Church Advertising

In an Associated Press article by Blake Nicholson, we were told today of gasoline give-aways by churches in North Dakota and New Jersey. “Experts” were quoted that decried the hypocritical use of worldly “gimmicks” to attempt to bring in the worldly lost. But others stated that it was simply a way of advertising, which they claim as a necessity for churches attempting to reach the masses today.

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Is it necessary for churches to market the gospel the same way discount stores market beauty products and the latest electronic toys? With freebies and special events? Is it proper for churches to advertise at all?

I guess that last question is easy to answer. Even listing our phone number in the phone book is a small advertisement. But how far should we go? Is there a scriptural answer to this question? Or are we left to our own wisdom?

Advertising was certainly not a consideration for the churches that existed while the Bible was being written. So we have nothing about advertising in the New Testament letters written to those churches. But we have a lot about ethics. So something must apply.

Ethical violations occur when someone misuses their authority or opportunity with another person. Keeping a dollar that you see someone drop on the sidewalk may not be criminal, but it is certainly unethical. You have the opportunity to use your knowledge of who dropped the dollar. If you ignore that opportunity and don’t restore the person’s dollar to them, you are acting unethically.

Likewise, an employer that asks his employees for contributions to his favorite charity at the time when he is doing the annual reviews is being unethical. Yes, the employees have the right to decline, but the pressure is implied and many will give because of the employer’s misuse of his position even though they had originally not wanted to give. That’s unethical.

So what about churches and marketing? Certainly it is not illegal. Certainly it doesn’t violate any direct command of scripture. But is it ethical? Is it right to desire a spiritual response from the public by using secular attractions? I truly wonder about contests that draw people to attend. How can we appeal to a person’s earthly nature with “door prizes,” “cash awards” and “gifts” then try to teach them to abandon their earthly nature?

We have the opportunity to present something different to the world. That is our God-given mandate:

“For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do…they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they  malign you;” (1st Peter 4:3-4).

“(My disciples) are not of the world, just as I (Jesus) am not of the world” (John 17:16).

“…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Phil 2:15-16).

How can we teach “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:19-20) and at the same time be enticing people with treasures of the earth?

Let’s be sure our outreach does not belie our message.

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