Go to church and… get paid?

A Pentecostal church in Harvey, IL is paying folks to come visit this Sunday – $25 for each first-time visitor over the age of 16. The only stipulation is that you’re there on time and stay for the whole service. Oh, and if there’s more than 75 people who show up, you’re out of luck.

Reports the Chicago Tribune,

Though church leaders and members are aware that handing out money to bring in new visitors is an unusual tactic, they believe the spiritual message their church delivers is powerful enough to reach people who may come just for the money.

“It doesn’t matter how we get them in the door as long as we get them here,” said Rev. Anthony Cox, the church’s co-pastor.

Apparently, United Pentecostal Church of Harvey is not alone. Clearview Community Church (Sioux City, IA) once offered tickets to a Jerry Seinfeld performance and to movies, and $10 gas cards.

An interesting though, no? Off hand, I can’t think of any reason why it would be wrong exactly, but it sure doesn’t seem right. There’s certainly no model for it in Scripture, but then again there’s no model in Scripture for, say, Vacation Bible Schools or any number of church programs that nobody thinks anything of.

I certainly take issue with his statement (quoted above) about it not mattering how we get people in the door. Clearly, the church has already overstepped Scriptural bounds in other ways (see their website for details), and, as Dr. Bob Sr. would say, “It’s never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right.” So, we’re back to the question, is it wrong to pay people to come to church? And, reserving the right to change my mind after further study and reflection, right now I can’t think of anything that would make it wrong in and of itself.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I would do it.  It doesn’t speek of “taking up your cross” or “denying self” when you come to church to get 25 greenbacks. And it doesn’t seem likely that folks who come for the money will stay once it’s gone, or even that they’ll listen to the message presented while they are there. (I wonder how many people will show up with ipods, books, etc, and try to claim $25 for sitting through the service?) Hmm….

What are your thoughts?

Update: My friend Jason Morhardt (best man in my wedding and college debate partner) responded with a well-reasoned analysis. Given our proclivity for debate analogies, he presented it in classic debate form. If you don’t understand all the debate terms, that’s ok – you should still be able to follow the drift of his argument. I quote, with minor edits and bracketed explanations:

The resolution: The church should increase its efforts to win more souls for Christ (which I presume is the intent of this church).

The weakest part of this plan is… the solvency [solvency requires the plan presented to actually solve the harms. In this case, the “plan” is to give out $25, and the harm [[problem]] is that not enough people are coming to church]….

Is it feasible [will it work]? Yes. Why? Because it plays on the bad in man’s heart.
Is it solvent? Probably not. Why? for the very reason it’s feasable….

Against this plan I would run a counter-plan. Take that $1875 and set up a soup kitchen to showcase the love of God to people who have real needs. Or set up a kids basketball league that showcases the regenerate heart of church-going teenagers to the other teens in a community.

Is this plan feasible? Yes Why? Because it invites people to participate in cooperation with a church activity that is clearly different than anything else. It’s a meeting on common ground (and I would hope that this is not so of the first plan advanced!) of two unlike groups.

Is it solvent? Probably. Why? Because it draws people to God for the good reasons: love, hope, peace, companionship, etc.

So, from a pragmatic point of view, I don’t think that those first 75 will stay unless you keep paying them, and I don’t think that it will honestly change their lives. No solvency, no accomplishment of the resolution. Negative Wins….
He concludes with a most important observation: “Over all this discussion is one unknown, uncontrollable factor that is more powerful even than man’s heart: the Holy Spirit.”

Update: The Tribune article cited above said that the cash would go to only the first 75 visitors, but other articles seem to indicate that the number was actually 150. At any rate, church leaders were quoted as saying they expected about 150 people to show up. Turns out, $25 wasn’t enough to motivate most people. Either that, or they instinctively figured out that something is wrong with getting paid to go to church! At any rate, says the NWI Times, only 38 showed up. It also noted that they baptized seven of the visitors. My guess is that it wasn’t by immersion! ; )

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