just laugh to humor the child, or because they are laughing because the child is being funny, not because the joke is funny. And that’s what the church looks like, a five year old trying to tell a joke.
What publicity stunts have you seen to get people into church? Do you think they work, or do they make us look lame?