Photo credit: REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
Some churches are adding movie and TV quotes, references, and even showing video snippets from these assorted media to draw in the “seekers.”
Not too long ago, there was something that made me raise my eyebrows. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came upon a sponsored post advertising a grand opening for a new church here in Missouri. Instead of a typical marketing thrust featuring concepts and ideas surrounding Christ, the cross, God’s love, or being family-friendly, this church had placed, of all things, a cartoon picture of a Star Wars Stormtrooper helmet with the church’s logo! I kid you not. They were presenting this to be many people’s first impression of their church. Accompanying this Facebook post was a video from the church’s pastor promoting a “win this helmet” contest, and a chance to meet and have your picture taken with people dressed up in Stormtrooper and Darth Vader outfits if you attended the church that coming weekend!
Yeah, the inclusion of secular entertainment properties inside of church doors in terms of quickie references or allusions may be open to debate (the whole Star Wars lore is fiction; it’s fantasy, and there’s nothing wrong with discussing its overall story per se as a modern myth in the modern world), but aren’t Vader and the Imperial Stormtroopers the bad guys in the story? Why promote the murderous, evil dictatorial Galactic Empire in your church, just because they’re “cool” in today’s society? (Side question: when did it become the “in” thing to do in Western culture to root for the bad guys? When I grew up, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker, not Darth Vader!)
Fellow Christians, we’ve got to be careful how we present the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostles in the Book of Acts would have never stooped so low as to rely on worldly activities or glorify sin and evil as marketing gimmicks.
No, I’m not thundering in on my pious high horse and ruin anyone’s party, and I’m not trying to take away everyone’s fun. We just need to adhere to a higher standard when presenting our Church (in a capital “C,” as in the Body of Christ as a whole) and the good news of our Savior. I don’t care if you call me an old “fuddy-duddy” for stating the following: even though technology evolves and the avenues in how we market things change over the years, what you promote must always be firmly grounded in God’s Word.
Okay, okay…what about squeezing little pop culture references and jokes here and there? It happens all the time in my church, even when one of the associate pastors is subbing for our senior pastor. It seems as if their mandate is, “let’s keep ’em laughing. And we cannot appear un-hip!” I see nothing immediately wrong with this as long as the reference: 1) does not glorify sinful activities or a godless lifestyle, 2) presents an excellent parallel to what is being preached, and 3) the movie, song, internet meme, or video quoted from does not tempt someone or present a stumbling block if a church member were to go out and view or listen to it.
Bottom line, it doesn’t matter if you speak for an entire church, a Christian-based group, or even you as an individual…when you are presenting the Gospel, are you in line 100% with the voice of the Holy Spirit? Are you compromising at all in order to appeal to the world by appearing “hipper” or “cooler?” It’s one thing to reach people “where they are.” Yet God would never ask us as His disciples to preach anything other than His undiluted Word.
If we have this reckless, “let’s have some fun so we can pack ’em in” approach of integrating secular pop culture growing in our churches, we are in danger of tarnishing God’s holy message in other ways as well. The subjects of God’s will, sin, repentance, prayer, and other aspects of core Christian doctrines can be compromised in this way.
Writer and apologist Bill Muehlenberg summarizes this thought profoundly:
“The entertainment-mad, market-driven approach to Christianity has reduced it to a mere shell of its former self. Indeed, it has been transformed into an unrecognizable mess. Gone are the hard demands of the gospel, the magnificence and grandeur of God, and the seriousness of sin.
“In their place are celebrities, entertainment, feel-good sermons, therapy, compromise and worldliness. And we wonder why the church is having so little impact on the surrounding culture. It ought to be obvious that the only way you can have an impact on the surrounding culture is by being radically different from it.
“It is time a lot of churches and church leaders learned this lesson.”
A church will never have God move in a mighty way, nor will He place favor upon the leaders, the pastor, and the staff that if they support such behavior and have a flippant attitude towards how they’re marketing. Isn’t that ironic? The very method some churches are trying to use to fill more seats is actually going to have an adverse effect on getting people saved and advancing the Kingdom of God.
Although not directly related to church marketing or drawing in the masses for the Gospel, here are a handful of verses to keep in mind that warn us not to be like the world or its darkness:
“This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” – James 4:4