Monday, July 14, 2008

When Attractional Youth Ministry Goes Too Far

A church in Oklahoma recently canceled their big giveaway at their annual youth conference. The big prize: an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle. Read the story here.

To quote the youth pastor, Bob Ross (not to be confused with this guy): "it's a way of trying to encourage young people to attend the event." The church spent $800 purchasing the gun for the giveaway. To be fair, Ross says that "we have 21 hours of preaching and teaching throughout the week." That's an average of 3 hours of sermons per day, which is pretty intense.

Why was the giveaway cancelled? Because someone realized that giving away free guns to teenagers isn't wise, nor is it ministry? Nope. Because another pastor helping run the event injured his foot and couldn't attend.

When leaders in ministry get caught up in doing anything and everything to attract people and build their numbers instead of loving people and pointing them to Jesus in authentic and meaningful ways, the beauty of the Gospel gets lost. It's a bit of a mixed message to say, "Love you enemies; take care of the poor; speak out against injustice; now here's an $800 assault rifle." When the message and the methodology aren't coherent, it creates confusion. My youth group would be huge if I gave away a free X-Box or iPod every week. But it feels like a bait-and-switch routine when we offer expensive prizes so that we can slip in a word about Jesus once we have their attention.

If the medium is the message, then what message does "free guns" send to youth? To parents? To those outside the church? I'm not against prizes or holding attractive events in ministry; I would simply encourage those involved in youth ministry to be wise with their resources and methods so that the message of Jesus isn't distorted by our medium.

Any thoughts?

*Update: The church reports on their website that they are resuming the gun giveaway. Someone has donated a shotgun as the prize. While a shotgun is arguably better than an assault rifle, it is still giving away firearms as prizes in the name of Jesus. The message is still distorted by the medium.

Quote from the website: "If Congress, back when our country was fighting for its independence, could give engraved muskets to the fifteen eleven-year-old boys that their teacher, Mr. Akins, led into battle against the British, then we can give away a firearm still today...."


  1. Absolutley. It's like in the homeless shelters that make their guests sit through a sermon before they'll give them dinner. I just don't think that's teaching them anything positive about the gospel. Feed them, love them, and preach with words to the ones that want to hear. You've already showed them the gospel with your kindness.

  2. I couldn't agree more. We really have to give careful thought to what our actions communicate to youth about what we are really all about. Unless that church could imagine themeselves advertising the event with a poster of Jesus handing a teenager an assault rifle, they need to be doing some careful introspection. I hope you are right in calling it bait and switch.