The church where it really pays to pray

WHEN Bill and Kris Brittian took over the First Christian Church in Auburn, outside Seattle, there were just 14 regular members of the congregation, all of them the wrong side of 50. So they made a few changes.

Out went the fusty hymns and the Sunday best clothing, and in came live rock 'n roll, overhead video projections, and interactive computer gizmos. Rather than relying on word of mouth, they decided to market their church with a fully-fledged advertising campaign. And, rather than expecting church-goers to make donations to them, Pastors Bill and Kris made an unprecedented offer: come to our church for four consecutive Sundays and we'll pay you 50 bucks (pounds 32). Bring a friend or family member, and we'll up the amount to $75.

It might not be anything the Archbishop of Canterbury would approve of, but it seems to be working. More than 80 people turned up for the inaugural service on Easter Sunday, and at least 60 have come each week since. Plenty were attracted by the pray-and-get-paid scheme, but most of them loved the ceremony so much that only seven people ended up claiming the money.

Instead of John Wesley, they sing rock standards like "Stand By Me" and George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" (minus the Hare Krishna references). Last week they sang "Amazing Grace" to the theme tune of the television series Gilligan's Island. A service might include video clips of The Wizard of Oz or interactive cartoons. Sometimes the pastors will talk about awful traditional hymns that ought never to have been written, or speculate whether Christ's exhortation to "turn the other cheek" was really an invitation to his disciples to flash their buttocks at people they didn't like.

"Our mission is to reach unchurched people," Pastor Bill explained. "Church is supposed to be fun, upbeat, enjoyable. Christianity can stand a little fun. Too many churches are hell bent on telling you what you can't do. If people don't like having fun, I tell them they can go someplace else."

All of which makes the Rock of Auburn, as it has been renamed, one of the stranger churches in the world. The building is bright pink and looks like a spaceship out of a 1960s television series. The technical equipment is state-of-the-art - apparently the only other multi-media church in the world is somewhere near Dayton, Ohio.

Pastor Bill dresses in tennis shoes and short-sleeved shirts, strumming his guitar while his wife tinkles on an electronic keyboard. There are two professional musicians, too, including a recovering crack addict on drums who has now converted to Christianity. "She told me she'd come and play just once, but she's been back every week," Pastor Bill said. "I decided to make her a worship leader, but she knew so little about religion I had to explain to her what the word 'worship' meant."

The Seattle area is a ripe market to exploit. It has the lowest church attendance of anywhere in the US - as little as 35 per cent of the population has ever been to church (compared with well over 70 per cent in a relatively secular eastern city like Philadelphia), and only 10 per cent attend with any regularity.

To those more traditionalist Christians who shudder at the payment scheme, Pastor Bill says the money's worth it if it gets the message to more people. Religious denominations typically spent up to $2m on establishing a new church, he says, so it's merely a question of what the money gets spent on. And the Rock's total budget was well short of $200,000.

If their concept catches on, the Brittians hope to open a new church every two years. Their methods may raise eyebrows, but they aren't bothered as long as folk keep coming. "All publicity is good, even negative publicity," Pastor Bill remarks. It's a maxim to make any marketing executive proud.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015