Sunday, February 08, 2015

Bribery and Pandering: Ties that Bind Modern Church Growth (that neither Jesus nor the Apostles Used)

How much is an eternal soul worth?  We could or should say eternal value or incalculable worth. Jesus said a soul was worth more than the whole world, let alone individual things in the world.  With that in mind, if bribery was a means to the salvation of a soul, we can't put a price tag on that.  If you do, you either don't understand the value of a soul or you don't love souls -- one or the other.

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.


KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,


Let me add also (as you have mentioned before also) that bribe-methodology not only affects the way people in the community understand the gospel but the ability of church members to preach the gospel. Instead of preaching the gospel at doors, they lure people with material things, and thus do not learn how to do Biblical spiritual warfare. Also, if the children of the church join the "bus kids" in the bribery-based activities, it affects the view that the children in the church have of the gospel, leading to fewer of them coming to faith in Christ as Lord and Savior and more of them making false professions in a bribery-based "Jesus" (or, if a Higher Life model is believed, in a higher percentage of church kids who are perpetually carnal and backslidden and drop out of church when they grow up but are still "saved.")

Spending time luring people also takes away time that could be used for things such as evangelistic Bible studies.

The one thing I have to say in commendation of churches that bribe is, at least in my experience, sometimes the members there spend many hours doing their work trying to (in their unbiblical way) reach people. When I was in Bible college at a church that employed bribery, I spent c. 8 hours every Saturday on the bus route and then several hours every Sunday, and sometimes we went during the week also. If the same kind of time was spent preaching the gospel to everyone and doing careful evangelistic Bible studies with people who were willing to seek after Christ, how much seed could be scattered, and would there not be more that would find good soil?

KJB1611 said...

I have linked to this article here:

d4v34x said...

An excerpt from my blog post entitled "Up Next: Drugs and Liquor!"

Actually up next is actual cash, but the chemicals can’t be far behind. I’ll explain.

I’m out with my son purchasing some necessities for pets and a school activity (Dress-Up-Like-Your-Favorite-Literary-Or-Movie-Character-Day[!]) and we happen by a Baptist church in town (not ours, for what that’s worth). And Joseph casually says to me that they’re promoting their next youth activity by giving away a $50 gift card or cards to select attendees. Rue 21, I believe he says.

So, obviously, we discuss this. We ought offer what we have: hope for eternity. To think that people’s souls can be purchased with silver or gold, well its some sort of reverse simony–of course I put this in language more easily engaged by a 13 year old. And my son thinks about this for a while, over a decade of fundamentalist discipleship at work in his soul, and says, “Well how else are you going to get people to come?”

Farmer Brown said...

This is all sort of a circular problem. You could start at any single element and end up back there.

1. Bribe people to get them in.
2. Fill the church with the lost so you have to always preach salvation.
3. Take up all free time with "evangelism"
4. Those that are saved remain spiritually immature.
5. Spiritually immature are unable to bring people the gospel.
6. You want to pay lip service to the great commission, but your people cannot teach the gospel, so you...
1. Bribe people to get them in.

Any one of those could be #1 and the circle would be the exact same. Of course, in most of these churches spiritual immaturity is a desired quality by the leadership. If the people had any discernment they would leave those monstrous systems.

On the other had, they are getting out and working, hours every week, giving up every weekend, doing what they are told is fulfilling the great commission. What a shame that the time of committed people is so misspent.

Jeff Voegtlin said...

I don't disagree with the specifics of this post. But I believe you're painting with too broad a brush. And so, just to start, I'm wondering... is it bribery to give people food after they have heard the gospel?

Kent Brandenburg said...

In order,


I agree. If we understand everything, there's certain work we can't appreciate. It might serve as an illustration, but it shouldn't stand as a credit.


Pragmatism makes sense. Faith often doesn't.

Farmer Brown,

I think you're right. A very well thought-out layout with the list.


I don't understand broad brush. I didn't speak of anyone in particular, so in a certain sense, my brush was no brush. I also used qualifiers like some, etc, so that no one would think I meant every church did what I described. Have you read my repentance posts recently? I'm guessing you would agree with what I wrote. What if people you knew believed that way? What would you do with them?

If you limit all the information only to what you wrote -- people are given food after they received the gospel -- I could not conclude that was a bribe. I think it's easy to know when one sees a bribe, but with that little information, I wouldn't know if it was one.

Is it bribery to give people food after they quietly made their way through the super market checkout? I couldn't conclude from that limited information either.

Paul Brownfield said...

What I find interesting about these types of churches is they claim to be doing God's Work. How did Jesus handle evangelism? He preached the Word of God and when everyone left, He asked His disciples if they will also go away. He fed the 5 thousand but they didn't come for food! They weren't bribed to be there. It's not about the crowd, it's about Glorifying the Lord by doing it His way. Thanks for this post Pastor Brandenburg.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastors Brandenburg and Voegtlin,

Would you say that it is not bribery to give children apples or carrots after they have been in church for a long time, or on a ride home from church – after all, if in the New Testament churches had love feasts where food was served, it can hardly be wrong to have a meal after hearing preaching – but it is bribery to attract children to services with promises of candy, toys, etc.? I highly doubt that every service the normal church people who do not ride large buses to church but drive home with their children go home and eat candy, chips, and soda pop every Lord's Day because it is time to eat and they just want to have a meal.

KJB1611 said...

In the one case, children who have come to church for the Lord Jesus Christ but have not eaten anything for a long time are given something healthful, while in the latter case children are given something bad for them because otherwise they would not come to church. They are manipulated into coming to church with something that they think is better than the Lord Jesus, namely, some candy.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I think serving a nutritious meal to children on their way home on a bus after a church service is an interesting concept. I still think there could be problems, and I don't think there is anywhere that is done in the United States. I don't think children could be bribed with carrot and celery sticks and warm oatmeal. But does that occur anywhere? Solely serving a nutritious meal afterwards?

JimCamp65 said...

Bro. B ask, "But does that occur anywhere?"
Of course it does. Here in NM we give them Vegan tofu mixed with rice cakes after every van ride. Both of our riders (Earthchild & Wind Spirit) love the nutritious meal.

You don't need post this, I'm being facetious, of course.

Jeff Voegtlin said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

I understand you put enough qualifiers in your post to let people squirm by in their own mind. But, it seems to me that you make generalities in strong enough language that most reading would apply the statements you've made to any ministry that uses buses. You didn't make those statements; you only generalized them. It gives you and me both a way out.

Thomas' comment helped push me to comment, as he of course recognized, and has replied already.

I want to address three things:

First your definitions of BRIBE and BRIBERY are faulty. You change the definition completely by leaving off the end of the definition. A BRIBE is: A price, reward, gift or favor bestowed or promised with a view to PERVERT the judgment, or CORRUPT the conduct of a judge, witness or other person. A bribe is a consideration given or promised to a person, to induce him to decide a cause, give testimony, or perform some act CONTRARY to what he knows to be truth, justice or rectitude. It is not used in a good sense, unless in familiar language. BRIBERY is: the act or practice of giving or taking rewards for CORRUPT practices; the act of paying or receiving a reward for a false judgment, or testimony, or for the performance of that which is known to be illegal, or unjust. It is applied both to him who gives, and to him who receives the compensation, but appropriately to the giver.

Even if you don't believe people ought to give people things to influence them to go to church, you cannot honestly call doing that bribery. If so, by definition, you are claiming that going to church is corrupt, perverted, illegal, unjust, etc. The use of that word is a slander.

Second, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul expects unsaved people to be in church. Maybe that gives regulative permission to get unsaved people to come to church.

Third, there are large bus ministries that do not do any thing that you describe in this post. I have talked with pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. In our conversation he said that their church could fill as many buses and mini-buses that they could put on the streets. To him, there was no end to the number of children their church could reach with the gospel and subsequently, homes that could be reached with the gospel through their bus and children's ministry. I state that to encourage any who may have been discouraged from doing bus and children's work after reading this post.

Thank you. I do enjoy the sharpening. And, for us specifically, you and Thomas should know that what is done here at Fairhaven is different than what you each know from your experiences here. We are continually trying to be more in line with the Bible, and though not up to your application of Scripture, what we're doing now is closer to that than it ever has been.

Jeff Voegtlin

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Jeff,

You know I don't mind your calling me Kent.

I've never had a problem with the use of a bus, so I said nothing about a bus. The problem is with inducing them with stuff.

Personally, I think we should do what the Bible says. I defined "bribe" right away, which you noticed, and I linked to Webster's Dictionary. So you are arguing against a definition. On the page of the dictionary is an etymology for bribe and it fits the definition in Webster's. You are saying that there is another element to be a bribe, beyond what Webster says. I cut and pasted it. Obviously, because I linked to it. You added to the Webster's definition. It can have a slightly different meaning dependent upon the context. You are providing a different definition than what I gave, but it doesn't mean the one I provided is perverse. Your definition is not on the Webster's site to which I linked. I think yours is a definition and so is mine.

I think attracting people to church with a fleshly thing is a bribe. It even fits your definition. The thing is corrupt because it's a wrong motivation, which matters. I can elaborate and get quite a few paragraphs (even a whole book0 and maybe I will sometime if you really don't think you're bribing someone to church by offering him something temporal to come. God tells us how to do it, and this isn't what he told us. Not doing it how He told us is disobedience.

If a child starts screaming at the grocery store and a parent offers candy at the checkout, is that a bribe? You are saying, no. I think most people reading this know it is. You didn't answer that. The Bible doesn't say it's wrong to do, so is it right?

I actually don't think it's wrong to invite an unbeliever to church. It's not the biblical model, but I think one can argue for inviting an unbeliever to church from scripture. Most unbelievers won't be interested without something they will want, which is what you'll find at churches who practice this. There is a lot that could be written about this too.

Is biblical methodology sufficient? Do you think we need to add to what the Bible says? This is the biggest issue, but among several others.

I hope the best for you guys. I would also be happy to hear an answer to my questions about repentance that I asked you.

Jeff Voegtlin said...


I have been reading "What is Truth?" lately and have enjoyed all the posts about repentance. I think what you are saying is definitely needed. For this comment, I did not go back and re-read the posts about repentance, but I don't remember anything in them that particularly caught my attention. By that I mean, you have said what we have taught, practiced and seen for many years. I'm right with you on those, so far at least.

And on the definition... I did not follow the link you provided (I should have, but didn't even notice it). I just looked it up and copied from an Webster's 1828 (which doesn't necessarily make it better). But, in my thinking, a bribe is a bad thing...and especially so (and therefore a bribe) because it is used to get someone to do a bad thing. I guess in current usage a bribe is a bad thing, but not because your trying to get someone to do something bad. Is there a different word for that now? Sorry, I'll have to go follow the link you provided.

Jeff Voegtlin said...

Sorry, after posting my last comment, I went back and looked specifically at your question about repentance. And I don't really understand the question. In my memory you've written quite a bit about repentance and then ask What if people I knew believed that way? What would I do with them? As far as I know, the people I know believe the way you're saying is true. If I run into someone that is not doing what is right, I think they might be "backslidden" but I'm more inclined to think they made a false profession.

David said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

I was wondering if you could explain where you draw the line between a bribe and a reward? I serve in a country where bribes abound as a normal way of life. It amazes me how many believers here assume you cannot get anything done without bribing. I have personally seen that a lot can be accomplished without bribery and with just being honest. With what you have given in the post, though, I am unclear where and when rewards would come into play? While we are to do all for the glory of God, rewards are definitely used by God throughout Scripture. In parenting, we are against bribes but we do use rewards for our children do what was expected/required of them. Even with the rewards being a star on a daily chart for being "respectful" or "good student," the children do find the rewards important, even though there is not something "unhealthy" for them as the reward. I know this is broader than the church context, but I would like to know what your qualifiers are for rewards vs. bribes. Thank you in advance.

Anonymous said...

There is a church around here as being fun for kids. They have advertised a petting zoo and bouncy houses. I think this gives a wrong message to children that "Church has to do something for me to go".