True story here. A big advertisement on a church website (full color, fancy splashy boxed ad) read: Welcome the Christmas Season with the Messiah. A Christmas Concert and a Christmas Sing-a-long.
A believer who lost a long-term job, who had scrounged enough part-time work to barely pay basic bills and buy minimum food for his family, was wondering how to get through the Christmas season without allowing sadness to overwhelm him. He loved music, loved to sing, though had no time with work demands to sing in a choir. He saw the advertisement about the Messiah and a bit of joy bubbled up as he thought, "This is something I can take my wife and kids to." In his heart, he blessed the church for providing this opportunity. He clicked on the link to find out more.
The link led to the information page where he found the church was charging $10 a person for tickets. His children were too old for the free ones. In addition, if you did not have your own song sheet for the sing-a-long, the advertisement informed you that you would need to buy a score sheet of the music and that would be an extra $10.
A very quick calculation told him that the total cost of that evening would be more than his family had budgeted for groceries for the week. He closed the computer, thankful that he hadn't shared his initial excitement with his wife or family
His situation is not unique
There are many brothers and sisters in Jesus who are out every week looking for work and being turned away. There are families who don't know what they will do to feed their families decently in the coming week, let alone how to provide any sort of Christmas celebration. The church could have chosen to give a free concert for anyone in the community. It is a very rich church, one of the largest in the community. But far worse than the selfishness of charging is what they did in the bait and switch of their advertising.
The church may not have thought of their advertising as bait and switch, but it was
On both their website and in the print advertising they did was the large promo of the event and then in little print at the bottom or on the website was the money that would be charged to attend. What makes this bait and switch, where one thing is expected, but reality is very different, so vile is:
- It was done by a church, an organization which one does not expect do to these sorts of things.
- It was totally unexpected, because for most Christmas events at most churches these is no charge.
- It allowed a person in despair (as so many are who are struggling without work this holiday season) to hope for a brief minute. It allowed the person to briefly envision a fun evening out, a time to rejoice, sing, and join in community to celebrate the birth of the Messiah.
- Instead of following through on the offer of a joyful family time, it delivered the pain of being shut out by the church because of finances. The one place that may have been a refuge can no longer be trusted. The place that advertised its caring has shown itself to be just another closed club for the financially comfortable.
What a different message it could have been to a heart raw with disappointment and pain if the message had been:
Join with us, sing with us the joyous message of the Messiah!
Free for all the family & bring your friends.
Let your heart soar with the wonder of God become man and more than a baby, but Savior.
Free cookies, cider, & chocolate afterwards as our church celebrates Christmas and sharing our church home and family with your family.
Communication with positive results
If the church did something like that, I don't imagine they would lack for new folks coming or members bringing friends. I imagine even without some of the great follow-up communications I encourage you to create for when people attend holiday events, that they would have had a number of people returning the following Sundays to find out more about the church.
But they didn't do that and at least one family will probably never, ever go there. And if church is mentioned, perhaps at the unemployment office when a fellow job seeker mentions the idea that maybe "the church might help them" the father will fight the bitter bile of remembered disappointment as he tries not to speak unkindly.
I don't know why the church chose to do what it did, but I pray that all of you will carefully plan and pray and think through every one of your planned Christmas celebrations and that you will keep in mind those with great needs this year. Please pray for how you can help and if your church cannot do more than it is, at least don't do anything to exclude anyone.