Monday, July 23, 2012

Lure Them In, pt. 1

When Purpose Driven Church first came out, I had never heard of Rick Warren, and I snatched it up immediately.  I thought we were Purpose Driven and I wanted to know what he had to say.  If you read that book, you had a hard time finding the purpose.  I concluded the purpose was "making unsaved people happy when they visit your church."  Rick Warren grew up in the home of a Southern Baptist pastor, who moved from small church to small church.  When little Rick invited unsaved kids to his dad's church, things weren't designed to impress his visitors so they wouldn't come back.  This sent Rick on a path to research what would make churches get big.  In his book, he says that nothing was more important for growth than the choice of music.  They went out and polled everyone and found people wanted "pop music."  That became the music of Saddleback.  People who didn't like pop music would just become necessary casualties to church growth success.

Luring in unbelievers to church has become the major if not unanimous church growth philosophy of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.  Rick Warren isn't alone in that particular purpose that drives his church.  What attracts unbelievers?  Surprise.  Carnal things.

The Corinthians understood the attraction of carnality for church growth.  They knew that Greeks sought after wisdom and Jews after signs, among other allurements.  Excellency of speech was important to impress Greeks.  They had mastered rhetoric and logic and debate to defend themselves in their own court systems.   If you couldn't impress with your speaking ability, you weren't going to attract Corinthians.  The church there knew the importance of ecstasy in Greek worship in their temples and religion.  They also brought that into the church.  Paul derided and forbade all these different sorts of compatibility with the culture for purposes of church growth.  He required faith in the gospel instead and especially in order to glorify God.  Despite that, these techniques continue and more so today than ever.

Unbelievers aren't spiritual, so you can only go for the carnal to attract them and so churches do in many different ways.  You can divide the kind of allurements into categories.


It would seem that "revivalist" and "lure" would be mutually exclusive.  I would understand someone thinking this.  If you've got the power of God, the dynamic working of the Holy Spirit, perhaps even gained by paying the cost, you wouldn't resort to carnal allurements.  Not so.  The revivalists have been on the cutting edge especially of luring a particular demographic.  There is a tradition of revivalists using carnality to lure unbelievers to their gatherings.

I have called their strategy promotion.  Technically or definitionally I don't think there is a difference between promotion and marketing, but I have used them to differentiate between different strategies.  You promote for one demographic and you market to another.

Revivalists have their own musical attraction in the way of fast paced kind of carnival-type music that is designed to have some kind of effect on people.  They have specialized in certain kinds of performance features in the music to target unbelievers.  Some of this is now too tame to have as much of an effect, but it still comes with the same philosophical underpinnings.  This music has been so long now, it has a tradition.  Because it has been used in church, now its adherents think it is church music and discern it as spiritual.  It wasn't written to be spiritual, but because it has an effect, that is now attributed to the Holy Spirit.  This is the ecstatic feature of this musical aspect of revivalist fundamentalism.

In addition to the music are give-aways.  Evangelicals do this too, but revivalist fundamentalists have specialized in small toys, candy, ice cream, fast food, and soda.  These motivate a poorer, unbelieving demographic to do something.  These strategies work on certain people up to a certain age, so there is a turn-over rate, but they haven't stopped working.  When they work, the success of them also motivates the workers, which helps keep them going.  In the end, the allurements are called service and are attributed to "God working."  None of this is true, but it is how it works in revivalist fundamentalism.

On top of certain music and give-aways, revivalist fundamentalists depend on "big-days," that among them could be carnival Sunday, round-up Sunday, old-fashioned Sunday, among others.  They might have in a magician, a musician, or give away a trip to the zoo, a kite, a sno-cone, a watermelon, or a package of M & M's.  Most of you readers know about this strategy.

Some revivalist fundamentalists do this more than others.  For some, it is very developed and constant.  For others, it is more hit and miss.  I'm surprised to find how wide ranging it is.  It isn't just Hyles people who do this.  Bob Jones types also use these strategies regularly.  Some put a big emphasis on it during their version of vacation Bible school---Neighborhood Bible Time, etc.  You've got traveling groups that do this with teens for an entire week to lure in unsaved teens with the carnal amusements and promotions.  They also in most cases also believe in the "power of God," ironically.

The practices I've described are an offense to God.  They take away glory from Him.  They turn faith into sight, so they are faithless.  They practice and encourage carnality.  They take away discernment.  They make the church into something it isn't supposed to be.  They disobey scriptural methodology.  They hurt real evangelism.  They make a mockery out of worship.  I could list twice as many of these that I've already written.  I think that this part of Christianity has done more damage to the church than any other practice.

Despite all of what I've said they are, they most often don't result in a loss of or break in fellowship between churches.  Churches expect other churches to do these things.  It reminds me of what people will say about winning professional sports teams:  "if you aren't cheatin', you're not tryin.'"  They think that teams that really want to win should cheat.  The idea is that the churches that do these things, which are like or are cheating, are trying harder because they resort to this carnality.  It is so prominent that people now just expect it and then let it go.  This should be a separating issue because of what it is.

One more thing.  How is this justified?  One is that scripture doesn't say, "Thou shalt not give candy."  Another is that Jesus told  a story in which a lord said to his servants to go into the highways and hedges to compel them to come in---a misinterpretation of that has become a reason to lure people in.  Also, Jesus healed people---that drew a crowd.  He used something to draw a crowd so doing that is permissible.  What about all of these?  In short, first, silence isn't permission.  1 Corinthians 1-3 forbids this.  Jesus' parable was teaching to preach to sinners, not promotion.  And then Jesus' healing wasn't to draw a crowd.  He healed people to show He was the Messiah.  None of those work as arguments and how could they be teaching that in contradiction to what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 1-3?  Jesus hated that people followed Him for temporal bread or to seek after signs.  He said it was an adulterous people who did that.

Another point of the revivalist fundamentalists is now used to differentiate them from evangelicals who do the same kind of thing.  The fundamentalists aren't as bad.  It's a matter of degree.  If you don't do too much of it, you're not so bad.  I'm convinced these people know this is wrong, but maybe I'm too positive in this evaluation.  I think they know it's wrong and they do it anyway.  The most popular way to deal with things like I've said here is to attack me.  I lack compassion.  Why not go soulwinning instead of criticizing?  Or, how many souls have you won lately?   Those attacks don't mean anything to me, except to add to the exposure of the ones this post describes.

More to Come


Ricci said...

I agree with you. Should I send you a prize for writing such a nice post?

Kent Brandenburg said...

I'm actually going for blog post of the year with this one and then a trip to the Kennedy Center at the end of my life at invitation of the president. Perhaps you could read this post there as I wave to the adoring fans.

Robert said...

I grew up in the very heart of the environment you describe, and I don't agree with you that most of those people "know this is wrong." I certainly didn't. It was the way things were done. I swallowed my share of goldfish and watched the blindfolded karate guy cut the watermelon off a deacon's stomach. (They never used the pastor for that demo for some reason.)

Speaking only for the context I personally saw, I would describe it as having been done from the very best of motives. That does not justify it, nor am I rising to defend it. I'm just (slightly) objecting to your characterization of those who use such means.

William Dudding said...

I also grew up in that environment and I agree with you that most of them don't know it's wrong. For one, there is no such thing as thinking deeply about anything in those circles. In high school I questioned a bus captain who gave away big prizes to get two buses full to win a contest..his answers were to shut me up by appealing to a logical pragmatism: "Do you think God cares how i get people in if one of them gets saved from the fires of hell?" Of course, not knowing all the subjective presuppositions involved in that answer, I didn't know what to say. My gut told me it was wrong, but my mind was convinced that the ends justified the means.

Second, because of an incredible ignorance of the gospel, the army of workers that run these machines do so with the hopes of gaining the approval of their celebrity pastor and in fear of backsliding and becoming a sermon illustration. Of course, nobody would ever say's all about helping God in saving the world! But when you talk to these people, subtle things they don't even hear themselves say give away the heart motives for why they're doing it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kent, I discovered your blog today. I have to say you have a lot of wisdom in the way explain and see things. I attend a Fundamental Baptist church.I am a bible institite studeny in our churc. The church I attend doesnt "lure" people in, our church has grown through word of mouth of our members. we dont even have bus routes. Our pastor is an expository preacher and a very humble man (he doesnt even let us honor him on his birthday). I thought "fundamentalism" was a doctrinal position and not a movement. Please help me understand.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi anonymous,

Fundamentalism isn't a doctrinal position. Some might think it is, but the history of fundamentalism is the history of a movement, a movement that was a reaction to institutional liberalism. If it were a doctrinal position, one would think that it would be based on what are called the "fundamentals of the faith," but that hasn't been the case. It's been based on more than that, and there has been little to no agreement on what the fundamentals are.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the quick reply. where can I learn more about fundamentalism? as far I have understood it, it was doctrinal position of the "fundamentals of the faith" taught by some preachers in the early 1900 by men like r.a. torrey, j frank norris and john rice. I do understand the side where some people began to teach fundamentalism was about cutting your hair and not being liberal (wich I learned was absurd). what im saying Kent is that I have read a lot against "fundamentalist" but not in a way that you explain it and it makes a lot of sense. Can you provide more info or direct me to another blog post of yours? and if I where to plant a church, should "fundamental" be left out? its my desire to please God, and my loyalty is towards Christ and not a movement.