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Friday, January 27, 2006

The Bible Way To Do Church

BiblewayThis story comes to us from the Slice of Laodicea blog.  SOL is a blog that I enjoy reading from time to time, but usually don't agree with much I read there.  (I know they read MMI and feel the same way!)  :)  But I think much can be gained from reading each other's thoughts and ideas.  We agree least on our methodologies for spreading the gospel... this is a great example of our differences.  (And I know that we have people from both sides of the arguement that read MMI, which is great!)

SOL writes:  Hats off to First Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois. Praise the Lord for this kind of church. What an encouragement this is.

The picture above and below are actual billboards that First Baptist has purchased in their city.  Supposedly, the billboard above was in response to a seeker-sensitive church's billboard that said they were "A Different Way to Do Church".


Here's a little more explanation at First Baptist's website:

"Every church has distinctives, and certain people fit better in a church that matches their theological and philosophical convictions. We at First Baptist Church know that there are people in Rockford who are looking for a church with the characteristics we emphasize like being conservative, Bible-driven, reverent in worship, and God-centered as opposed to entertainment-driven and  man-centered.

Several families with philosophies that match ours have attended our church and said, "Boy, we wouldn't have known you were here except that we happened to drive by!"

Our billboards and radio spots are an attempt to solve that problem. They are simply a way of saying, "Here is what First Baptist Church is and is not. If this fits you, come visit us."

OK... my little bit of commentary, for what it's worth (and that's not much!)... 

Of course my first comment would be how exactly they are defining that they are doing church the 'Bible' way?  The two things they show on their billboard are a cross and stained glass windows.  Both are extra-biblical; and actually, both are signs of First Baptist's cultural relevance (albeit from 50 years ago).  Neither are 'the Bible way'.

But that aside... Who exactly is this church trying to reach?   It would seem to me that the target audience would be people in their town who are already Christians.  Am I wrong?

If I'm an unsaved person in Rockford and I see this first billboard, my reaction would probably be something like... "Oh... they've got the market cornered... they know how to do it... they do it the BIBLE way (the inference is that the other churches in town don't, and I think that's a proper inference); this would fit into what many people think about churches (and sorry to say it... Baptist Churches) and would probably be one of the main reasons that the unsaved don't ever darken the doors of any church.

The same about the 'entertainment' billboard.  What is their hope for this billboard?  It definitely tells their philosphy of ministry; but would it ever be effective at bringing an unsaved person through their doors.  I really doubt it.

Here's what the focus/target person looks like to me:  someone (a Christian) who is disgruntled with their current church.  Maybe the music is too contemporary; maybe they're upset with the leadership; maybe they are disgruntled.  They are the ones who will look at these billboards and say, "Hey... let's give First Baptist a try".

So, to me, this 'modern marketing campaign' seems to not only repel those who they may think they are targeting; and encourage others (who are already Christians; disgrunteled Christians, none the less) to try out their church.

Again... I cry out for some balance.  I know that FBC probably cringes when they hear the word 'relevent'.  That's not a word that this church will probably ever embrace.  But while they hold on to their 'reverent worship' and 'conservativeness', people in Rockford are dying without Christ.

I in no way question the faith of FBC Rockford.  I do however, question their strategy.  That's why I must respectfully disagree with Slice of Leodicea that seeing this type of a church is an encouragement.  To me, it largely misses the target.

Commentary over... your turn...


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January 27, 2006 in Trends in Today's Church | Permalink

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Tracked on Feb 1, 2006 2:49:53 PM


Okay, I cannot BELIEVE I'm going to defend this church, but here goes. My experience is that there's a tremendous number of "de-churched" in many places, my town included. These people might see an ad like this, be reminded of the life in Christ they once enjoyed, and go back to church for the first time in years or in decades because of it.

There are people who come to our church for a few weeks or a few months, and realize that our contemporary worship is just not their cup of tea after all. I'd SO much rather they saw an ad like this and kept "attending" church than not... (We encourage people who complain about our worship services to try other churches from time to time, so I wouldn't mind an ad like this doing the same thing.)

My guess is that FBC does not INTEND to increase their size by "transfer growth" (I HOPE to GOD I'm not wrong about that) but this kind of ad does seem like it would result in that growth, so I share your concern as well, Todd.

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Jan 27, 2006 9:57:31 AM

I have to agree with the article and Peter.. God loves variety.. If he didn't he would have cookie cutter looking people. There isn't much variety in that now is there...
Also that is why ever church and christian are very unique, is the difference between it all. We are usually scared of the things that are different..

Posted by: Clairvoyent 1 | Jan 27, 2006 10:04:27 AM

Absolutely, guys... I think this church definitely has a place and a need to fill in the Kingdom. Don't get me wrong.

But I just wonder if they are maybe thinking they are a shining beacon to the unsaved world; you know, 'letting their light' shine; when really they are really only appealing to others who are just like themselves.

That is, where I think, where the danger (not sure that's a great word, but it's all I can think of) lies.


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Jan 27, 2006 10:14:25 AM

Well, Todd, you may be right, especially if you go to their site and read their philosophy of worship... You can indeed infer that they have quite a bit of "We've got it right, and y'all don't" mentality. I can't say that for sure because it's only a web site, but I do know if I moved to their town and read their web site, I don't believe I'd even darken their door.

But I can say that even though our leadership here doesn't have the "We got it, you don't" mentality, it sometimes exists in some of our members... Something we ALWAYS have to be careful of...


Posted by: Peter Hamm | Jan 27, 2006 10:19:18 AM


Absolutely... that's always a tendency. Of course we think we do it the right way (cause that's the way we do it).

You know; that one of the biggest problems I have with this kind of church. I look at their church; and while I don't necessarily agree with their methodology, I still support them.

Churches like this, on the other hand, look at others who do things differently (even if they agree theologically) as being totally wrong.

Theologically speaking; many of these churches and the more relevant churches are on the same page (although they would never see that). Theologically conservative; but culturally relevent vs. 'do not conform to this world'. That's where they rub comes in... in methodology.

Sadly, many people cannot differentiate between the two.


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Jan 27, 2006 10:25:56 AM

Wow... I can really resonate with Todd AND with Peter and Clairvoyent (though I must admit I am jealous.. are you really clairvoyent? because that would make my job a lot easier... 0 back to the point..)
I do believe that there are some people out there who "hit bottom" and go looking for a church. For some of these people, the church they are looking for is remembered to be very much like "that one" and the newer (contemporary) churches are just a little too scary or risky for someone who is already at the very end of their risk taking.
Some of these "seekers" are actually going to darken the door of 17th Baptist Church just because it looks and feels like the memory they have of what church is supposed to be...
So then the problem arises! If 17th Baptist is "proudly" what every other seeker church isn't... Will they welcome the down and out in a language of the Love of Christ and the Truth of the Gospel in tangible and relevant ways. Or, will the members at '17th' judge the downcast as "a possible prospect good enough to join in with us, but we'll wait and see if Jesus can do anything with him first"...
I personally believe (for those still reading) that society and culture have a world-view that '17th' cannot relevantly engage in a conversation of Grace... I, personally, am not so willing to embrace everything new or "emergent" either, but there is a new language and mind among our neighbors that "for the most part" view the "church on the corner" with the same interest they do the abandoned warehouse they see for lease on the side of the freeway...
THE MOST EFFECTIVE billboard for any church will always be its members walking alongside non-believers in real and grace-filled ways. I am realted to a few members of churches like '17th baptist' and I am proud to say that for their part... they walk as billboards, rather than putting up stone-throwing signs on the roadside.
I pray the grace to be the same type of witness for OUR church. (It isn't ours anyway.... I think the Biblical way is that the Church belongs to a guy named Jesus). IMAGINE if people actually new your church exsisted because they know you. Now that's an AD campaign!

Posted by: Jeff | Jan 27, 2006 10:34:52 AM


"But I just wonder if they are maybe thinking they are a shining beacon to the unsaved world; you know, 'letting their light' shine; when really they are really only appealing to others who are just like themselves."

Todd, the same can be said about many of your favorite organizations as well, so let's not throw stones in glass houses, okay?

It's all about marketing, isn't it? For "churches" that usually means transfer growth from other "churches" instead of actually filling their pews with the "lost."

The vast majority of those who need Christ (I'd predict about 99%) would never attend a "church" based on their slogan but rather what they hear about that organization.

Posted by: Ricky | Jan 27, 2006 12:14:53 PM

Ricky writes [Todd, the same can be said about many of your favorite organizations as well, so let's not throw stones in glass houses, okay?]

Ricky, you're right, I say keep tossing those stones, and if we break a few of our own "windows" maybe they needed to be replaced anyway!

In other words, if we are AIMING for transfer growth, we're missing the boat, no matter what our "style" is.

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Jan 27, 2006 12:21:09 PM


First before I take a stab at this one guarantee me this is not a joke post.


Posted by: Ian | Jan 27, 2006 12:25:33 PM

Several have already pointed this out.

The target audience of this church is obvious . . . Christians. A completely unchurched person would drive by and think "Huh?? Aren't all churches "bible churches? What's the deal about entertainment?" The unchurched person would be oblivious to the intent of these messages.

But any Chrisitan who hasn't had their head in the sand the past few years knows full well that First Baptist is trying to tell Christians who drive by "We ARE NOT Purpose Driven or seeker sensitive, just entertaining people with watered down, feel good messages."

And I can't see how a church that aims at growing by reaching the already saved can possibly call itself a Bible church anyway, since that isn't how Jesus instructed us to grow our churches.


Posted by: Wendi | Jan 27, 2006 12:44:09 PM

What a waste of money!

The bible way?
The bible way was on dirt floors or in homes... the bible way was no building at all. The bible way was getting beaten up and killed because you claimed the name of Christ. The bible way was living in persecution until 313AD.

The bible way?

Another thing:
Their ad was in "response" to another church calling themselves 'a different way to do church'. What the heck? So someone simply says "We're different than the others..." and you go spend $1000/month to blast them? Churches like this tend to have people on the inside who all look,talk,act,dress like each other as well. Their prejudice usually runs deeper than their 'commitment to the Bible'.

What's funny is that 15 years ago this church probably would have been against "Marketing Jesus" but ohh how times have changed.

I didn't realize that the Baptist Celebration Hymnal was around during Paul's day. I must have missed that part in the bible... maybe I SHOULD attend their church.

I firmly believe that the staff KNOW they will only get transfer growth. NOTHING about this advertisement in ANY WAY targets someone who doesn't know Jesus. This ad targets the other church in town like a 5th grade bully. The people attracted to this church will by whining cry-baby Christians with lint in their navals and pew impressions in their rear ends.

Come to think of it... this may be a great thing. Let's get all of the Career Christians in one building each week so the rest of us have room for those who don't know Christ and are headed to a real eternity without him. Keep up the great work FBC.

Posted by: Tally | Jan 27, 2006 12:46:52 PM

No Ian... you can go to their website (the link is provided) to check it out for sure.


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Jan 27, 2006 1:00:29 PM


"A completely unchurched person would drive by and think 'Huh?? Aren't all churches "bible churches? What's the deal about entertainment?'"

I believe that a "completely unchurched person" would drive by and think that the "church" is no different than the dozens of businesses he/she drives by who attempt to separate themselves from their competition through the use of slogans.

In other words, "Business as usual."

Posted by: Ricky | Jan 27, 2006 1:02:24 PM

Ricky - yes, you are more right than I. The unchurched person would probably not give it a passing thought.

Which is my point pretty much. This church spent the money God provided to market themselves to dissatisfied (and in my opinion self-righteous) Christians. I'm not sure how they can justify spending resources in this way.


Posted by: Wendi | Jan 27, 2006 1:10:14 PM

Interesting topic. I am currently Interim Pastoring at a church that is going through what it seems to me is the central point. How does God want us to do church. It seems that the 'Bible way' is not pews or chairs, 'Bat cave' or light colored ceilings, rather it is the struggle to show the love of Christ in a way that can be received. It is necessary to have a place where disgruntled christians can become less gruntled (or do they need to be more?) It is also critical to have a place where people who do not know God can be introduced and then aided in growth in that relationship. What if we could find the perfect way to do those things? The sad part to me resides in my heart when I think I have found that way (even when the majority of the population does not know God)and you are wrong (at least) if you dont agree.

Posted by: Layne | Jan 27, 2006 1:34:04 PM

"The Bible Way" is not a unique criticism, everyone wants to interpret a "Bible Way". The early church did not have a "Bible Way" as a matter of fact they did not have the whole Bible. They had a "follow the lead of the Holy Spirit Way" and a "Honor One Another Way". I grew up Baptist and have moved to an Evangelical Friends way of expression. The baggage of "exclusive indipendent Baptist Christianity" continues to plague my ability to enjoy God. It is not just Baptist that do it, even a Friends expression can create a situation in which we begin to follow tradition and law rather than the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Being led of the Spirit and knowing God's word is the best way to do "Church". An interesting Blog to check out is He has some thoughts on the word church and its origins.

We would do better trying to reach unbelievers if we would encourage our church members/attenders to spend one night a week inviting someone over to there house for dinner. (Someone who does not attend a Christian worship expression) It seems like most Christians have lost the art of hospitality and civility. It is much easier to sit in a pew or comfy chair on Sunday morning than hang out with unbelievers and offer hospitality to them. My wife and I have been doing this for 2 years now and have found God working in the lives of people in amazing ways. People need opportunity to relax and discuss "real life" issues as they approach the throne of God's grace. We have found the "home hospitality" thing a great tool in the work of sharing God's love to this crazy world.

Blessings... I like your blog and congrats on selling the other site! I assume it was a big blessing to the family!

Posted by: Bill | Jan 27, 2006 1:35:57 PM

As I read through the comments on this, I started noticing a quite discomforting amount of hypocrisy. Of course, being perfect myself I noticed that all of YOU are being hypocritical. Then I pulled that pesky log out of my eye and saw the hypocrisy in myself, as well.

Many of our comments are slamming FBC Rockford ... for what? Because THEY slammed the seeker-sensitive, "entertainment-driven" churches in their neighborhood. Because their philosophy of ministry is different than our own.

I'm going to pick on one of your comments, Todd - but only because you said it quite clearly and you said it before I would have. "...this church definitely has a place and a need to fill in the Kingdom." Isn't that sort of patronizing? It's kind of saying, 'Well, I disagree with them and their philosophy, but I guess God can still use them in their own small world.'

Many of the articles and comments posted here at MMI clearly are intended as ways to sharpen each other, to spur one another on (to search the scriptures and to new but still biblical ways of thinking, if not to "love and good deeds"). I've got to wonder, though, What's the purpose of this article? It just seems like an excuse to bash a church that operates differently.

Please understand, everyone: I largely share the opinions you've expressed here. I probably would have expressed many of them myself, if you hadn't beaten me to the punch. It's just that in reading your comments (and thus hearing my own thoughts), it doesn't seem that we are out to build up one another ... or FBC.

Just a call for a gut check.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Jan 27, 2006 2:00:55 PM

First of all this Church is falling for the same trap I bought into awhile ago that somehow we can "do Church", we "are" the Church, there is a big difference. If we all better understand that, we will somehow find that Churches will begin to look all too similar. I admire Todd's desire to find some balance here but at the same time his comments demonstrate ideas (innovative Church influence) that are pushing churches to use a billboard like this. Thus the inbalance. Namely being his immediate focus on the "unchurched". (BTW I am getting sick of saying that) Now if I understand the Bible correctly the Church didn't assemble together for the sole purpose of reaching the "unchurched".

"If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?"

The lost needs to be reached but is our assembling together our best opportunity to do so? I think not.

I think this billboard is trying to say we are a CHURCH. There saying come here, we don't say: "don't pastor them too early", or "this Church is not for you". I like it for some reasons ans dislike it for other but not the reasons Todd gives. BTW there is a Bible way. I like that part.

Peace out

Posted by: Ian | Jan 27, 2006 2:20:09 PM

Bill, you say [We would do better trying to reach unbelievers if we would encourage our church members/attenders to spend one night a week inviting someone over to there house for dinner.]

AMEN! What a GREAT idea! (Have you read Mark Mittelberg or Gary Poole? They'd love that idea, too!)


Posted by: Peter Hamm | Jan 27, 2006 2:37:32 PM

I agree too Peter

Posted by: Ian | Jan 27, 2006 2:38:28 PM

Todd, you know what man... I never thought of it that way until I read your post. Do you smell something burning that is my mind shifting gears dude.. Still thinking...

I didn't see that before when I read the article earlier. I do see the danger in that though. There is good and bad in everything we attempt to do at times.

I can see where they will gladly pat themselves on the back without even giving all the glory to God. That in itself is wrong.

Posted by: Clairvoyent 1 | Jan 27, 2006 2:51:35 PM

Good gut check, Randy.

I really don't think I'm being patronizing; and I certainly didn't mean it to sound that way.

You see, I could've grown up in that church. I think I understand who they are and why they feel the way they do. Like the article yesterday about "Why I Am No Longer a Fundamentalist", I very much respect the grounding in God's word that my background and upbringing gave me. But I also see how the legalism and the feeling that 'we do it right and everyone else is wrong' mentality plays out not only to others in the Kingdom but others outside the Kingdom.

So, I guess my point in saying that in the first place is that I acknowledge that God uses their type of ministry (even though I would never want to go back to that implementation of ministry again). That's much different than how they would view me (or any other different church from them).

My post wasn't at all to bash. Bashing is too simple a thing to do (and I can be very good at it). The purpose of my post was to say that I think the target of their advertising was other Christians and not the lost.

I'd be very suprised to hear someone from First Baptist say that they advertising was marketing toward other Christians. My point is, if they think they will be reaching non-christians, then they'll be badly disappointed because I don't think it will work.

I grew up in this type of church (from what I have read about them on their website). Evangelism is a priority. Stealing sheep is not.

God will use First Baptist to bring certain people to Christ; just as he will use the seeker church to do the same. It's just too bad that while on earth, we seem to remain enemies in nature; rather than the family members of the Kingdom that we truely are.

That's the sad part.


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Jan 27, 2006 2:54:06 PM

Now don't you all take this the wrong way. I love my church dearly. When we first started going there in 2000 it had 250-275 people there. It is now six years later and it has grown to 1100- 1300 people. (THIS IS NOT A RUB IN YOUR FACE STATEMENT I AM ONLY GIVING YOU FACTS TO MAKE A POINT HERE.)

I don't know the numbers to the tee, but hearing what they have said at church 85-90% of those who attend or have joined have come there from other churches. 60% or more of them stated to our pastor, Todd when you all get the new church built we will attend, right now it is just to crowded in that small church.

Several things wrong with this.

1) This tells me that these people have to be catered to... Wrong..
2) This tells me that they want to be comfortable... Wrong..
3) This tells me they don't and won't get in the game help out.
4) This tells me they want to attend and be part of this church but they want the braging rights when it comes down to it and they have not put there hands to the plow.
5) This is the type of people who are teaching Sunday School now... Reason being is because it's all who know..
Last, The ones who did do all the hard work rolled up their sleeves to help. Well they got swept under the carpet.

Posted by: Clairvoyent 1 | Jan 27, 2006 3:15:39 PM

This stream may have run it's course, but here's some more info...

The church they are "competing" against is Heartland Community Church, whose slogan is "A Different Way to Do Church." Heartland is, by most accounts, a modern church success story. They are very much in the Willow Creek mold, and when faced with a situation where they had no teaching pastor, they took a bold step and asked if they could just use Willow's teaching on DVD.

Willow agreed, and the church has grown to several thousand, all without their own teaching pastor. The success was part of the reason Willow undertook its own multisite strategy, convinced that people will sit and watch someone on a screen for 45 minutes.

I agree with many of you, that there is a place in the Kingdom for churches of First Baptist's style. What I really can't stand is this label of entertainment-oriented, or Christianity-lite. If they really believe that is true about a place like Willow, then they have obviously never heard Bill Hybels speak.

Posted by: Tim | Jan 27, 2006 3:43:28 PM

Hmm. A definition of entertainment is "to capture and hold ones attention for an extended period of time." Since we should be teaching the most important lessons of life, shouldn't those lessens 'capture and hold ones attention?"

As I read the Bible, it sure seems to me that Jesus was the most entertaining and thought provoking communicator of all time. Can you just imagine the surprise when he painted the mental image of a camel trying to squeeze through a needle? That sure captures my attention. And when the Bible describes how people 'marveled' at his wisdom and miracles? Great entertainment, no doubt, in an agriculturally focused society who lived pretty mundane lives. Feeding 5,000 men (not counting women and children!) with some fish and bread - and having 5,000 stick around to listen and even follow him from place to place!? That's certainly entertaining.

I suppose we take the word entertainment to mean unproductive time meant for pleasure only. But that's not what it means and, in my opinion, if you're not creatively engaging your community, it's time you learned from Jesus how to 'capture and hold someones attention for an extended period of time'. In other words, you better be entertaining and relevant.

Posted by: Anthony D. Coppedge | Jan 27, 2006 4:42:31 PM

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