"Church shopping," as it is called, has become a wide-spread phenomenon during the past century. Decades ago, when few communities even had churches, one often was born, raised and died having always attended the same church. Usually, only a marriage or a move to another location brought about a change in church membership. But as evangelicalism has literally "exploded" and the number of churches increased many regular church-goers have found themselves visiting numerous churches in their local communities trying to find a church that "fits." Thus, the devotion and commitment that many pastors once enjoyed from their members is rare to find, and the membership of many churches has begun to wane significantly. So great was the problem in the town of Terry, Idaho that one pastor came up with a solution that works.
"Church is really about giving people what they want," said Rev. Karen Hamilton of First Methodist Church in Terry. "We decided that, rather than simply place an ad in the local paper, to offer special 'coupons' to those who visited, raising the incentives if they would come to our church and join up with our work."
While the idea seemed bizarre at first to many, it worked tremendously for the church. During the first week First Methodist offered a coupon for a "Free Missions Trip to Canada" for first-time visitors. The following Sunday fifteen new families visited the church, and all presented the coupon for the trip.
The idea has worked so well, that other churches in the Terry community have started using it also. Now a quick glance at the "Local Area Churches" section of the newspaper reveals 10-15 coupons reading things such as "No Tithe for a Year, No Baptism Required!" or "Two Memberships for One Membership Class!"
"This is one of the best ideas we've tried in years to get our attendance up," said Rev. John Hodges of Grace Lutheran Church. "We started out offering free lunches at a local restaurant for all first-time visitors. We had 20 new families come that first Sunday."
"We're planning on building a health club on our church property," said Pastor David Chalmers of Southaven Baptist Church. "We plan to offer free membership to the club for a year for all new members, which we hope will really bring in some new faces. Let's face it, if we want people to come we've got to give them what they want and cater to their desires."