Marketing at Church

Picture a man who will be 65 years old in July.  We’ll call him George.  Starting in January, George starts getting phone calls from insurance brokers that can guide him through the process to get a Medicare supplement that best suits his needs.  The calls start at about two per day and by May the frequency of calls is about 20 per day.  George is on the “No Call” list, but these brokers don’t care.  Who knows how many are actually trying to steal your identity.  It wouldn’t be hard.  They could convince George that they are legitimate insurance brokers, but they can’t give George a quote over the phone without knowing full name, address, date of birth, and SSN.  No big deal.  George simply hangs up on them.


About the same time, George receives two or three letters each week from insurance companies.  Oddly enough, the medical insurance company to which George was paying a small fortune each month never sent their advertisements until early June, too late.  They thought they had the hook firmly set.  After all, who wouldn’t want to pay over one third of one’s income to get an insurance policy that pays some, but not all, of one’s medical expenses, unless a loophole allows the insurance company to not pay at all.


With each of the phone calls and letters, George figured that the company or broker had obtained a list of people turning 65.  Whether legal or not, the cost was minimal to check the caller ID and let the phone ring, or to shred the letters.


Then one Sunday afternoon in mid-May, there was a knock at the door.  This young looking, white-haired man smiled at George when George answered the door.  The white-haired man asked if George had any questions about supplements and shoved some papers into George’s hand.  The white-haired man explained that he wasn’t a broker, but his son was.  George explained that he had a trusted advisor in San Antonio.  If that advisor didn’t have the right answers, George might call the son of the white-haired guy.  George let the white-haired man know that the people in San Antonio were very reliable, so he doubted if he’d call.


This was a big mistake.  The son called George every day, sometimes twice a day.  George never answered.  He rarely left messages, but he left enough of them to be a nuisance.  George determined that he would never call the son back.  George hated hard sells, and this one certainly seemed to be that type.  When someone works this hard to sell you something, they have something to hide.  If for no other reason, they aren’t the least expensive.  George contacted his advisor in San Antonio and set up everything.  He was even able to set up the same thing for his wife who had turned 65 already.  Maybe now, the calls would stop.  Dream on!  They continued until he finally answered and told the white-haired man that his son could stop.  The decision was made.  A month later, the son renewed the phone calls.


One fateful Sunday during this barrage of phone calls, George sat in the usual range of pews in church.  While his wife roamed the sanctuary greeting friends and people that she had never met, George picked up the fellowship pad to sign in.  The pad had two names on it that made his blood run cold.  He looked down the pew, but no one was there.  Had they signed and left?  No, probably the ushers for the early service missed the sheet when removing the sheets from the early service and preparing the sanctuary for the late service.  They had sat on this pew, two hours prior.  Who were these two people?  The white-haired man and his son.


George felt violated.  He put the pad down, went to the restroom and washed his hands.  These two were marketing their insurance using the church directory as their guide.  Should George be angry or should he pray for the guys, hoping that exposure to the Gospel will own the day, and they can be saved.  Maybe they were already saved.  Christians aren’t immune to sin.  Was marketing at church a sin?


Was it marketing at church?  They were simply using the church directory to find people that they could abuse with phone calls night and day.  Churches sometimes get listings of real estate sales to determine who has moved into town recently.  That way, they can send someone to the house to invite them to church.  Was that a cheesy way to meet new people?  Was that the reverse of what the white-haired man and his son had done to George?  While George felt violated, was what transpired against some rule?  It was Jesus who said (Matt. 6:24), “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”


When I thought about George’s situation, I remembered past workers who didn’t take off on Sunday morning.


I had once met a dentist.  In a new member class, the church’s pastor asked each new member to give their testimony.  I gave mine, but as they went around the room no one seemed to have a clue what a testimony was.  Of all of the people who stumbled to say something, only the dentist’s ‘testimony’ was memorable.  “A man came to my new dental practice in the small town east of here.  He asked me what church I was a member of.  I told him that I didn’t go to church.  He told me that if I didn’t go to church, no one in this town will darken the door of my business.  So, I’m here out of self-preservation.”  This occurred in the backwoods of the Deep South.  The dentist was honest.  He said that the old man who gave him the warning is the only business that he had gotten all week.  He didn’t want to move.  The dentist and his wife turned out to be okay, and prayers were silently made that the dentist and his wife would soon have a better reason to go to church.


Many years before the dentist, in a different part of the South, I was warned about one of my new ‘friends’ at the church where I attended at that time.  The ‘friend’ wasn’t that friendly, but he and I had children the same age.  The warning went something like this, “Your new friend is an investigator for the IRS.  He has a habit of standing behind half-closed doors listening to conversations in the next room.  If you say anything that hints that you found a secret tax loophole or, heaven forbid, you cheated on your taxes, he will turn you in.  I think his record of nailing church members is over a dozen and counting.  A few haven’t gotten their court date yet.  He has more convictions than any two of the other agents at the local office.”  I had never cheated on his taxes, but I wasn’t taking any chances either.  There were other parents of children that I could befriend.


The sad thing is in all three of these cases the people were still looking to make a buck, or for the IRS investigator – a reputation that could lead to a promotion, during that one sacred hour on Sunday morning.  They had no regard to the concept of ‘sanctuary’, a place to escape such harassment.  They were serving money, not God.  As Jesus had said, did they truly hate God?  They thought so little of God that their minds were on making money while at church.


When you have a relationship with the true Jesus, you walk and talk with Him 24/7.  When you spend 24/7 chasing violators of the tax code or trying to make a dollar, you have a relationship with something else.  Just as the tax investigator could never stop investigating his ‘friends’, the true Christian can never stop loving God and his neighbors.  Neither man could ever turn off his true nature.  May you always love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.


As the old evangelist says, “At least they are in the right place.”

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