I’m currently in New Zealand, where so far I have had the opportunity to preach in three churches in Auckland. Without exception I have been given a warm welcome, and clearly that is what ultimately counts. However, if the truth be told, all three churches I visited could have improved their publicity. At the risk of losing a host of new friends, let me illustrate.
My first Sunday I preached at Green Lane Christian Centre, a ‘mega’ independent church in Auckland. To my surprise there were no directions to the church – I gather that in the past there were, but for reasons I do not understand they have disappeared. The difficulty visitors face in finding the church is that it is not on Green Lane – rather it is off Green Lane. To make matters more complicated, to find one’s way by car to the church involves turning off Green Lane down one street, then turning off onto another street, before turning off onto another street. Perhaps in these days of GPS and church web-sites there is no need for directions. On the other hand, why not make it a little easier for visitors to find their way to church.
On arriving at Green Lane I was given a church ‘bulletin’. There I discovered Green Lane’s present strap-line: ‘Not just church, but a way of life’. Undoubtedly snappy, I confess that I was unclear about the meaning of the strapline. What is this way of life? Is this about the new life that Jesus offers to me as an individual? Or is this about the new life together which we can experience in the family of God? Maybe it is good to have a strapline which is unclear – there is perhaps something to be said for provoking visitors to think. But why at the same time ‘knock’ the church? I was puzzled.
The next Sunday I preached at Orakei Baptist Church. Although also not on a main road, there was at least a sign-post directing me to the church from the main road. Somewhat amusingly, the church was using as a sub-title, ‘The church on the hill’. For although the church was set on a hill with a marvellous view of the Waitemata harbour, the reality is that Orakei as indeed Auckland in general is full of hills. There must be scores of churches on a hill!
Like Green Lane, Orakei Baptist had a strapline: ‘Real God… real life’. With my non-church hat on I wondered if people passing by would think it was somewhat corny? It is reminiscent of the long-running slogan for Coco Cola – ‘It’s the real thing’! In a British context it might be belated publicity for a book by that name published by Hodder & Stoughton. But are non church people actually looking for ‘Real God’ and ‘real life’? I would argue that more people are looking for real friendship and real community. Hence the slogan I devised for Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford – ‘a place to belong’.
The following Sunday I preached at Eastview Baptist Church, which is situated at 559 Chapel Lane, Botany Downs. To my surprise I had been told to look out for the number – and with good reason for I have never seen such an enormous street number. Painted toward the top of the building, if I remember correctly, it must have been some six foot in height. Only when I drew up to the church did I actually see the name of the church. Strangely the church did sport an enormous bill board – but instead of advertising the church or indeed the Christian faith, it was advertising baked beans or something similar. To be fair, the church was still paying off the debt on its new premises, and as a result of renting out the billboard the church had earned some £50,000. Perhaps the one positive is that the number of the church wasn’t 666 (the mark of the beast, for those not familiar with the Book of Revelation)!
As far as I could see, Eastview did not have a strapline. Instead, the weekly ‘bulletin’ featured a wordy and convoluted church mission statement: “To know Christ and share his love with others through his presence and renewal in our church life together”. It sounded as if it had been a statement which had been amended by a church meeting! Forgive me if I seem to be awkward and over-critical, but I am not at all sure what the mission statement actually meant; furthermore, I am certain that a non-church visitor wouldn’t have a clue either.
Thank God, at the end of the day most people find faith as a result of friends rather than as a result of publicity. Nonetheless, this is no reason for churches not ensuring that they have the best of publicity. All it requires is some thought!