The Free Gift of God is … iPhones and Disneyland Trips?

August 27, 2007 by

The free gift of God is an iPhone and a trip to Disneyland.

OK, so that’s not the whole story.

We’ve talked here before about churches partnering with local business. Perhaps it was just due to the title of “Your Church, Sponsored by Crest White Strips,” but the idea didn’t go over well. This time we wanted to talk about churches using similar tactics, but with a twist.

Here, the churches are partnering with large corporations, but more so, with popular culture. As I doubt Disney and Apple need the name recognition, and I doubt it was an operation jointly organized by church and corporation, it’s essentially the church partnering with contemporary trend setters.

The Church of the Glades is reporting booming success in their most recent giveaway. For each new attendee, they gave away a $15 iTunes gift card. In order to raise awareness about a Saturday night and early Sunday service, they gave away an iPhone and an iPod nano. Maybe more noteworthy, the story moved from the Palm Beach Post all the way up to Gizmodo. They’re doing all this to promote their “iSeries.” You can find out more about the series or listen to the podcasts at their web site.

Also, Element Church is giving away two trips to Disneyland for their “Life’s Short, Have Fun.” series. With the trips valued at $3,000 dollars a piece, it’s a pretty big giveaway.

I think the most interesting aspect of these stories is the buzz they generate. One Gizmodo commenter had this to say:

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that encourage materialism and bribery instead of unconditional selflessness? Ah…what do I know.”

Saying this is encouraging that might be going a little bit far, but I don’t know that it discourages it.

So what do you think, is it about meeting people where they are, getting butts in pews, and then sharing your message? Or are giveaways like this nothing more than bribery?

Either way, I think we can all agree that if life change is happening, we can’t complain too much. It looks like these couple churches might have just hit a church marketing gold mine.

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Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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16 Responses to “The Free Gift of God is … iPhones and Disneyland Trips?”

  • Todd
    August 27, 2007

    What do you mean by “goldmine?” I think they may see some results, but I’m not sure the ends justify the means.
    I hate to play this card, but I can’t really see Jesus or the early Church pulling a stunt like this – of course they didn’t really the luxury of even considering such a promotion.
    For me there is a disconnect between being relevant to your culture (i.e. having a website, using message series that speak to the issues of the day, utilizing technology to reach untapped audiences) and endorsing its destructive attributes – in this case materialism and consumerism.
    I’m all for strategic creative marketing, but both efforts seem like cheap ploys, not unlike those banner ads you see promising free iPods with participation in a couple of surveys and credit card offers.

  • Casey VCW
    August 27, 2007

    Businesses give stuff away all the time just to get people in the store, perhaps for the first time.
    I don’t think it is wrong if a church does this. If you have a better chance at giving someone what they need (Christ) because you give the something they want (iphone) is that horrible.
    I think the chance of turning off non-believers, or Christians for that matter, because of bribery is far out weighed by the opportunity to give an them an eternal gift.
    Let’s keep things in focus here.

  • Jeremy
    August 27, 2007

    I think the concern is that by indulging materialism, the Church is undermining the Gospel. If we show no faith in its life-transforming power, instead resorting to worldly incentives, why should anyone else?

  • Scott
    August 27, 2007

    I don’t have an issue with churches having giveaways to get people to a weekend service. Almost every church I know of gives a small gift to first time visitors, is this also wrong? We give coffee mugs. If a person comes because of this gift or giveaway, has an encounter with God and gives their life to Jesus, is their conversion any less genuine or significant then the person that comes because they are hurting and know something is missing in their life?
    The danger comes when church and the service become all about the giveaway and not about Jesus. This can happen in any church though, for example when it all becomes about the head pastor, or numbers, or a building.

  • mike hosey
    August 28, 2007

    Todd, the first poster, makes this statement:
    I hate to play this card, but I can’t really see Jesus or the early Church pulling a stunt like this – of course they didn’t really [have] the luxury of even considering such a promotion.
    The reason you don’t see the early church pulling a stunt like this is because it wasn’t necessary. The Holy Spirit and personal evangelism trump iphones and the spirit of mammon any day.
    Scott, in his Aug 27 8pm post asks, “is giving this stuff away any different than giving away coffee and donuts or a small free gift.” He then makes the astute argument that danger enters when the church service becomes more about the giveaway than about Jesus. I would argue that coffee and donuts are a different kind of giveaway than an iphone or a 3000 dollar disney trip. The higher the value of the giveaway, the less about Jesus it becomes.
    I say let the Holy Spirit, moving through personal evangelism, call these people to church and not lust, greed or money. Churches are relying way to much on men.

  • Lex
    August 28, 2007

    I’d be interested in feedback from the churches in question. How many lives were really transformed by their elaborate give-aways? Not how many more people came to church for a few weeks until their number was not called, but how many people actually did internalize the gospel and make a decision to change their lives forever?
    When it comes to material gain it’s been my experience that people can be astonishingly focused on the goal, and nothing else.

  • Chuck Ryan
    August 28, 2007

    Mike Hosey made a really great observation. It’s one thing to talk about using different tactics to get people into a setting where they can receive the Gospel. But, how many of them actually “get it” vs. how many are waiting for something else to get. It really would be interesting to see how many folks who got their ipods and Disney trips actually became disciples of Jesus.
    The early church did not use ipods and Disney, obviously because they did not have this kind of stuff to give. But what kind of “stuff” could they have given? A free batch of papyrus or maybe an all-expenses-paid trip to Golgatha? We do need to keep things in perspective. Why did they not use gimmicks or things to tantalize people into joining? Wouldn’t it be because they were kind of HUNTED?! It wasn’t until 300AD-ish that Christianity became acceptable. Incidentally, that is about the same time the “movement” became a “monument.”
    Excellent stuff, good posts!

  • Matt Howard
    August 28, 2007

    While I can see the points of detraction against the use of these techniques, I do honestly believe that these churches have found something.
    Our adversary will use any ploy that he can to entice toward a lifestyle apart from God. One of the greatest forms of warfare is to take the enemies tactics and use them.
    Like it or not, we are at war. We are at war with culture and we are in spiritual warfare. We must use any and all means necessary to thwart Satan and progress the Kingdom. “Cheap ploy?” Maybe. “Allowing the gospel to be spread to an entirely different crowd?” You’d better believe it.

  • Kevin Purcell
    August 28, 2007

    Didn’t the early church give away food to starving Hellenistic widows? Is that the same as giving away goodies to people today? I think it might. One is meeting a legitimate need while the other is meeting merely a want. If we would do more meeting legitimate needs, we would be more successfull at drawing people to our congregations.

  • Lex
    August 29, 2007

    “We must use any and all means necessary to thwart Satan and progress the Kingdom.”
    We could have female worship leaders sing in bikinis. That would probably get a good number of unchurched in the doors. We could offer to buy cigarettes for new kids at youth groups.
    Or are we called to be IN the world, but not OF the world? To not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds? Turn the other cheek?
    We need to be careful “using the enemy’s tactics” because his tactics are deceitful and dangerous. “Any and all” is a broad category, and trusting in marketing or materialism to get people into our churches instead of the conviction of the Holy Spirit means we’ll probably have to sustain those efforts to keep them.

  • Chuck Ryan
    August 29, 2007

    “Any and all” is a broad category, and trusting in marketing or materialism to get people into our churches instead of the conviction of the Holy Spirit means we’ll probably have to sustain those efforts to keep them.”
    I was always told, “What you win them with is what you’ll have to keep them with.” It’s kind of easy for me to throw stones at these churches that have the budgets that allow them to give away ipods and whatnot.
    I don’t necessarily think that giving food to starving people is the same thing as giving ipods to a materialistic society. If anything, that would be kind of like giving an alcoholic an ice cold beer. But I think the effort is valid only as far as the true motivation. If these churches really are trying to reach out to a materialistic society, you have to reach them where they are. Most people who received a free ipod probably had no idea that the “church” even knew those things existed. So maybe they have something there.
    Then again, a good point was made that we should not be of the world. I definately would not want to see our worship leader up front in a bikini…we’d have to hire out for that one. Has anyone ever done anything during the Super Bowl? They have these little canned packages where you show a video during halftime involving an NFL player who is a Christian. It might not be the same thing as givning an ipod, but aren’t they both a little bit of the the old “bait and switch?” Get them to come for football and sneak in a Gospel presentation? Again, I guess it really all goes back to the purity of intention and motivation. The early church saw the need (hunger) and met it, which enabled them to earn an audience…aka: they got their hands dirty. What need was met by giving away ipods? Or hosting a Super Bowl party for that matter? Does the end justify the means? Only if the means achieve the end pursued, right? It must go back to examining the results of the give-away. If it worked, we should all look at our cultural surroundings and ask “how can we gain an audience with these people?”
    Just some thoughts.

  • Andrew Taylor
    August 30, 2007

    Being a foreigner living in the US, I am continually struck by how captive the American church is to consumerism. An iPhone giveaway in a world full of incredible need – really! Are we not in the process screaming – “life is really about you, the American consuming individual.”
    The prophetic mantle of the church to be counter-cultural, which includes speaking against the “acceptable lifestyle” of greed and envy, is severely diminished when we resort to these kind of stunts.
    I am thinking that the next sermon series at these churches won’t be “How to give your life away.”

  • Jeremy McKim
    September 10, 2007

    Perhaps the most convicting thing about all of this is that while i whole-heartedly agree that it undermines the Gospel to give away iPod’s and trips to Disney, the fact is that I, a disciple of Jesus, derive pleasure from these and countless other offerings of American capitalism. A friend of mine GAVE me a Bose home theater system last year and recently God told me to get rid of it. I am not saying that you should if you have one, I’m simply saying, we all need to ask God where he wants us to draw the line between that which is permissible in his kingdom and that which is an abomination in his kingdom. Revelation is a convicting read for me lately. Jesus beckons us to come out of Babylon. The description of Babylon looks a lot like America – our economy that gives us access to nearly anything we want. It’s a chilling picture that all of Heaven rejoiced when God struck down Babylon (Rev 19:1-4). It’s easy for me to point at a church that uses iPod’s just to get more people in the door but if I myself have an iPod, do I really have a platform for rebuking this church? How can I tell a church that it’s wrong for them to use their resources to purchase iPod’s for ministry purposes when I use my own resources to purchase the same thing simply for my own pleasure? These are hard questions that God is confronting me with right now. I appreciate this discucssion – thank you.

  • Ruben
    September 10, 2007

    Yeah, you know, I’m thinking maybe I’d like to know how impoverished believers in Africa or somewhere feel about this…if only they had computers ;)

  • danielle
    September 10, 2007

    i think how we win people to Christ might be almost just as important as actually winning people to Christ. I think the greatest problem in the church today is that the eagerness to get people through their doors has yeilded a church with a country club attitude: people who show up on sunday morning for social interaction and a feel good morning service. they don’t want to serve in the church or make sacrifices for the church or do anything requiring them to be uncomfortable. they complain when the sermon doesn’t speak to them or the worship isn’t their personal taste. they look like Christians, but many slip by without having experienced any transformation. all of this because we said “come, we have free coffee and donuts (and ipods)” or “come, we will give you friends” instead of “come, you need Jesus.”
    i too am all for creative marketing strategies, but only because marketing is the language of american culture and we must be culturally relevant to reach people where they are. marketing in the church should be used carefully and only to communicate the truth in love to people who need God. everything else sends a conflicting message. i think giving away ipods would fall under the category of a conflicting message. going to a church just for an ipod seems like greed to me. can something good be born out of greed? i don’t know. seems twisted to me to play on people’s worldly desires to get them into church. just my perspective. it may have come out a little harsh and i doubt churches have the best of intentions when they do these things, but i really feel we need to check ourselves and our methods of marketing.
    as for giving away coffee cups to first time guests, i’ve always seen that as a welcoming gift, not a bribe. it’s a much smaller token than an ipod. i’ve never heard of anyone going to church just so they could get their mug. i could be wrong. depends on how cool your mug is i guess :)

  • danielle
    September 10, 2007

    sorry, i meant to say i don’t doubt churches have the best of intentions when they do these things…

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