Rockin’ Sockin’ Rodeo Jesus Church

August 2, 2010

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.

33 AD

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.

34 AD

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.

1500 AD

Churches start selling get-out-of-jail-free cards, cleverly called “Indulgences.”

1505

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.

1934

Bingo is invented, which is not gambling, much to the delight of elderly people everywhere who do not have enough to do.

2000

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. 

2005

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.

2008

A Brazilian church starts a new men’s club: a fight club in the basement.  Mark Driscoll secretly becomes a little bit jealous.

2009

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.

2009

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.”

2010

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?

2010

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?

43 responses to Rockin’ Sockin’ Rodeo Jesus Church

  1. While I agree that stunts in church services can often be not a great idea because they can take the focus off God, I don’t think using stunts in other ministry/outreach contexts is always a bad thing. I’m involved in outreach on a very large college campus. We run some evangelistic talks at lunch time. Because the campus is so big there is always lots of things going on that people could choose to attend. Standard methods of promoting don’t always work because posters get torn down or covered over quickly and people ignore your attempts to give them fliers. We’ve been trying some new approaches this time. We’ve got some very bright coloured shirts with advertising for the talks on and have been going round doing crazy stuff like breaking into mass bollywood dances or walking around a dressed up dog. We’ve found that if we do something fun and a bit silly people are quite happy to talk to us about what we are promoting. More importantly, non-Christians have been coming to the evangelistic talks as a result of interacting with us when we were out doing the stunts.

  2. I think you are brilliant. You put your finger on all the things that make us the laughing stock of the world, the same world we’re supposed to be trying to reach!

  3. Most of our church ideas are pretty stupid and only make us look like we don’t know what we’re doing.

    It’s like, I don’t know, we’re trying too hard. I think if we just stopped judging people and really loved them, they would be attracted to Christ. But the world sees through our church picnics and ice cream socials as a means to get them “churched.” And they don’t like that.

    I’m one that believes miracles can happen, it’s just we don’t believe that we have the power, so they don’t happen.

    Now you got me thinking of how to make disciples of all nations.

    nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com

  4. Acting like idiots, burning other people’s sacred books, and spending hours planning, organizing, and conducting protests of unbelievers acting like unbelievers is just plain easier and more fun than loving unlovable people. We’ll love the really nice Hindu couple that moved in next door with their advanced degrees, well behaved children, and perfect English, but stop asking us to meet actual needs of pregnant women so that abortion doesn’t seem appealing. If we help with rent and food they’ll just be lazy! If we sit next to the homeless and listen to them, we might end up smelling bad! If we get to know and love the gay couple across the street who professes to love the same savior we do, we’ll have to accept that adultery and gluttony aren’t the only sins that Christians can commit on an ongoing basis and still love Jesus.

    Stop it! That yoke feels all itchy and stuff, and there aren’t any good posters I can make for that!

    • Amen, sister! I think you put it ALL right there in a nutshell!
      You forgot to mention bashing our fellow church members to our unchurched friends when they do make a comment on some idiotic stunt the church pulled to try to lure them in….why in the world would any sane person voluntarily subject themselves to that?

    • Let me offer the third “Amen, sister!” Mostly I think the gimmicks are easier than actually being Christlike. And we (the corporate ‘we’ not any of Matt’s readers because we’re all way smarter than this) justify this behavior by convincing ourselves that God needs our help. After two thousand years of drawing people to Himself through Jesus Christ, somewhere we got the idea that now God needs our help to mix things up a bit, to make things interesting.

      The Gospel is plenty interesting. The problem is that we’re boring and predictable. But if we could focus on being like Christ and get to know the kind of people Jeanne mentioned instead of burning books and giving cars away, maybe people would be interested in finding out more. And we wouldn’t blow the church budget on a silly giveaway.

  5. A couple of suggestions: the explosion and implosion of the PTL Club; how The Prayer of Jabez swept evangelical churches and no one recognized that it was prosperity gospel lite until long after the fact.

    Good post, Matt. I hate it when a post makes me look in the mirror — but it’s still a good post.

  6. Hillarious. The motorcycle thing is getting pretty common I think…at least one church near Detroit did it his Easter.

    It’s hard to think up neat stuff to do without it being a gimmick. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. Motorcycles, donkeys, machine guns, whatever- everything “we” use to be creative and make a point can only be measured as a success when people remember the actual point later and not just the stunt. I personally believe that simplicity can be just as profound but maybe that’s why I pastor a church of 50 people instead of 500 or 5000. In either case, I’d be happy to use a prop if it meant that someone could more fully comprehend the love of Christ or the merits of transforming grace. If not, I don’t want it.

    Thanks Matt.

  8. There’s nothing illegal about putting a mosque at ground zero. It’s just in bad taste, but having a large outreach center was a good move, until the burning of the books.

    The one thing that is hard for me to stomach is how much harsher we are to each other as Christians and how unforgiving. Some of the list I can only shake my head because of the lameness of it. You’re right…too gimicky.

    The gun thing? Love it. It’s actually not a gimmick. It’s called church security. :o)

    Once again, enjoyed your blog. :O)

  9. Awesome post, Matt.

    I think I’ll wear my TCONP t-shirt today.

    What bothers me most is Ed Young’s shoes in that photo….

  10. And now just realized the church that burned the koran wasn’t located at Ground Zero. It’s in Florida. I had heard a church was going to put a prayer center at ground zero in light of the mosque going there. Correcting myself.

  11. Fantastic post, Matt… in the more literal sense of the word “fantastic.” That’s all I can say.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  12. its funny we want people to come to us. seems a bit backwards. And I think the power of the gospel is not its message but the love that it fills its believers.

  13. The thing is that we have this “seeker-friendly” mentality in most of our churches. Sadly most of the time, this is done at the expense of watering down the gospel. “Don’t come for Jesus, come for the cars we are going to give you!.”

    A car can’t save you, and neither a partial teaching of the gospel.

    Another observation, Jesus really wasn’t a crowd pleaser. He spoke the truth and people left Him. He even asked His disciples, “are you guys leaving too?”

    In conclusion, the truth is not very popular but it changes your life.

  14. All of this commercialism and marketing is good for skateboards and Silly Bands, but not for the church.

    The American church is in a tough place. Ask Bill Hybels of Willow Creek. After 30 years of seeker friendly programs, and MILLIONS of dollars in marketing, he said. “we’ve made a mistake.”

    http://www.ministers-best-friend.com/Willow-Creek-Church-Repents.html

    If our marketing and mega churches are not producing effective disciples, we need to take a closer look. (I suggest Eph 4)

    Conversely, the Evangelical church has not embraced the faith healing and other forms of miracle ministry (1 Cor 12). Kathryn Kuhlman could fill and arena night after night. People were hungry for healing and the presence of God.

    Somewhere in there between the mass marketing, dipensationalism and the appeal of healing for the terminally ill, has got to be Jesus. We have become a society of consumers, and church is just another commodity.

    Right after 9/11 church attendance was at an all time high; people were looking for answers, for hope and faith that would reduce their fear. Is that what it is going to take?

    The manicured American church needs to get back to basics. Relationship with a SUPERNATURAL God not a book, and deeply committed relationships with each other.

    Maybe the “bring your own snake” churches are on to something.

  15. I was amazed to read the article about Willow Creek. I think it’s really good, though, that they are open and honest enough to admit that they were wrong, instead of trying to cover it up, or surreptitiously change course without saying why.
    I am a member of, what I’m told is, the 2nd largest church in the country. A few years ago our pastor outlined the focus of our church. It consists of 4 things: Worship experience, Youth and Children’s Ministry, Small Groups, and Missions. That’s it! He admitted that when the church was started he also thought that he needed to have large numbers of programs, a book store, sports leagues, coffee house, etc… But then after alot of prayer they decided that you can’t do a million things well, and that our church should focus on a core set of areas. This actually caused so ruffled feathers at first. If YOUR pet ministry got axed I guess you might feel unappreciated. In the end, though, it’s actually helped us to grow and to reach more people with the gospel.

  16. lol, this list was great.

    I like a certain amount of branding (xxxchurch.com is pretty cool), but the baptistry that shoots confetti… wow, talk about over the top.

  17. What scares me most about events like these is how much patriotism is tied into them. It just makes me very uneasy to tie it so closely with Christianity. If there’s any better way to make people egocentric and close them off to sharing with and experiencing the outside world as some of us have been willed, I don’t know it. As you’ve said before, Christ isn’t coming back to save America.

  18. I think gimmicks are only acceptable when used as entertainment (such as at the beginning of a youth group meeting) for the under-18 crowd. Maybe occasionally on college campuses, but I feel like a lot of my friends and I lost interest in that sort of thing after freshman or sophomore year in college.

    I don’t know a single Atheist or questioning friend who would be interested in coming to my church because we advertised black hawks on Easter and coffee shops in the sanctuary. Loving people in an unashamed way in the name of Christ will get more heads turning than any brightly colored t-shirts or small groups with super catchy names.

    • *Black hawks on the 4th of July, :-) not Easter…but I wouldn’t put it past some churches…

  19. Matt: came by way of James Brett’s “Aliens and Strangers.” Loved this post. As an older pastor (I am 57) I have seen gimmicks galore. Big Macs under the seat. Free whatever for attendance. “Pastor will shave his head and beard if we have x amount in attendance or offering. I cannot even begin to count all the things that have been used as incentives. I have always felt uncomfortable with them. I am creative but always felt a “check” when it came to what I consider hucksterism. I reckon I wonder whatever happened to the simple presentation of the message of Christ’s good news. Plan to return to read more.

  20. Matt, Found your post by accident but maybe it wasn’t….
    Isn’t the bottom line about salvations? In the end, if a church has a budget to spend to reach people who may not be reached otherwise, and just one of those people commits to Christ, isn’t that really the most important thing?

    I understand frustration, but when a church has 200 or so people sign commitment cards of salvation or rededication then an event is worth all it costs. FYI – Billy Graham when asked about all he had led to Christ said they had signed cards, we never really know how many have a life changing moment if they live in other communities and attend other churches.

    I cannot speak for other churches, but I personally attend Nashville’s most dynamic church and see lives changed on a daily basis because the truth of the Gospel is preached there. Why don’t you try us out, Sat. 14th at 5:00 pm then come to the Christian Education class after church called God Seekers?

  21. acts of the apostels they preached the gospel in truth and god added to thier number daily those being saved . amen come lord jesus

  22. Why you coming down so hard on Arkansas? Arkansas has it bad enough just being Arkansas. We don’t need any help.

  23. Indulgences are not get out jail free cards. Do your research please.
    Norm recently posted..New Promotionals!

  24. Sad.

    Love the post.

    Linking.

  25. Satan’s greatest success is dividing the Body of Christ over doctrines that really don’t make a difference when it comes to Salvation. There will always be central doctrines that do need to be conveyed correctly, and there is not much wiggle room. But it is with the secondary issues that Satan is running rampant, and we have fallen right into his trap. This can be one of the biggest detractors for people who may be sincerely seeking Christ.

  26. Unsurprisingly crazy. Interesting how Jesus never worked to get people into a church building. For some reason, we have this insane need to get people into a building so we can preach to them. Therefore we put up inflatable gorillas in front of buildings in hopes of selling them a product.

    No wonder people are leaving Christianity and embracing eastern religions. At least there is a little bit more class in buddhism than in some cheesy church production.

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