By definition, a gimmick is a novel device (trick) or idea designed primarily to attract attention or increase appeal, often with little intrinsic value. Notice it seldom has built-in or essential value. In relation to church growth, consider what Scripture has to say.
Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.
Whether methods or things used to build a church might be considered gimmicks would be determined by why they’re being implemented in the first place. Where did the ideas come from? Are they Spirit led or contrivances of people to simply build a big church? What makes a church effective is not necessarily based on its size. It’s the results that matter. Consider the Great Commission.
Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Did Jesus say, “Go and build churches?” Not exactly; however, churches do come into existence when we obey what He actually said, “Make disciples.” So why so many books and seminars on church growth? Nothing wrong with books and seminars in of themselves, but are they engaged in true discipleship, or just getting people into your church? Why the emphasis on church growth to begin with? When you examine the book of Acts for example, you will probably notice a correlation between the moving of Holy Spirit with actual numbers and results. On the Day of Pentecost, how many people received His word and were baptized when Peter stood up with the twelve? About 3,000 (see Acts 2:1-47). Not only that, we’re told that “The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Who added to the number? The Lord! In Peter’s second recorded message, we find that 5,000 were added. There were no gimmicks used.
We’ve already established that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Body; otherwise known as the Church. We also know that we walk by faith, and that churches are built by faith. There is a key ingredient required for something to be of faith, and that is hearing and hearing by the Word of God (see Acts 10:17). There is a very significant phrase in Acts 1:1-2 to which is worth paying attention: “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.” What does that mean to us? Simply that our marching orders come from Jesus Christ through Holy Spirit. Throughout Scripture, we find that the Holy Spirit was involved in everything the disciples did. Simply read the book of Acts, and you will find example after example. The Apostles didn’t act on their own accord; they waited on the Lord.
Another vital element of faith is love, since faith works by love (see Galatians 5:6). That leads to a couple important questions when it comes to what we do in the Church. Is this what Jesus wants done? Why am I doing this? Some things sound really good, especially if we’ve seen them used successfully elsewhere. However, it’s one thing to a good thing; it’s quite another to do the right thing. We can turn a God-given thing into a gimmick by merely copying what someone else did. Moreover, we can use something that worked at particular time, and turn it into a tradition of man. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” You may be given a direction for a moment or period of time, but that does not necessarily mean it should be replicated over and over. Unless of course, the Lord says so. It would be very easy to move from faith to formulas; from a genuine move of God to a move of man. Such traditions can vacate faith and effectiveness.
If ambition is the real motive behind what anyone does, then faith has very little to do with the action or method. Why? It’s not based on love. Faith works by love, remember? If you do things to feel important, you’ve already missed the fact that you are important to God.
Some may ask if technology and the use of modern instruments are gimmicks. Both of these are neutral. It’s what’s behind them that counts. Face it, technology can be very instrumental in helping our effectiveness. Communication is huge in this area. People play modern instruments as deep personal expressions of worship to God, based on their love for Him. Obviously, they can be used with wrong motives and have less than stellar results. It boils down to love and the will of the Lord. At the same time, it’s a great idea to guard our hearts from becoming dependent on methods and technology, instead of depending on the Lord. Pray and obey. If He leads you to do something, go with it. If He doesn’t, you may want to wait until He says go, if He does indeed say go. Obedience is key to avoiding gimmickry.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.