Did I get your attention? Well, if your stomach is growling and you’re looking for something to eat, chances are I did. What if someone were to cry out, “Tax relief!” If you’re having problems with your taxes this would probably get your attention. If you were having marital problems, you’d probably notice every sign and billboard advertising marriage counseling.
Many religious groups are very clever at getting people’s attention. As a matter of fact, it’s not uncommon for one to drive by a church building and see a sign that says something like, “Free Spaghetti Dinner!” or “Concert Tonight!”. It’s not uncommon to get a flyer in the mail from a local religious group advertising a free movie screening, aid for single mothers, or a gardening demonstration.
But which one of the above mentioned services or provisions – food, counseling, entertainment, etc. – is something you can’t find outside the church? That is, if one couldn’t find a religious group to get a hot plate of spaghetti, to see a good movie, or get marriage counseling, one could still find a secular institution offering the same provisions and services. And yet, many religious groups, many of which wear the name of Christian, offer these services and provisions as if people couldn’t get them anywhere else. These religious groups recognize that men have material and worldly needs such as food, shelter, financial assistance, opportunities to socialize with people of like interests, etc., and they use that knowledge to “draw people in.”
When Paul was among the Corinthians, he said he had nothing to offer them except “Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:2) At what point in Paul’s ministry do we find him offering to provide for people’s material needs before offering them Christ? In practically every one of the four Gospels, before Christ performs any miraculous feedings or healings, we are told that he began to teach repentance of sin and the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 4:17). His work in this world was completely focused on seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10).
Indeed, Christ performed miracles to feed and to heal people, thus making physical provisions for them, but these miracles (there is no account of Christ establishing an institution which provided meals for hungry people, no account of him entertaining people before he taught them truth), served the primary purpose of confirming the divine authority of Christ (Heb. 2:3,4). We might also take note in this oft quoted passage in Hebrews 2 that the emphasis at the beginning of the verse is on SALVATION. If Christ did not offer material provisions and services for those who might be his disciples, and if he did not authorize any such activity for the church to be involved in, then we as God’s people need to be extra cautious when considering HOW we are going to “get people to come.”
One does not need to go to a church to find people to play chess with. One does not need to go to a church to get politically involved. One does not need to go to a church to watch a movie or play games. One does not need to go to a church even to contribute to a philanthropic charity! The world offers institutions through which all these things and so much more can be done! The world makes provisions for these needs. Nor should an individual STAY with a church simply because there are people there who share their interests. If one is going to “worship” and “fellowship” with a group of people simply because those people enjoy the same worldly hobbies, subjects, or activities, then it is not “worship” or “fellowship” AT ALL, as the Word of God defines these terms (John 4:23,24, I John 1:3).
Who brings the church together? Christ (Rom. 12:5). Who sustains the church? Christ (Heb. 1:3). Who saves the church? Christ (I Thess. 5:9). As the body of Christ, as his “corporate” representative in the world today, what service or provision should we offer the world? Salvation in Christ (Rom. 1:16). What gimmick or hook should we use to “draw people in”? None. No gimmicks, no allurements. JUST CHRIST! If people don’t come to Christ in response to the Gospel of Christ, they haven’t come to Christ at all, but simply seek to have their worldly needs met (John 6:26).
If the world has institutions to provide for our material needs such as food, social involvement, financial support, etc., then what needs do people have that only the church can provide for? Well, of course those needs are spiritual. The church, the true body of Christ, should offer exactly what Christ offered: eternal Truth (I Tim. 3:14,15, John 14:6) and salvation in Christ (Luke 3:4-6, Rom. 10:9,10). This is all we have to offer people and, truly, it is not we who are making the offer, but Christ.
As the saying goes, “whatever you use to get people in, that’s what you’re going to have to use to get those people to stay.” If we use material, worldly enticements to GET people’s attention, we’re going to have to use those same enticements to KEEP their attention.
Even if one comes to worship with us because they saw that they could get a spaghetti dinner, we’ve already started to condition them to think that their material needs take priority over their spiritual needs. The congregation that is involved in such practices may experience a significant growth in numbers and attendance, but is flying full speed in the opposite direction of the teachings of Christ, and will ultimately find itself spiritually lacking, having left its first love (Rev. 2:4).
– Jeremy Koontz