a) I'm not talking about giving gifts to guests who attend. Gift cards, books, etc. to visitors can be a sweet form of church hospitality. I am talking about the use of "cash and prizes" to "lure" people to church on Easter.
b) I know the folks doing the luring are, for the most part, sincere believers who want people to know Jesus.
I have a hard time pinning down that this sort of thing is wrong, by which I mean "morally," but I do think it is profoundly unwise. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it.
Ten reasons luring people in with cash and prizes is gross and stupid:
1. It creates buzz about cash and prizes, not the Easter event. Nobody wants to interview these pastors because they want them to talk 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.
3. Giving toys 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 stupid. 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. But seriously, how lame is it to "lure" people some place to create a "captive audience"? Sure, they know they're coming to church. But it's 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!!
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.
9. We are just now seeing the data emerging from research of years of this kind of marketing/evangelism attractional church stuff, and the results are not good. I have no doubt these churches are going to see decisions this weekend. 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 this approach to evangelism the evangelical church is better off?
10. What you win them with is what you win them to.