Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Easter People in a Lottery World

I recently ran across this story from the Associated Press:

HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) - A U.S. church that gave away $1,000 to fill more pews last Easter Sunday says it will do it again this year.

Lindenwald Baptist Church in Hamilton draws names to award $500 each to a member of the congregation and a guest.

Pastor Randy Moore tells The Journal-News of Hamilton that the southwest Ohio church had hoped for 1,000 worshippers last year, when it made the offer for the first time. It packed in 1,140 - more than double the usual Sunday attendance of around 500. Moore says a crew had to direct traffic in the parking lot.

Easter falls on April 24 this year. The pastor says given the economy, the church will continue the cash giveaway to provide a financial as well as a spiritual blessing on the holiday. (©2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

I read about this church last Easter. It was not the only church that offered the lure of cash to get more folks in its doors. While it's easy to self-righteously look down on churches that offer such gimmicks, their leaders will argue that these promotions allow them to share the Gospel with folks who otherwise would not hear it. In fact, the church in the above article claims that 36 people accepted Jesus during that Easter Sunday service. They will also suggest they are providing a financial blessing as well as a spiritual blessing to two fortunate people.

As distasteful as offering money to get people in the pews may seem, an investment of $1,000 yielded over 600 visitors, 36 new Christians, and nationwide publicity. I suspect more churches will follow their lead this year.

At the very least, I have some serious reservations about this strategy but it would be a mistake to dismiss the efforts of Lindenwald Baptist Church. So, what can we learn from this?

I believe it is wrong to use money to lure people into church because it contradicts the Gospel. Over eleven hundred people came to church and only two came away with $500. What about the other 1,138 people? How many came to church desperately needing $500 but did not win? How many left that church on Easter Sunday feeling the disappointment of losing the lottery rather than the joy of the resurrection? Do the ends justify the means?

Jesus Christ's victory over death on Easter morning teaches us that no one need walk away empty-handed. God's grace is available to all who accept it. There is no drawing for the grand prize -- it is freely given to all. And accepting Christ is not the

However, Lindenwald Baptist Church did create excitement in their community and brought more people into their church. I am in no position to judge the sincerity of their evangelism efforts even as I question their methods. Give them credit for doing something, anything.

Other than a free lottery, what can Christians do to create that kind of excitement in their churches and communities?

Inviting your neighbors and friends to worship with you on Easter (or any) Sunday is important. Share with others what your faith and your church home mean to you. Let them know God riches are given freely to all who will receive them.

Perhaps where we need to start is by living our lives as people who have been given something greater than the world can give – the gift of a savior. If our lives reflect the glory of God, that light will shine a path for people who are seeking something greater than the world can give them. Handing out cash is appealing. Who wouldn't want to have $500 to fall into their hands? Yet I hope we truly believe that what God has given us is more valuable than that.

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