Many churches utilize some evangelistic strategy of offering people something for visiting the church. Bribery is "the giving or offering of a bribe," and a bribe is
money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust, or
something valuable (such as money) that is given in order to get someone to do something.
Sometimes churches go to especially poor neighborhoods and use promotions to bribe those kids to church. Very often they give them candy or soda every Sunday, some on the bus and some when they get there. During big pushes they use other bribes, like kites or sno-cones or pumpkins or pizza or ice cream or even money, varied to tailor to the audience. Some of the same churches bribe the workers to motivate them to bring in more children. Whoever brings or gets the most, using whatever promotion, gets a prize and then a whole lot of recognition. The idea is, if you can get these people to church, they might make a salvation decision, so this is an evangelistic strategy.
The above strategy through the years has "worked." Actually, I've never seen it work. It works at getting a crowd. I grant that. It's a crowd attracted by a temporal, fleshly thing. It's a crowd that has been gathered through bribery. I say it never works, because it results in an amazing turnover rate that poisons the ground for the future. The future soil is ruined in favor of short-term gratification.
Almost everyone, maybe even everyone, has a price. Some people won't come for a kite or a rodeo or a magician or a soda, but they might come for ten dollars or twenty dollars or a hundred or a thousand. The crowd will get even bigger if the bribe is bigger. There may be some mathematical or scientific principle, some law -- maybe Barnum's law or something like that.
I'm not going to delve into the theology of bribery. Most people who defend it argue from silence -- silence equals permission. Some excuse it as a reward, when they know it's a bribe -- the difference between those two is easy to ascertain.
I have a question though for those who use bribery. If a soul has eternal value, why don't you do more? If this works, and it could result in one more person being saved, then these churches should use every possible cent of their savings, sell their belongings, and raise even more, to bribe as many people as possible to church. If this is a legitimate means, what is holding them back? They believe in it, so if there was such a thing as a faithful bribe, they should sell out to that method. I don't believe in it, so I don't do it, but if you do believe in it, then you should really believe in it. These half or less measures aren't belief, but pathetic pragmatism. They are saying that a soul is worth a piece of candy or corn dog.
When someone comes to someone's door and announces the promotion, and asks if the child will come, and the family says, "no," why not ask what it will take? "We want you to come -- how about ten dollars? Twenty?" Offer something for everyone, not just poor people. Get the middle class to come with bigger prizes and the rich with even bigger ones.
Anyone with a brain knows what's going on. The bribery strategy isn't worth that much money. It's a matter of degree. You can get poor people there for less, so that's your target. You don't have to spend that much. Of course, this cheapens one's estimation of Christ and the Bible and eternal things. A person won't come for that reason. He doesn't estimate Jesus as better than these things, so he is offered these things. It truly is a bait and switch. It isn't a method that glorifies God and the Bible denounces it (1 Cor 1-3). The biblical method is preach the gospel -- period.
A whole lot of corollary issues surround bribery, theological ones. When the kids arrive, they didn't come for Jesus or the Bible, so the style of meeting must correspond to that type of crowd. They don't know what church is now, and they can't know, because they aren't there for church. The whole nature of church changes, because it has to conform to the nature of an unbeliever, and it does. Church itself becomes an evangelistic activity (as much as this can evangelize), when it's an edification one in the Bible. All of this perverts the church. Altogether it perverts the name of Jesus. That should matter, but growth, numbers takes the priority.
What's sad about the above stuff is that it works at drawing a crowd and getting a big crowd is considered success. You're some kind of genius if you do it. It's also a way people judge spirituality. You must have amassed your crowd through being more spiritual and working harder. That's the fiction associated with it. It's a lie. It's none of that, but it is said to be that, so it must be that. This engenders horrible discernment. See all that is lost? And so it spreads -- more and more of this rubbish. It profanes the name of the Lord and much more, if that isn't enough.
Enough on bribery. Now to pandering. (I'll cover that in a part two)
Other posts on this and related subjects: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.