There are times when I wonder whether American evangelicalism, or at least some segments of it, has completely taken leave of its senses. For some, so crushing is the need to grow, so desperate the desire to get bodies in the door, so thorough the identification of church growth with evangelism, that literally any means to get people in the building becomes acceptable. Exhibit A: Bay Area Fellowship Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, where Pastor Bil Cornelius has dreamed up an “Ultimate Giveaway” gimmick that will flood his megachurch with slavering materialists this Easter. According to the Christian Post:
Easter at a megachurch in Corpus Christi, Texas, will look like the popular TV game show “The Price Is Right.”
Sixteen cars, 15 flat-screen televisions, furniture sets and other prizes are lined up at Bay Area Fellowship Church and ready to be claimed by anyone who attends the church’s Easter services on Sunday.
Though the church of some 7,000 weekly attendees has regularly flexed its creative muscles to draw the unchurched, the upcoming “Ultimate Giveaway” is like no other outreach it has ever attempted.
Pastor Bil Cornelius, who made the game show analogy, admits it’s a bit “outrageous.”
But he sees it as “an opportunity to share Christ with people who may never go to a church for any reason,” he told The Christian Post.
So to draw them in, he’s going to give them a reason: score big in the ecclesiastical lottery. Oh, yes, they’ll also be exposed to Bay Area’s flashy rock-show worship and Bil Cornelius’ no doubt irresistable personality, but what makes him think that people who “never go to a church for any reason” will be any more open to the message just because they have a chance to take home some filthy lucre?
Of course, this is all in the service of a painfully obvious metaphor:
The “ultimate” giveaway, however, will be the free gift of heaven and Christ.
“We hope to show people that while it is exciting to receive free stuff here on Earth, the greatest free gift of all time is something we haven’t yet seen, but can enjoy for all eternity,” said Cornelius, who started the church 12 years ago with five people.
So he’s turning his church into a weekend freak show so that he can make a point that I can make with Hershey’s kisses in a children’s sermon. I guess I just don’t think big enough.
But as is always the case with this kind of circus act, there’s the ultimate justification:
Cornelius acknowledges that the Easter giveaway has drawn some “pretty strong” criticism from other believers, some of whom accuse the pastor of turning Jesus into a product.
But the Texas megachurch pastor responded to the critics, saying: “[I]f just one of their children were lost and found Christ through this program (that they may not approve of), I bet they’d be glad we did it.”
Nope. I’m not biting at that particular piece of demonic fruit. Acting unethically in the service of the gospel is acting unethically, period. The end doesn’t justify the means when God’s involved any more than any other time. And I won’t even go into the rank Pelagianism that lies behind this kind of nonsense. (I don’t know for a fact, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bil Cornelius can’t even spell “Pelagianism,” much less have any idea what it is.)
Bay Area Fellowship and its pastor have sold their collective soul to the god of church growth. I hope they’re happy.
UPDATE: Apparently there’s been a lot of criticism of this (gee, I wonder why). Bil Cornelius responds at the Bil Cornelius Ministries web site:
It’s understandable to be upset when someone knocks the church you attend. Just remember, they are not knocking you, they are knocking me, and I’m okay with it. Most of the people who are criticizing our Easter plans are not the kind of people we are trying to reach, so no worries. Although it certainly is not my desire to anger people, as long as the unchurched are being reached in a God-honoring way, then just pray for God’s best and stay above the fray (the negativity). I’m so proud of our people for being so generous, in giving all the prizes and bikes that will be given away this Easter! Free gifts draw people to malls and stores, so why not God’s House? In fact, the Ultimate Free Gift is what Easter is all about! [Emphasis added.]
That’s the problem, Bil. Giving away cars and TVs to get people in the auditorium honors not God, but American materialism. At the same time that Christ calls on His disciples to lay down their lives and carry the cross and put aside everything that stands in the way of following Him, you’re loading people down with more stuff, and getting them in the door by appealing to their inner Gecko. That is the exact opposite of what Easter is about.