Giveaways, Gimmicks, and Goldfish
By L. L. Lewis
A pastor was lamenting the sorry and dreadful results of a recent attendance promotion. His church had agreed to give a goldfish in a plastic bag to any child who came on a particular Sunday.
To his dismay, when the workers arrived Sunday morning to bag the fish, they discovered many of the fish had flopped out of the wading pool and were lying dead all over the floor. Furthermore, they had great difficulty getting the rest of them bagged and into the hands of the eager children.
On the way home, most of the bags split, soaking the laps of the children, and washing the goldfish to their doom. Frantic mothers called the church office, while disgusted bus workers swept out the dead fish.
“When you come right down to it,” observed the pastor, “the Word of God effectively taught and preached is far more to be desired than goldfish in a plastic bag!”
So it is indeed. However, does this mean there is no place for sane and sensible promotion? Certainly not. But it is imperative that one realizes the limitations. A great church cannot be built on gimmicks and goldfish. However, neither do unsaved, unregenerate people respond to noble, spiritual appeals.
Evangelist Angel Martinez was first persuaded to come to church by the offer of an ice cream cone. He later became a Christian, won his entire family to Christ, and since has been used by God to win thousands. Thank God for an ice cream cone given in the name of Jesus.
In church growth no one is quite so naive as the one who says, “It won’t work.” God can, if He wills, use anything to His glory. However, equally foolish is the person who insists on continuing the use of methods and techniques that produce no results. “The proof is in the pudding.” If your methods and techniques work, use them.
Use Methods That Work
Peter Wagner, church growth expert, Fuller Seminary, Pasadena, California says: “We teach then to be ruthless in regard to methods. If it doesn’t work to the glory of God and the extension of Christ’s church, throw it away and get something else that does. As to methods, we are fiercely pragmatic!”(The Growing Church, Fuller Evangelistic Association, Cassette tape 2, Side 1) Wagner calls this “consecrated pragmatism.”
In his book Your Church Can Grow (Regal Books, pp. 136- 137), Wagner pleads the cause for pragmatism and seeks to answer the question, “Does the end justify the means?”
We are unashamedly recommending a fiercely pragmatic approach to evangelism. I is a common mistake to associate pragmatism with a lack of spirituality. Some are rightly afraid that pragmatism can degenerate to the point that ungodly methods are used and this is not at all what church growth people advocate. The Bible does not allow us to sin that grace may abound or to use means that God has prohibited in order to accomplish ends that He has recommended.
But, with this proviso, we ought to see clearly that the end does justify the means. What else possibly could justify the means? if the method I am using accomplishes the goal am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method. If, on the other hand, my method is not accomplishing the goal, how can I be justified in Continuing to use it?
I fear that many have fallen into the trap of developing such outstanding programs with such well-oiled machinery, involving such substantial investments of time and money, that the program itself has become the end.
A biblical proverb addresses this problem directly: “It is pleasant to see plans develop. That is why fools refuse to give them up, even when they are wrong” (Prov. 13:19, LB). Seek earnestly the Spirit’s guidance in developing outreach programs and plans. Boldly evaluate the results, readily discarding that which proves ineffective and using only that which reaps results. Pay any price, make any sacrifice, do anything necessary, and everything possible to reach people for Christ and His church.
Consider some promotional ideas which may or may not prove of value.
1. News releases. The wise pastor has a loaded camera in his office at all times. A top quality Polaroid camera that can develop a picture instantly is best. When something news worthy happens, get a picture, write a release, and take them to your local paper.
Use the news! A good news release, with a picture, is far better than any paid advertisement. The aggressive, evangelistic church should seek to have a news release, with picture, in the newspaper at least once each month.
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” But let it be an action picture, not posed. Take profiles and frontals. Nobody wants to look at the back of somebody’s head.
The release should be written in newspaper style, answering the questions: who, what, where, when, and why in the opening paragraph. Make the release brief and to the point—brief enough to be interesting, but broad enough to cover the whole story.
2. Advertisements. An attractive advertisement in the local paper should be a matter of course for the growing church. How big should the ad be? A simple rule might be: “A little bigger than anybody else’s.”
3. Campaigns. The growing church should plan for one or two enlargement and attendance campaigns every year. The primary emphasis should be on reaching and enrolling new people, balanced by an emphasis on average attendance. Banners promoting the campaign and visuals publicizing the goals are helpful.
A visual should be prepared for every classroom, publicizing the new member goals and the attendance goals for each unit. Also, the visual should chart the progress of that class toward reaching its goals.
Arthur Davenport Associates of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma has excellent prepared materials for many such campaigns. However, most of the Davenport campaigns emphasize attendance rather than enrolling new members and are restricted to four or five weeks rather than a longer period.
4. Contests. Many churches have used contests to excite action and outreach. Contests can be between departments within an age division, between classes within a department, or even between sister churches.
The three largest Southern Baptist churches in Missouri recently entered a contest to see which church could average the highest attendance and enroll the most new members. The campaign continued for eight weeks, beginning the first Sunday of February and ending Easter Sunday. Amplified telephones in each sanctuary broadcast the week-by-week results to each congregation.
Although one church was declared the winner, actually each church was a winner. Each church increased in average attendance by nearly 200 with their combined attendance more than 500 ahead of the pre-contest figure. Together, the three churches enrolled 731 new people in Sunday School.
In a contest of this kind, it is important to emphasize the progress made in each church so that the losing church or churches will not be demoralized by the event. Truly, every church that grows and reaches more people than before is a winner.
5. Special days. A special emphasis day occasionally is good for morale and keeps the people looking forward to something. Some churches plan a special day once each quarter with a superday of some kind annually.
The secret to the success of special days is a good program and a good promotion. A letter should be sent to every person enrolled, not just every family the week prior to the occasion. Each child should receive his own letter. Some of the ideas that follow are from Jack Hyles’ book How to Boost Your Church Attendance, Zondervan.
• Back to School Day. During the summer months, many of the children may have become inactive. Even the adults may need a special boost about this time of the year. Why not plan a great Back to School Day?
Recognize the children by grades, giving special acknowledgement to the grade with the most present. Make public school teachers your special guests. Have testimonies from a Christian teacher, and from elementary, junior high, and high school students.
Have students serve as ushers, bring the special music, and fill the choir. Make it a special day in honor of the students and their teachers.
It might be appropriate to invite a special guest of particular interest to the children. He could assist in a great children’s rally.
Give a present to each of the students. Some churches have given pencils, ball-point pens, combs, rulers, or tablets in scribed with the church’s name and a Scripture verse. All these items can be ordered at minimal cost from an advertising specialties company.
• Round-up Day. Early fall, in October or November, is a good time for Round-up Day. Why not have a dinner “on the grounds”? A guest music group might be a welcome attraction, bringing special music at the morning worship service and a concert Sunday afternoon.
• Christ-in-Christmas Day. The Sunday before Christmas is the time for Christ-in-Christmas Day. Christmas carols, a choir cantata, and a sermon on the meaning of Christmas all should be part of the program.
Perhaps a beautiful candlelight observance of the Lord’s Supper could be planned for Sunday evening. A special gift or Christmas treat should be given to all the children Sunday morning.
For some, especially bus children from poorer neighbor hoods, this may be the highlight of their Christmas season. Again, be sure a letter is sent to everybody enrolled, not just to member families.
• Birthday Sunday. Many churches have found the greatest day of all to be the church’s birthday. Determine the church’s anniversary date, then plan to celebrate annually that Sunday as Birthday Sunday.
A huge cake can be baked for this significant occasion. Several members can volunteer to bake “sheet cakes,” which can then be assembled into a giant cake decorated by a professional cake decorator.
The cake can be in the shape of a Bible, the cross, the church building, or any other appropriate design. Following the Sunday morning worship service, plan a great fellowship meal in the church fellowship hall and eat the cake for dessert.
Special guests for this festive occasion might include a former pastor, an old or charter member, or anyone of particular interest to the people. Set a high goal for Sunday School attendance.
To promote the church’s birthday, send a letter to all enrolled, enclosing a tiny birthday candle. Ask them to bring the candle to Sunday School to be used in decorating the cake. You may want to give a larger candle to every class and department that reaches its attendance goal.
• Baby Day. Early spring (April or May) is a good time for Baby Day. New babies have been born during the winter months. New parents may need an extra incentive to get back to the house of God. This special day is a beautiful, meaningful experience for parents and congregation alike.
The baby parade is the highlight of Baby Day. At the beginning or near the end of the morning worship service, parents go to the nursery, get their babies, and, while the organist plays “Jesus Loves Me,” bring them to the front of the auditorium.
Each mother (or couple) comes to the pulpit, introduces the baby and is given a corsage. A prayer of dedication is offered for the babies. A beautiful dedication certificate can be prepared for each infant.
The letter promoting Baby Day should be sent to the babies themselves. This may be the first letter they’ve ever received.
There is no end to special days. Old fashioned Day, Homecoming Day, Good Neighbor Sunday, Hallelujah Sunday, Miracle Sunday, Picture-taking Sunday, Absent “T” Sunday, and scores of others have been used effectively by many churches to spark added interest a Someday Sunday for all those who say, “We’ll be there-someday.”
Of course, special days such as Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day are always in the calendar. Most of these promote themselves, however, and do not need extra special attention.
A layman from First Baptist Church of Houston Texas was asked why he felt the church had grown so rapidly and had achieved such phenomenal success. “Because,” he said, “it’s fun to go to church there.”
It should be that way in every church. Going to church should be fun- a happy occasion, a glorious celebration.
The wise, growth – oriented pastor will not belittle effective promotional techniques. Rather, he will do everything possible to reach every person possible for Jesus.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”