March 30, 2021

Church Advertising Ahead of Easter Makes Them Seem Desperate

easter

An extremely successful business that has as many customers as it can reasonably handle might not need to invest much in advertising. Unless it has the resources to grow, one would think that advertising would be a rather low priority. And so, if we were to see a business advertising in such a way that made it look desperate, we would be tempted to conclude that it might not be doing so well.

I scanned the image to the right after it showed up in my mailbox shortly before Easter in 2014 in the form of a slick 5x7 postcard. The back was an invitation to attend Easter services at the largest Southern Baptist megachurch in the Mississippi town where I live.

Based on the quality of the thick card stock and the colorful, glossy image, I have to assume these were not inexpensive to print and mail. It seems like something far more positive than boosting their attendance for a day could have been accomplished with this money. Then again, I suppose increased attendance would likely lead to increased donations.

How cynical of me! Aren't they doing this mostly to spread the "good news" in which they claim to believe? Maybe. I'm not ready to rule that out as a possible explanation. But more and more, I find myself suspicious that many Christians living in the United States today do not genuinely believe much of what they claim to believe. At least, very few seem to live their lives as if they believed much of what they say they believe. This often looks like hypocrisy, but I suppose it could be something else. Perhaps Christians find strength, social acceptance, or other benefits from their claims of belief.

When I look at this mailing and others like it, I cannot help but find it a bit surprising that a church, especially this massive megachurch, would need to advertise Easter services. In the days when I was forced to attend church, one could always count on it being full on Easter and Christmas. That said, the church I attended as a child was no megachurch. I guess it must be fairly difficult to fill those without a celebrity pastor or some other hook, even on Easter.

Since I have lived in Mississippi, I'd estimate that I receive church advertisements in my mailbox roughly 2-3 times each month. I don't recall receiving these from established churches anywhere else I've lived; I can only remember the new churches advertising like this. I suppose this may be a reflection of how many more churches per capita there are here. More churches means more competition to fill the pews, but it does seem a bit surprising that they would need to advertise Easter services.

If recently reported trends of declining church membership continue, I suppose we may see more and more churches resorting to advertising to save themselves. I think they face at least two problems besides the mere existence of the Internet. First, I think many people are finding that what they hear at church seems less relevant in our modern world than it used to. There may still be some appeal for some people, but the COVID-19 pandemic helped to show many of them they can live without it and that some of the promises we heard turned out to be lies. Second, ongoing bigotry, opposition to human rights, and child rape scandals have collectively tarnished organized religion in a way that makes it difficult to recover. It isn't that every church has been equally complicit in this stuff; it is probably enough that young people have been learning to associate these things with organized religion.

An early version of this post first appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2014. It was revised and expanded in 2021.