God, Games and Gimmicks

Sadly there has long been a temptation to resort to gimmicks to make the church “relevant” and appealing. This is especially true of so much of today’s church, where increasingly we are relying on games and gimmicks to attract the crowds and keep the masses hooked.

This would especially be true of so many of our youth departments. I have often said that one of the hardest jobs today is to be a Christian youth worker. We have an entire generation of kids who have ADD, and simply cannot sit still for anything of value and with content.

They have grown up on images, entertainment, and fast-paced media. To sit still and hear the Word of God taught for example seems near impossible for so many young people today. Thus much of youth work now involves seeking to keep youth entertained and amused.

So we have an endless amount of games and sport and pizza nights and video nights and entertainers and rock concerts, etc, etc. And adult church is hardly any better. It is all about finding a new gimmick to bring the folks in and keep them in.

Now, one would have thought that reliance upon the Holy Spirit would do the trick. It has for most of church history. The early church knew nothing of entertainment, of marketing techniques, of advertising campaigns, and clever gimmicks to attract folks.

It simply had God, and that was enough. When God shows up in a big way, that attracts people. That is all that is needed, yet we keep insisting today that God must be supplemented by all sorts of worldly means and methods. Consider one of the more blatant recent examples of this.

The headline reads as follows: “Bibles and Booze: Congregations Across America Attempting to Attract New Members With Beer”. Well, that’s one way to do it. The story opens: “A new report released by NPR outlines that a number of congregations across America are now using beer as a way to attract new members.

“The effort is an experiment in finding methods that will appeal to those who otherwise would not set foot in a church. Some beer-based gatherings are held right in the church building, and others are hosted at the local pub. One of the locations highlighted in the report is Fort Worth, Texas, where Church-in-a-pub, sponsored by ‘Pastor’ Phil Heinze of Calvary Lutheran Church, is held each week at the local bar.

“‘I find the love, I find the support, I find the non-judgmental eyes when I come here,’ attendee Leah Stanfield told the publication. ‘And I find friends that love God [and] love craft beer.’ Approximately 30-40 people meet for the weekly gathering, which includes Bible readings, fellowship and communion–all over pizza and beer at Zio Carlo pub.”

Hmmm. Let me say at the outset that I am not a teetotaller, and Scripture does not mandate that we be one. So it is not the beer so much as the whole idea of gimmicks to attract people. As I mentioned, God used to be the main attraction in church, and going to church to meet God was sufficient for most folks up until recently.

And it is not just beer that is being used as a draw card: “For some congregations, instead of beer, cigars are offered to potential members. Eric Van Scyoc of St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Rocky River, Ohio calls his gathering the ‘Smokin’ Bible Study,’ where men assemble in the back room of Cigar Cigars and smoke stogies as they study the word of God. He says that he has been leading the studies at the location for approximately three years.”

Fortunately not everyone is thrilled with the idea: “‘Rather than relating with people by becoming like people, the Church is to present the glory of God,’ Scott Brown of the Center for Family Integrated Churches told Christian News Network. ‘When people come into the church, they should see a completely new kingdom, a completely new community. They should see how different God is than they are and how much more wonderful He is, and how His ways are much more beautiful than their ways.’

“Pastor Eric Ludy, President of Ellerslie Mission Society, has made similar statements in expressing his concerns about the Church seeking to attract the world by appearing ‘cool.’ ‘The problem is Jesus wasn’t cool. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, Jesus didn’t do it the world’s way. He came in and offended the world,’ he told reporters. ‘He came in and did everything the wrong way. … We actually want to indict Jesus and say, “You know what? If you had known as much as we know you would have done it differently.” We want to appeal to the world’s sensibilities and somehow draw them to the Gospel. Jesus didn’t do any of that.’

“‘The Bible says, “Raise Him up and He will draw all men unto Himself”,’ he continued. ‘The key is we lift up the Gospel. We give the straight and narrow path. We give it undiluted and people will start respecting us because we are not giving them something that will tantalize the flesh. We are giving them something that will bring life to their spirit’.”

Of course to get God in all his fullness, majesty, holiness and glory is no small task. It requires much of those in both the pulpit and the pews. It is a whole lot easier to get a rock band, a jumping castle, a portable disco, or some boutique beers.

Men always look for the easy way out, and that is just as true in far too many churches today. We are too easily tempted to go for gadgets, games and gimmicks when the one thing we need above all else is God himself. Only God can make a church, church.

Human techniques and ploys just won’t cut it. When the entertainment dies down, so will the crowds. When the beer dries up, so will the masses. When the strobe lights and smoke machines grow tired, so will the congregation. When human methods are used, human results will follow.

As usual, A. W. Tozer had it perfectly right on these sorts of matters. So let me finish with four quotes from the great pastor:

?”It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God.”

“The church has lost her testimony. She has no longer anything to say to the world. Her once robust shout of assurance has faded away to an apologetic whisper. She who one time went out to declare now goes out to inquire. Her dogmatic declaration has become a respectful suggestion, a word of religious advice, given with the understanding that it is after all only an opinion and not meant to sound bigoted.”

“For multitudes of professed Christians today the Holy Spirit is not a necessity. They have learned to cheer their hearts and warm their hands at other fires.”

“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”


[1223 words]

12 Replies to “God, Games and Gimmicks”

  1. Thanks for writing Bill, this issue is a big passion of mine. I know so many people who see the same thing going on and know it’s not right but it seems church leadership everywhere just let’s this go on. The problem is it’s so hard to address in churches as the standard response seems to be “at least we’re getting people in to hear the gospel.”

    You have probably read it, but ‘This Little Church Went to Market’ by Gary Gilley is an excellent resource on the topic.

    Mark Buscumb

  2. “The effort is an experiment in finding methods that will appeal to those who otherwise would not set foot in a church”

    People are too concerned about bringing numbers into a building instead of souls into Heaven. Evangelsim starts from streets to Church not church to pub via smoking room down by worship night with a guest speaker. People need to know they sign on to Jehovah’s Battlion in an thousand year old war, not onto a happy go lucky “Christian” community.

    As Keith Green said,

    If your heart takes more pleasure in reading novels, or watching TV, or going to the movies, or talking to friends, rather than just sitting alone with God and embracing Him, sharing His cares and His burdens, weeping and rejoicing with Him, then how are you going to handle forever and ever in His presence…? You’d be bored to tears in heaven, if you’re not ecstatic about God now!

    Things of this world will pass away……let’s start acting like we are from heaven.

    Another Good one Bill!

    Thanks 🙂

    Isaac Harrison

  3. I’m hearing you. I can’t even go to church anymore due to the high level of electromanetic fields from the wifi and mobile phones that, for some reason, still have to be on while we are supposedly devoting time to God. Very debilitating and disappointing. I’ve been told that people might need to be contacted and ‘can’t’ have them off. Pathetic.

    Julie Lonsdale

  4. Bill, thank you for this post. I am so very grateful for the Sabbath keeping, small, yet Spirit filled church I attend. Nothing flashy, just The Word, Praise and Worship! So many people are being misled, but He told us this time would come. God bless you, your readers, and families.

    Jay Fletcher

  5. I agree totally and did read a book recently on this called Giving up the Gimmicks.
    If i may, my point is slightly of topic but my wife is causing a stir at our church at the moment. She suggested that children in the 12 to 16 age group who are currently and have always been placed in (kids club).
    She said, why are these kids not sitting in and listening to the sermon?
    The response was at this stage, oh kids will listen to sermons for the rest of their life.
    I’m not sure what to think about this.
    Daniel Kempton

  6. And yet for those truly searching for truth this leaves a bad taste in their mouth and their souls still unfed. So, this sort of stuff doesn’t bring lasting results for anybody, for it doesn’t build lasting congregations, which I thought is what they wanted when they put on these showbis style services – or were they just looking for bums on seats and money in their coffers? – and it doesn’t feed those whom God has called. It is another lie from the pit of hell.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  7. As usual, Bill, a very insightful article concerning where the church is at present. Loved the quotes from A.W. Tozer. I have been in Pentecostal churches most of my Christian life since the late 60’s. Where are the manifestations of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the demonstrations of His power in most churches today? Many so-called Spirit-filled churches, like you say, seem to have opted for flashy gimmicks – from the flashy lights and smoke machines during praise and worship, the multiple video screens bombarding the senses even well before the commencement of services, the super hyped -up presentations, not only for youth groups, but in Kids Church as well, passing out of lollies on trays along the aisles, by the ushers while the service is in progress – I guess to sweeten up the congregation for what ensues in the service (this happens in our church every week now).
    Yes,and the booze and Bibles – well, thankfully not in church at the moment, but there have been several Blokes Nights hosted by leadership this year at a private home with the invitation to come for prayer at 7pm, and BBQ at 8pm. Come for a Burger and Beer! There are good things happening in the church. People are coming to the Lord and their lives are being changed, but how much greater impact the church would and could be making if the Holy Spirit was truly allowed to move and have the place He deserves. I mean the Church in general, not just our place of fellowship. God Bless, Bill!
    Peter Harvey

  8. Thanks Bill. For the majority of young people in the western church, once they leave home they also leave the church (I’ve read the figure is as high as 80%). All those games & cool fun activities don’t cut it in the end. What they really want is not entertainment but answers.
    Diane Whittle

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