“Shrinking mainline Protestant denominations are turning to marketing to help stem decades of membership losses and stay afloat.” So begins an Associated Press article I recently read in my local newspaper. It seems churches, such as the United Methodist Church, believe large amounts of advertising dollars will help fill the pews again. The Methodists are spending $20 million on their ad campaign.
I can’t help but wonder, what would Jesus do if he were in charge of filling the pews? Would he throw money at the problem of dwindling attendance, or something else?
Jesus and his apostles were faced with a similar challenge around 2000 years ago; how to increase attendance. And yet in a single day, the church in Jerusalem added 3000 new members (Acts 2:41). Christianity spread throughout the Mediterranean in a phenomenally rapid manner, and without the help of television, the internet, or pesky telemarketers. How did they do it? What was their “marketing” secret?
The answers to these questions illustrate the differences between them and today’s mainline churches. The first church leaders devoted themselves to the truth. They were passionate about spreading the truth of the gospel. Their message was not always popular, and many lost their lives because of it, but that didn’t stop them from sticking to the truth.
Today’s mainline churches take a different approach. Many of them preach whatever they think would be a popular message, the politically correct message, with little regard for the truth. They have lost touch with Jesus. That is why they continue to shrink; they are no longer attached to the true vine. When a branch is cut from the vine, it shrivels up and dies. That is what is happening to many mainline churches today, and no amount of advertising will help. What they need to do is become re-attached to Jesus.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5-6)
I dare say that the $20 million from the Methodist Church would be better spent feeding the poor, rather than feeding Madison Avenue ad agencies.