It’s been a while since I made a post on the progress of my book, Close Your Church for Good. This is because several of the chapters I had written got pulled out for a future book, and others got rearranged. I guess this is why books don’t get written online like this…
So below is a section near the beginning of “Chapter 3.” The beginning of the chapter shows how most churches in most communities would not be missed if they were to close. I already made two posts (Part 1 and Part 2) on this back in July. We pick up there.
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Many believe the primary problem is that of image and perception. We believe we are misunderstood. We know our hearts and our motives, and how we want to help people learn and live the truth of the Gospel, but for some reason, the average person on the street has a somewhat negative perception of the church. They read about church corruption and pastoral sex scandals in the newspapers, and they don’t trust us. Some have tried attending a church, but got burned. They are tired of being asked for money. As a result, the average person thinks the church is greedy, hypocritical, unforgiving, judgmental, harsh, and selfish.
Of course, the average churchgoer believes just the opposite. People who attend church believe their fellowship is warm, friendly, gracious, generous, and compassionate. The fact that non-churchgoers think differently shocks us. We are certain that people who distrust church would like it if they just visited ours. Maybe they had a bad experience in another church, or as a kid when they were growing up, but things are different now. Our church is not like those other churches.
But how can we get them to visit if they don’t trust churches in general? People won’t come to church when we invite them unless they first begin to change their perceptions about the church. How can this be done if we can’t them to attend?
Typically, a church faced with this dilemma embarks on a public relations campaign borrowed straight from the pages of Corporate America’s User Manual. When Toyota recalls millions of cars for sticky gas pedals, they simultaneously air commercials on television about all the safety awards they have won. When a BP oil rig spews oil in the Gulf, Florida rolls out advertisements about how their beaches are still safe and clean. When the antenna on the new iPhone doesn’t work properly, Apple sends all users a coupon for a free case.
So churches do the same thing. To counteract our negative image in the public arena, we develop slogans like “First Community Church: The Perfect Church for People Who Aren’t” or “Grace Church: A Hospital for the Hurting.” Then, once the image and slogan are developed, the campaign really begins in earnest. People are invited to come as they are, and reminded that we’re all sinners on the road to change. Signs and banners are displayed around the church so the members understand (and hopefully live) what is taught. Sermon series are preached on the themes of forgiveness and love. Air time is purchased on television and radio to run commercials about how great and loving our church is.
Then we sit back and wait for the people to arrive so we can really begin to show them how loving we are.
The problem, however, is that the public relations campaign doesn’t always work. If anything, the perspective of outsiders only gets worse. At least, that’s what happened in my church.