Valley City, N.D. — Carol Umsted got more than the word of God during services this summer at the Congregational United Church of Christ of Valley City.
She also got $50 worth of free gas. For the local farmer, it was a nice side benefit, at a time when gas was more than $4 a gallon.
Churches nationwide are making similar offers, ranging from gas card raffles to 99 cent gas sales at local stations, to boost attendance during the vacation season and attract new members.
But some Christians question whether a financial incentive should be used to draw people into church.
Robert Kruschwitz, director of The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, called the promotions "unseemly" and "misguided."
Umstead, a church official, said a couple of Valley City congregants stopped attending because they considered it "a bribe." But the Rev. Carl Borden, pastor of the congregation, said the overriding goal is to have a little fun and remind people that the church is there.
"It's a method of marketing for the church," he said. "For a $200 investment we've made, we got featured in the local newspaper once, twice on TV, and it's the buzz around town. I can't get a quarter-page ad for $200."
Church leaders have debated for years whether modern marketing techniques cheapen the faith or are an effective - and necessary - means of evangelizing.
Nathan White, an Atlanta-area Baptist, isn't sold.
"They are appealing to the natural corruptions in unbelieving people ...," White said. "The Bible warns very explicitly about the dangers of greed, the love of money being the root of all evil.
"Appealing to the selfish motives of people is not Christianity."