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In 2005, churches will mail over 50 million direct-mail postcards created by Outreach, Inc., the largest provider of Christian outreach products and services in North America. In addition, churches will hang 200,000 Outreach door hangers on houses, hand out several million bulletins, and display 160,000 banners to promote their church. "2005 was a big year for us because of The Passion of the Christ ," said Matt Harper, product manager at Outreach. Outreach's goal is to help churches reach local communities and convert people to Christianity. Last week, several thousand pastors and church leaders attended an Outreach conference in Mission Valley on how to attract non-Christians. The conference offered workshops "led by some of the fastest growing and most innovative ministries and church leaders." The workshops included, "They Like Jesus -- Not the Church," "How to Attract Visitors Through Direct Mail," "The Modern Day Orphans: Ministry to Kids in Single-Parent or Blended Families," "Reaching the Business Leaders in Your Community and Reaching Today's Urban Youth: They're Closer than You Think."

Exhibitors promoted additional outreach services, from golf events by In His Grip Golf Association, financial management seminars based on the Bible, to business-leadership seminars with telecast lectures by people like author John Maxwell, supermodel Kathy Ireland, and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. Outreach promoted a comedy event for churches. "A comedian will come and perform 40 minutes of stand-up comedy that is family-friendly," said Paul Pickard, Outreach events general manager. "The events are effective and are not something that the community expects from a church. It allows people to attend a church that might otherwise not feel comfortable."

In the wake of The Passion of the Christ , many churches plan to use the power of Hollywood to reach out to non-Christians. At the conference, several booths promoted Narnia for churches. "Use the season's biggest film to start a dialogue with your community," read Outreach's marketing material. Outreach provides church mailers, door hangers, a special Narnia sermon message series, children's curriculum, and dozens of other movie tie-ins. "Movies are a very effective way to engage people less likely to attend church," said Carri Gambill, an Outreach employee.

"The church in America has been known for media-bashing. But churches are beginning to understand that they need to join in the conversation. The theater is the modern-day church," said Lynne Marian, executive editor of Outreach Magazine . "This is where the big questions and spiritual things of life are discussed in our culture." Marian believes Hollywood will work to deliver even more Christian-friendly movies. "The Passion showed Hollywood there is a lot of money to be made from Christian themes."

I asked Marian what limitations churches should have in marketing their faith. "Churches should use anything that is appropriate to communicate. We saw in Acts 2 that when the Pentecost occurred there was a loud noise that got people's attention," said Marian. "Sometimes churches need to create a loud noise. But churches need more than good marketing to reach out to their community. I don't believe a program alone is effective outreach. These are communication tools to provide a connection with the community. Churches need to know the needs of the community and love and serve them."

Ken Hensley, pastor of LifePoint Community Church in Mission Valley, believes a lot of new churches have a reaction against the packed slickness that developed in churches in the '90s. Hensley used a company called GenEvange to create an untraditional campaign. LifePoint sent out 60,000 postcards in September to announce the start of their new church. From the campaign, Hensley said 70 visitors attended a service and 20 are still active. "This is fairly effective by Southern California standards. Southern California is an un-churched community. If we did this in other parts of the country, we would have had a far better response."

Pastor Matt Ortiz, of Crossroads Church in Chula Vista, believes church marketing can be dangerous. "I think a lot of non-Christians are very uncomfortable with being marketed Jesus. The motives of a church are important. If a church compromises to be attractive, they have gone too far. People can read through inauthentic messages," said Ortiz.

"Jesus is not a product to be marketed. We really want to downplay the numbers," said Heather Johnson, associate editor of Outreach Magazine . Yet, Johnson said that their annual issue on the 100 fastest growing and largest churches in America is their top issue. "We get a lot of knocks from people who don't think we should emphasize these numbers." Johnson agrees that a few churches compromise Christian beliefs to attract large crowds. "I don't believe churches should tip-toe around black-and-white issues of the Bible." Johnson said Jesus being the only way to be saved is one of these issues.

Denomination: nondenominational

Address: 2230 Oak Ridge Way, Vista, 760-940-0600

Founded locally: 1996

Senior pastor: Scott Evans

Congregation size: n/a

Staff size: 120

Sunday school enrollment: n/a

Annual budget: did not disclose

Weekly giving: did not disclose

Singles program: n/a

Dress: n/a

Diversity: n/a

Sunday worship: n/a

Length of reviewed service: 3 days

Website: outreach.com

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