In this era of decreasing church attendance in many regions of the country and in various demographic segments of our society, some churches have turned to innovative marketing strategies in an intentional approach to draw the unchurched in the doors or to take the gospel to them where they are. In the eyes of some, the ends always justify the means, and these techniques are seen as cutting edge and effective tools to reach a jaded and turned-off generation. Others see these approaches as “going too far” in an effort to be “relevant” and to identify with the target audience.
Using modern methods
Several examples of these controversial marketing methods include the Potential Church in Cooper City, which brought in a stunt man to perform in the parking lot to kick off their series “Daredevil: doing what others say is impossible.” The Coastal Community Church in Coconut Creek recently had a series about biblical manhood called “Grow a Pair.” Perry Noble of Newspring Church in South Carolina had his band play ACDC’s “Highway to Hell” last year on Easter.
Connecting with culture
The medium used to spread the gospel to any group of potential converts has always been what is most effective in their culture and understanding, using the latest forms of media available. In New Testament times Paul used scrolls, parchments and sailing ships. In the 1500’s the printing press was invented, and in 1611 the Bible was translated into everyday English at the time. In more recent years radio and television have been utilized, and now the Internet as well as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media are used with little controversy. The medium used is essentially neutral and can be used for good or for evil. The same Internet that propogates the gospel worldwide is also a purveyor of pornography. Inasmuch as the methods employed are effective and are carrying a pure message, we need to use other criteria to judge whether they are going “too far.”
Reaching the unchurched
We contacted the Coastal Community Church in Coconut Creek to ask the leadership why they had chosen an obvious attention-grabbing name for their biblical manhood series. Some may see the name as promoting macho, sexist attitudes and behaviors, not always appropriate for the politically-correct era in which we find ourselves. But according to Pastor T. J. McCormick, the church plant and its marketing techniques are in response to the fact that when Coastal was founded four and a half years ago, South Florida as a region was 95% unchurched. Any adult who professed to regular church attendance as little as five times per year was considered a churchgoer for the purposes of the study. Despite Coastal’s rapid growth since its founding, and despite the exponential growth of several area megachurches, the percent of the Tri-County population that is unchurched has since grown to 97%. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research lists 16 megachurches in the three counties in its database with weekly attendance of 3000 or greater. These churches have just over 127,000 attendees, which barely amounts to 2.1% of the 6,000,000 population of the three counties.
Coastal’s message is that men (and women) need to stand up and assume their proper positions in the household, the church and the community. They need to take a stand for righteousness, evangelism and justice. Through the Bible, God reveals that certain characteristics must come in pairs. In order to become a man of God (or a woman of God), these characteristics must balance each other out: Identity must be attached to integrity, strength must be balanced by wisdom, humility becomes weakness unless followed by a willingness to learn from mistakes and both honor and protection must walk hand in hand. The “Grow a Pair” is seen as a primary catchphrase to draw in attendees, then they will give the full, secondary intent and explanation. According to Pastor T.J., the only ones who seemed to be mildly put off by the approach were the Christians not the target audience, the unsaved, who loved the approach.
Knowing the audience
The market for any church outreach program is always the target audience, which will vary for each church as it seeks to reinvent itself. The approaches that worked in the 1950’s may not be appropriate or effectve for the 21st Century. Back almost 60 years ago a young preacher from the hills of Pennsylania took to the streets of New York City to try to evangelize the gangs, who each had their own turf and would defend it with guns, knives and hardened warlords. Many older, more seasoned Christians thought David Wilkerson to be a fool, misguided and certainly not called by God or led by the Spirit to embark on such a dangerous mission. But few today, if any, would question the effectiveness of Teen Challenge in reaching an entire lost generation for Christ. The same can be said about Chuck Smith and the Jesus Movement of the late 1960’s, which has since birthed the Calvary Chapel and Vineyard Fellowships and thousands of vibrant churches worldwide. In addition Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale has specifically targeted teens and young adults with their Ramp 48 Skate Park as well as conducting gospel outreaches at Club Revolution in downtown Fort Lauderdale rather than expecting these people to walk into their structured services.
Checking the motives
When asked why the Potential Chruch in Cooper City, formerly the Flamingo Road Church, had chosen the stuntman and daredevil approach, Kyshana Guzman, their marketing coordinator, emphasized their intent to think outside of the box and to try to reach people who would not normally come to a traditional church service. She believed that they had definitely been able to present the gospel to many who would not otherwise been open to it. It is believed that most if not all of these cutting edge marketing programs are done with a heart of reaching the lost. While some may question the motives, their heart for sharing the gospel remains unchanged.
Sending the right message
The message for any evangelical Christian church always has to be salvation by faith in the finished work of Jesus through his death on the cross, burial and resurrection. Any group that is teaching salvation by works or somehow being good enough, or by involvement in church activities, or volunteering does not have the true Christian message, and as a result their motives and methods are open to question. All of these activities are good and important, but they are the fruit of our salvation and not the cause of it. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16 NIV). Ultimately it is God who will judge the methods and motives with which we convey the Christian message.
Bob Woods is a Senior Project Manager at AECOM Technical Services, as well as a published Christian author and a writer for the Good News of South Florida. He can be reached at [email protected]