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port of harlem magazine
December 12 - December 25, 2008
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From the Pew No. 5,001: And Now a Word From Our Sponsor
Michael GipsonCommercial interruptions during a church service? Is that what we are doing now? Admittedly, I’d been recently ghost from my small church and except for last Sunday, I have never attended a megachurch. Yet, I was completely unprepared for hard-sell commercial sales pitches during a recent megachurch service.

This past Sunday while I was visiting a local Black megachurch as a member’s guest, I was enjoying myself and wondering why I had been entertaining such knee-jerk hostility against megachurches: maybe Dr. King had been wrong when he railed against church “jumboism” in The Strength to Love?

Then, in the middle of the pastor’s spirit-filled commentary, the giant video screens suddenly burst with color and thunderous attention-grabbing music, and the studied excitement of a voice-over announcer began to sell me concert tickets, books, CDs, gym memberships, and all manners of self-improvement aids. Rattled and disquieted, I sighed: maybe King had been on to something.

As part of their call, churches have been selling Christ since the days of the cross. Recognizing that marketing comes with the assignment, I am un-offended by church’s soft sell tactics (announcements, bulletins, etcetera.) that have been the church’s stock and trade since I was a boy. Church bills have to be paid and those bills do not come cheap, so what is wrong with using a little technology? Maybe because church should be the one place you are not bombarded with advertising.

What’s next, pastor endorsement deals? Choir robes from Coke? To me there is a calculated crassness in capitalizing on a captive audience at their most vulnerable and trusting moment by selling them aerobics classes via video in the sanctuary. But as I sat wincing during this season of Christ, others applauded and pulled out their checkbooks. Double-sigh.

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