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We are nearing the day many Christians look forward to all year. Yes, there’s the somber reflection and penitence of the Passion week, culminating in the resurrection of Jesus to celebrate on Easter Sunday, but there’s also some fabulous cash and prizes. Every year some churches seek to outdo themselves — and their local competition — by luring unbelievers (and I suppose interested believers) to their Easter service(s) with the promise of big shows and in some cases big giveaways. One guy in Texas made national news for giving away new cars. Another church has dropped prize-filled Easter eggs out of helicopters to gathered crowds below. Local churches with more modest budgets sometimes promise door prizes like iPods or iPads or gift certificates to local restaurants.

I think this is profoundly unwise and in many cases very, very silly. I want to offer ten general reasons why, but first some caveats: I’m not talking about a church giving out gifts to visitors. Gift cards, books, etc. to guests can be a sweet form of church hospitality. What I’m criticizing is the advertised promise of “cash and prizes” to attract people to the church service. Secondly, I know the folks doing these sorts of things are, for the most part, sincere believers who want people to know Jesus. But I don’t think good intentions authorizes bad methods. So:

Ten reasons luring people in with cash and prizes is not a good idea.

1. It creates buzz about cash and prizes, not the Easter event. When the media takes notice, nobody wants to interview these pastors about the resurrection. They want them to talk about the loot.

2. It identifies the church not with the resurrection, but with giving toys away. It makes us look like entertainment centers or providers of goods and services, not people of the Way who are centered on Christ.

3. Contrary to some offered justifications, giving prizes away is not parallel to Jesus’ providing for the crowds. Jesus healed people and fed them. This is not the same as giving un-poor people an iPod.

4. It appeals to greed and consumerism. There is no biblical precedent for appealing to one’s sin before telling them to repent of it. This is a nonsensical appeal.

5. Yes, Jesus said he would make us fishers of men, but extrapolating from this to devise all means of bait is not only unwarranted, it’s exegetically ignorant. The metaphor Jesus is offering here is just of people moving from the business of fishing to the business of the kingdom. There is no methodology being demonstrated here. (But the most common one would have been throwing out nets anyway, not baiting a hook.)

6. It is dishonest “bait and switch” methodology. Sure, the people coming for the goodies know they’re coming to church. But it’s still a disingenuous offer. The message of the gospel is not made for Trojan horses.

7. It demonstrates distrust in the compelling news that a man came back from the dead!! I mean, if nobody’s buying that amazing news, we can’t sell it to them with cheap gadgets.

8. It demonstrates distrust in the power of the gospel when we think we have to put it inside something more appealing to be effective. What the giveaways really communicate is that we think the gospel needs our help, and that our own community is not attractive enough in our living out of the implications of the gospel.

9. The emerging data from years of research into this kind of practice of marketing/evangelism attractional church stuff shows the kind of disciples it produces are not strong. I have no doubt these churches are going to see decisions Easter weekend. They’ll herald them on Twitter and on the blogs. As questionable a practice as that can be, I’d be extra interested in how discipled these folks are in a year or two years or three. Hype has always produced “decisions.” Would anyone argue that after 30 years or so of the attractional approach to evangelism the evangelical church is better off, more Christ-centered, more biblically mature?

10. What you win them with is what you win them to.

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12 thoughts on “10 Reasons Big Easter Giveaways are Unwise”

  1. Jon Nitta says:

    And the way you win them is the way you keep them. There is this gnawing “drive” then that you have to keep raising the attractional level to keep them engaged.

  2. Nick says:

    1. I didn’t even know this was a thing. 2. I can’t believe there is a need for an article to say this is stupid!

    …Only in America!…

  3. MT says:

    Hi Jared, would you take this same approach to Christmas events and the giving of gifts for that event?

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Michael, not sure. I’m opposed to this kind of bait and switch any time. But I’m not opposed to gift-giving. See the early paragraph on my caveats. Giving gifts to guests can be a good way for a church to be hospitable and gracious with visitors.

  4. Mark Z says:

    It’s interesting to me that the sorts of methods you have described are ones that have been prominently used in youth ministry for decades, but few people seem to take issue with that. I think that the “pizza and party” youth group model that I grew up with (and which I hope is on the way out) is faulty for all 10 reasons stated above.

  5. JK says:

    Great article.
    Very relevant for society today.
    As a citizen of Malaysia(the country that is in the MH370 issue), big churches here do this, and small churches that want to be big are doing this too. So it is not only an ‘American’ thing

  6. Dan S says:

    Thank you Jared, both examples you gave in your opening have occurred right here in my own city of Corpus Christi, TX; mega-giveaways of cars and gadgets to tens of thousands of people on Easter, and not one, but two separate churches doing helicopter egg drops to draw in crowds. If anyone thinks this is not actually happening in America and Jared is out in left field, come on down to south Texas! I pray people would see the truth of what you shared here brother and these pastors may repent of such things.

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, director of The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

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