Deconstructing a controversy

Steve Kryger

On the website Church Marketing Sucks there has been some discussion about the title of a American university ministry that has caused quite a stir.

The ministry is named after a common texting abbreviation for ‘what is that all about?’ which also implies a common profanity. I’ll spare you the details. (It’s difficult to raise this issue at all without being accused of hypocrisy). If you’ve survived this long without knowing this abbreviation then let’s keep it that way.

This isn’t an example of a church being naive - the decision to use this title was deliberate. The church behind the ministry explains:

“It is something that our target audience is very familiar with. We are a progressive college group located in Albuquerque, N.M., and we know that any college-aged person is a phone-weilding, text-sending machine. So why not use what they are familiar with?"

In the target audience (university students), the response has been positive, and the ministry is bearing fruit:

“At this event we had on the UNM campus (where this picture was taken outside one of the main buildings), we had over 300 students attend in that location alone. And from this one service, 50 people gave their lives to Christ. UNM is a big campus, and we have only just scratched the surface.”

I don’t think relevance is a bad strategy for communication, or evangelising - in fact, it’s essential.

I received a gospel tract in the mail today that quoted the Bible in a version of English we haven’t used in a long time. For most people reading that tract it would scream one thing - irrelevant. It’s important to ensure that what we’re doing is intelligible to the culture we’re communicating to. I commend the creative thinking that’s gone into thinking about how to reach the lost with the good news about Jesus.

However, it’s perhaps not surprising that I am not a fan of this strategy. One of the big reasons for this is that when I see those letters, I read out what those three letters stand for, in my head. I sympathise with L.J. who commented on the site:

“I personally have trouble reading this. I do not swear, nor do I associate with many who do, yet it is the vulgar use of the letters which play through my head.”

If I went to this university campus and saw the signs, I’d struggle to live out Philippians 4:8. I realise the strategy is centred around unbelievers, but surely it shouldn’t be at the expense of believers?

I also agree with Alissa - the president of a Christian campus ministry. She says:

“Why are they going to go to a "Christian thing" to get the same culture they can get on the internet or in their dorm room? What secular college student is going to be intrigued by a cheesy mockery of the very culture they live in?...Want to hook them in? Share something startling (the gospel). Live life differently and intentionally. Have real relationships with people. Confess sin to each other. Encourage one another. Have open and honest discussions with non-Christians.”

The strategy has some defenders, and I read through their arguments to understand where they were coming from, and to challenge my own perspective. In summary, these are the seven reasons given in defence of the strategy:

  1. It’s becoming all things, to all people, to reach the lost (prooftext: 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
  2. As long as it’s not sin, it’s ok.
  3. Look at the fruit - if people are being saved, it’s a good thing.
  4. If it transforms just one life, it’s worth the criticism its received.
  5. As long as it gets people in the door to hear the Bible.
  6. It doesn’t matter how or why (the motivations) things are done - as long as Christ is preached (prooftext: Philippians 1:15-18).
  7. Any publicity is good publicity.

If you’d like to see these in more detail, read the comments on the post.

We can safely cross off number 7 - there’s lots of ways you can get people talking about Christianity, but this doesn’t mean that a) they’re saying good things about it, and b) that they’re more likely to come along to church, and c) that the publicity is advancing the cause of God’s church (think: Dove World Outreach Centre!)

Let’s take a look at the first six arguments used and consider this Biblically.

Are these arguments just pure pragmatism? Can any of these arguments be used to defend the strategy used by Copper Pointe Church?