If you lived in Hudson, Massachusetts during the early 90s, the phrase “Pizza Blast” strikes either rage or regret into your heart. If you didn’t, you’re about to hear my favorite story of us Christians pulling the “bait and switch” move to disastrous results.
My dad, the honorable Reverend Acuff, cleared me to tell this story. Which was surprising, given what happened. I’m not even sure where to start. Maybe in Texas.
A youth group choir from Texas agreed to come to my small town and sing some songs at the local public high school. I forget their name, it was something like “Fresh Wind” or “High Notes” or “Aspire Higher.” It was a name that upon first glance didn’t scream, “sweet baby Jesus.” Which should have been our first sign but at first everything was great. They killed in the assembly they did at the 9 high schools our church put them in. My dad would later claim it was their performance of Gloria Estefan’s “The Rhythm is Gonna Get Ya” in which they used whistles that convinced him to invite this group but I never saw any whistles. They sang a bunch of Beach Boys songs (which sounds dumb but bear in mind at the time the country was intoxicated on their song, “Kokomo”) and kids loved it. Plus, since they were from Texas, they were attractive. (I can’t prove it, but I think 87% of people from Texas are attractive.)
The culmination of their visit was a Friday night performance we were calling “The Pizza Blast.” It was going to be great. We made t-shirts with that mandatory youth group illustration of teens pushing and leaning against gigantic letters that spell out the name of your event. My dad was a hero. The mayor told my dad, “My daughter loved the assembly. She can’t wait for the Friday night concert.” The mayor’s daughter should have waited, we all should have waited.
After opening up with some clean secular songs, the choir started slowly working in some God songs. It was completely unexpected, like some sort of Sandi Patty drive by. I’m sure at this point my dad started getting sweaty. I am sure he smelled a bait and switch coming. But we were young then, innocent and wide eyed. How where we to know the choir staff was going to shut all the doors to the auditorium and post guards to discourage anyone from leaving? How where we to know a very direct altar call, a “church sleeper hold,” was about to be applied to the unsuspecting crowd? We couldn’t.
It was in the paper. People briefly hated my dad. The mayor was horrified. The ACLU was notified. Kids and parents alike were probably set back about 18 months in their trust of God and church and Christians. I kept the t-shirt.
I tell this story because sometimes we’re still tempted to do this and I don’t want to. The other day a friend unfamiliar with my blog told me, “yeah but you’re just bashing the church. It’s like showing a movie before youth group. As soon as you introduce Jesus, no one is going to come to the site.”
I think he was wrong, but if I have been foggy or weird about where I am coming from then I apologize. I love Jesus. He’s the most important thing in my life and the reason I ever wrote a single word of this. I don’t think I pulled a bait and switch with this site, but there it is. I’m cool with God and he’s cool with me.
p.s. The reason most bait and switch scenarios happen isn’t trickery. It’s because churches have a hard time making the transition between the concept (free pizza) and the core idea (Jesus died for you.) I write church advertising, not an oxymoron, and one the biggest things I focus on is creating strong, transparent “bridges” between the concept and the core idea.