Giving away fish dinners, CDs, and crocheted blankets in order to lure people to church is one thing, but Ignite Church in Joplin, MO, has raised eyebrows with its radical membership drive. According to a story in the NY Daily News today, Pastor Heath Mooneyham has crossed the line. He is using semi-automatic weapons as bait to get young men to attend church.
Mooneyham advertised via Facebook, Twitter, and his website that he was looking for men to join the church. He said that he especially wanted young men between the ages of 18-35 to become a part of Ignite Church’s ministry. To capture their attention, he promised to raffle off two Black Rain AR-15s on Father’s Day.
Mooneyham, known as much for his tattoos and mohawk haircut as his sermons, said that his main emphasis is to get more young men active in church. According to Mooneyham, “if we get people in the door, we get to preach the gospel.” And his plan is to get them to come by any means necessary.
Mooneyham claims that this approach is no different than other things that churches do to attract young members. He said the intent is the same as churches that offer contemporary services with casual dress and rock music bands to accompany the choirs. He also plans to sponsor hunting outings for the young men.
There has been swift and harsh criticism of Mooneyham’s raffle on the Ignite Church Facebook page. At the top of the page the two winners of the raffle, John Piller and Dan McCain, are shown beaming as they hold up their rifles. Many of the commenters claim that anything associated with violence, such as lethal weapons, is sending the wrong message to young people searching for something to believe in. And one commenter asked "What if a mosque did this - how would that be perceived?"
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s website, AR-15s are not fully automatic weapons, but are rifles manufactured to be used in hunting and promoting sportsmanship. Joplin Diversity Fellowship Pastor Steve Urie said of Mooneyham’s raffle "I don't think it's just non-traditional. I think it's careless and reckless.” Mooneyham is standing firm behind his tactics saying "if we can get more people to follow Jesus, I'll give away 1,000 guns. I don't care."