The Irrelevant Church Part 3: A PR Nightmare

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
Col 4:5-6

Church BillboardIt is very important to understand that most churches are laboring to proclaim the Gospel of Christ as they see fit. Many give away millions each year in missionary efforts both at home and abroad. Their members are engaged in the local community. In themselves, all very good things.

Those outside the church do not know any of these activities. The church has become irrelevant because it has a massive public relations problem. A short conversation with unchurched folks will reveal the following perceptions:

Churches are too big!

While a vast amount of churches are under 300 members, the churches that people do see are the sprawling megacenters that encompass multiple buildings and acres of land. Non church members see architecture that no one can get into without a special key and soccer fields that are fenced off from the surrounding community. What people see is not a church, but a private club that caters to its members, gobbles up land, and ignores the local neighborhood.

I grew up in a big church – albeit one that in today’s standards would not be considered a megachurch by any stretch of the imagination. I know the good things that big church can do. But, we do have to ask, have churches become too big? Public relations aside, can the vast amount of money used to expand these complexes – which is what those outside the church are thinking of – be used more suitably elsewhere?

How do we address this issue? Churches really need to ask – do we need to be this big? Do we really need to build a new soccer field, or a new gymnasium? Should we plant churches instead? There will always be a difference in size of churches – depending on the size and economic status of the community. But churches must always ask if their sprawling complex really does win over hearts and minds to Christ.

Churches have become too glossy!

Several times a year I get a really stylish, well laid-out, glossy postcard from local churches advertising their congregation. Because I work in marketing, I know how expensive these mailings are to produce and mail. I also know that the average rate of return on these or any other kind of mailing is less than three percent.

Slick advertising campaigns, cute billboards a mile in the sky and flashy websites do nothing to attract the nonchurched of the community. What these people see is an organization that is no different then Burger King – trying to break through the noise of advertising to gain their attention. Again, they see the money it takes to create such campaigns – and they shake their heads and walk away.

The answer to this problem is simple – stop! Really. The non-churched know what is out there. Those advertising dollars are better spent elsewhere.

Church members are hypocrites!

Christians are fallible. We make mistakes and are inconsistent with our faith on a daily basis. Yet, followers of Christ are to constantly be attending to these behaviors – asking for forgiveness and the grace to correct them.

Over and over again, however, non-Christians see believers who engage in shady business practices, who treat spouses poorly, or who use foul language as a regular part of their repartee. These Christians have expensive homes, expensive cars, and expensive taste – but who are miserly in the treatment of employees or those who need help. Then the non-churched see these same cars in the parking lots of churches on Sunday.

Scripture is very clear that one of the main purposes of the leaders of the church is to help members in their Christian walk. Church membership should involve accountability – at all levels of faith and practice. Until elders and pastors are willing to discipline themselves and their members, this unchecked hypocrisy will continue to hinder the church.

The church throws the Bible at me, when all I want to do is just talk!

In the midst of the present culture debate, churches and religious organizations are cranking up efforts to get the word across of the “Christian Response” to whatever current issue is the hot topic. We see church programs, web casts, videos and books galore – all designed to plaster an unwilling public with Christ’s message.

The Kingdom of God is not shared by throwing a Bible at someone. Disciples are not won by distributing pamphlets, nor by decrying their sins and transgressions. The Kingdom of God is built one person at a time. It is not built by Bible beating or program enrollment, but by forming relationships and sharing the saving Word of Christ one person at a time. When will our churches understand that it is through simple and sincere discipleship that people get to know Jesus?

I am not advocating that the church decide its direction based on non-Christians. There are some things that the church does – communion for example – that will always be a mystery to those outside the fold of God. And there are many hearts that are hardened against the Word no matter how effectively the church goes about its commission.

But we need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,
If I have walked in my own willful way,
Dear Lord, forgive!

If I have uttered idle words or vain,
If I have turned aside from want or pain,
Lest I myself shall suffer through the strain,
Dear Lord, forgive!

If I have been perverse or hard, or cold,
If I have longed for shelter in Thy fold,
When Thou hast given me some fort to hold,
Dear Lord, forgive!

Forgive the sins I have confessed to Thee;
Forgive the secret sins I do not see;
O guide me, love me and my keeper be,
Dear Lord, Amen.
C. Maude Bat­ters­by

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