This morning I read an article about a give-away that a church in Texas is doing to attract people to their Easter services this weekend. Basically they are giving away gift bags, bikes, flat-screen TV’s and 15 cars, in hopes that people will come, and then learn from the stuff they win that Christ is a way better treasure. I encourage to read the whole article here. Now, while I not questioning the hearts and motives of this church (I hope they genuinely want people to come to know Christ), I do question the legitimacy and effectiveness of this type of “outreach”. When I read the article, it really made my heart ache, for a lot of reasons but here are three big ones:
1. This type of thing obscures the gospel, because it takes the focus off of Jesus and puts it on stuff. In other words, the draw is not the message about Christ, but the stuff you can get for showing up (or from another angle it isn’t about what Christ has done for you but what cool things Jesus can give you). Once during His ministry on earth Jesus rebuked the crowds that came to Him for just this sort of thing. The people came to Jesus because the day before He had fed them through a miracle. Jesus rebuked them because they weren’t seeking Him in order to worship, serve, love, and obey Him, but rather to get another free meal. I fear events like the one in this article encourage people to make that same mistake; the gospel gets lost in stuff.
2. This type of event devalues the gospel of Jesus. When you begin trying to draw people in by giving them stuff, you are implying that you don’t believe the gospel is compelling enough on its own to attract hearers. So, you have to sweeten the deal by offering TV’s, cars, and goody bags. Maybe if the world doesn’t find the gospel compelling it is the fault of the messengers and not the message. As followers of Jesus (and I include myself here) we need to remember that the gospel itself is compelling. What is dull about the fact that the creator God became a man, lived a perfect life, died on cross in our place, to pay the price for our sins, and rose again 3 days later so that we can live as we were created: to love, worship, and obey Him? If you don’t believe that this message is still compelling on its own, watch the History Channel this week and see all the specials where people will try to explain away this message. People want to understand this message about Jesus, it compels them to listen and find answers.
3. Events like this promote misguided generosity. While the people who gave money and goods to this event were certainly being generous, I think it is a bit misguided. Instead asking people to give sacrificially with no promise of getting something back, they give with hopes of seeing more people at church, and the possibility of winning something themselves. Perhaps a better use of the funds would have been to buy some cars or other goods, find individuals and families in the community who really need them, and then the church simply give them to those people, no strings attached, just to show the radical, generous love Christ. Moreover, giving away TV’s and the like does more to fuel consumerism than it does to meet practical needs, in my opinion. So, while people give money, and people get things, are needs really being met by such generosity?
In the end, I think the majority of people leave events like this satisfied in the stuff they get and not in Jesus, and it brings them back hoping for more stuff, not for more of Jesus. Let me be clear, I think as Christians we ought to be wildly generous with our resources, and sacrifice far more than we often do to advance the gospel and meet real needs and address real injustice for the cause of Christ. But we also must avoid replacing the gospel with gimmicks and the compelling nature of the Christ with the contentment of stuff. My prayer this Easter is that in all churches (even the one in the article!) and in lives of individual Christians that the risen Jesus would be glorified as the only Savior, the only thing that can satisfy, the One who is more than enough.