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Easter Ad Campaign Reaches Unchurched at Record Numbers

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : February 8, 2008

Rod Billings is the pastor of Journey Community Church in suburban Chicago. Started in the late 90s, Journey saw steady growth. By 2000, there were close to 3200 in attendance every week. But then things started to taper off.

“I don’t know what it was,” says Billings, a stylish, handsome man in his 40s. “We were seeing a lot of growth early on, but eventually it petered out. We tried all the major church-growth approaches to seek continued growth, but nothing worked. Even 40 Days of Purpose was a bust.”

By January of last year, attendance had settled around 3000 in attendance. It was then that Billings struck creative gold.

“My pastoral staff and I were pulling an all-night brainstorming session. We knew that we needed to think outside of the box. After all it was thinking outside of the box that helped us grow in the first place,” says Billings.

Indeed, the early success of Journey Community Church grew out of a daring, pioneering spirit: “We did things that non-churched folks hadn’t seen before. I wore jeans and a t-shirt when I was preaching. Our worship band played music not unlike the stuff we were hearing on the contemporary rock stations. And we used a mix of cutting-edge drama and edgy videos.”

According to Billings, the new “outside the box” idea struck at the end of their late-night brainstorming session. Says Billings, “I was tired and cranky. I was ready to call it quits when our community life and families pastor suggested that we ‘find out what seekers really want.’ When he said that, I knew exactly what we needed to do to reach the unchurched.”

The Birth of an Easter Campaign

According to Billings, the average unchurched person in suburban Chicago isn’t interested in religiosity. They want, he suggests, a “deep spirituality that fits into their busy schedule.” Instead of making Jesus challenging or complex, Billings offered a Jesus that “gives people exactly what they want.”

And Billings set off on a brilliant campaign that offered them just that. Last Easter, Journey Community Church launched its “Jesus died for” campaign. They sent mailers to 200,000 area residents with a positive message that “connects with the unchurched.” They also ran TV and radio spots on local television. Their ads centered around the message of Easter–the

death of Jesus Christ–but with a twist. Billings explains: “People don’t want to hear about their sins, and Jesus’ death for

those sins. Nor do they want to hear about how Jesus challenged the status quo. My church-goers have benefited from the status-quo, after all. Instead, I show them a Jesus who died for their problems, for their concerns.”

jesusdied.jpg

Pastor Billings credits last Easter’s mailer for the increase in weekly attendance–which is up to 4000. One new member, George Eliason praises the approach: “Look, I really love what Jesus offers. But most churches make it inconvenient to be a Christian. Journey does a great job conforming Christianity to me, rather than asking me to conform to some abstract “rules” spouted off 2000 years ago in the Middle East.”

The campaign has proven so successful that Billings and his team are planning on a similar campaign this year. In addition to the mailers and media coverage, Journey Community Church will be opening a Starbucks in the back of the sanctuary as an additional way of wooing busy families.

According to Billings: “If Jesus were alive today, he’d be pleased; we’re reaching a whole new generation of people with Jesus’ gentle message of acceptance and love.”

Editor’s Note: This post is a work of satire. 

Mark Van Steenwyk is the general editor of Jesus Manifesto. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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Comments

Viewing 11 Comments

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    Because Buddy Christ knows it's all about You; your car, your house, your needs, your comfort. I know that Christ says, "come to me all that are weary, and I will give you rest." But since when is Jesus a fix-all to grief that comes with living a self-centered life? Church marketing bugs me....
    • ^
    • v
    And to think...

    I've been busting my hump to find out what Jesus wants us to do...

    How could I have gotten it so backward?
    • ^
    • v
    Dude,

    That was an amazing piece of satire. I actually did a google on it to see if it was true before I noticed the "satire" comment. However, I am REALLY scared that I actually thought that it could be true... That's it! I could be true. Too many of us pastors are drinking the red kool-aid and bowing at the "success" or die god and missing the kingdom message all together - and it scares the shit out of me as a pastor as well... God, please keep us from this!
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    hahaha - "this post is a work of satire" - sounds like the words of someone who's had to explain that one too many times ;)

    Brilliant piece of satire, though, because the first half sounds like it could be a real report in a newspaper about some suburban Chicago church. It's brilliant, and it cuts (which is what satire is supposed to do, right?). Ouch!

    Keep up the good work. God's peace!
    • ^
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    Yeah... sadly enough it's too true to life to be called satire anymore...
    • ^
    • v
    Hey Todd...long time, no see. How are you doing?
    • ^
    • v
    At last a church that deals with my 401k.
    • ^
    • v
    "Oh people - that have you done
    locked Him in His golden cage.
    Made Him bennd to your religion (...)
    (...)
    So lean upon Him gently
    and don't call on Him to save you
    from your social graces
    and the sins you used waive."

    From Jethro Tull's "My God"
    • ^
    • v
    "I'm Jesus, and I approve this satire."
    • ^
    • v
    sounds like a jesus who would use the political rhetoric of the 2008 presidential campaigns. the church is his campaign headquarters.
    • ^
    • v
    Beautiful work. Sounded just like a marketer's dream until it got to the part about a Jesus that "gives people exactly what they want." So I cottoned to the satire JUST before the disclaimer. It is, however, getting harder to tell the difference from some real congregations having "rock" bands, "preachers" in T-shirts, video screens - Jesus as entertainment, dude. JESUS! Brought to you by (sponser of your choice)! And the fundies can't understand why we atheists laugh at them more each day?
 

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