Proselytizing in the Playground

The first week we were here I joined a Yahoo group for parents who live in my neighborhood. I wanted to have a place to ask about strollers and doctors and this is exactly the kind of group conversations they have. I can't remember if the group has 1,000 or 3,000 members, but it is sizeable and now carries quite a bit of sway locally since the forum has the ability to generate and spread conversations at an amazing speed. Neighborhood news is spread almost instantaneously, news articles shared, opinions gathered.

Since hundreds of emails are posted each day, I don't read all of them but only scroll the titles for applicable topics or things that look interesting. Last week the title, "Proselytizing in the Playground" caught my eye and I've been following the flow of that conversation ever since. A mother originally posted a concern after a group of teens from a local church were passing out balloons in the park. The balloons weren't the issue as much as the invitations to the Easter Egg Hunt at the church that was tied to them.

And just like that, the conversation was off and running. What about the rule that says no one is allowed in a playground without a child under the age of 12? What about laws that have been passed against targeting innocent, unknowing children with marketing ploys--isn't this in the same spirit? Then there are the parents who think it's harmless or part of multi-cultural exposure (interesting that all of those voices so far confess to be church-goers). But what about the parent who had a similar experience, except overheard her child being asked if he knew Jesus? What about this church's aparently long history of such "offensive" techniques?

Part of my intrigue came from our own history in a church that thought this type of advertisement was a really good idea. They called it Servant Evangelism before changing the name to Servant Outreach when the congregation was too uncomfortable about the E word. Give people something for free, be happy to tell them why if they ask. But while you're at it, how about sticking on a card telling them who you are and how to get there if they want to thank you in person. How about topping it off with a cute little phrase like, "Just a reminder that God loves you, no strings attached." (Except for praying this prayer of ours in this certain way, apologize to God for this, thank Him for that--wait, those aren't strings, exactly. . . He'd still love you if you were in hell, right?)

How this hits people is what interests me most. I wonder if this local church has any idea that there's an angry response to their method that is generating unfavorable press. Now even people who have never run into them in the park or elsewhere know their name. From here it appears to have backfired, though I'm sure they can't imagine how anyone could be offended at their innocent-appearing methods. And that, to me, is where the problem really lies.