Does Charging People to Hear the Gospel Devalue the Message of Salvation?

In 2014 the film "Believe Me" parodied Christian events through the story of a broke college student Sam (Alex Russell) who starts a fake Christian charity then promotes Christian events for profit. Mimicking the stereotypical televangelist, Sam takes the stage with a dramatic speech in which he quotes Scripture then encourages donations.

Darlene DiDomineck, a deaconess who hosts training events for clergy at the United Methodist Church in White Plains, New York, explained that depending on what kind of event is being promoted, the cost can include equipment rental, and miscellaneous supplies and meals, thus resulting in a charge to attendees.

She also believes, however, that these prices can be a distraction from the central message of the Gospel.

"The price absolutely attracts or deters me from attending conferences," said DiDomineck. "Like most faith-based staff or clergy, I have limited funds available and have to make choices about the events and conferences I attend in order to remain within my economic limits."

"Events with higher registration or ticket fees cause a strain on my resources, and if I have financially sacrificed to attend and the programming and organization of the event is not meaningful, then I question whether I will sacrifice to attend an event in the future. Conferences and events can be unintentionally classist denying important voices from having a place at the table," she added.

For many Christian events, particularly those featuring celebrity speakers or performers, tickets can command prices of more than $100, as in the case of the Alive Festival taking place in Mineral City, Ohio, from June 17-20.

So why are some Christians willing to pay top dollar to attend such events?

"People want to feel refreshed, and they want a connection with you," said Christian rock singer Colton Dixon who will be performing at the festival. "They want to see someone that is just as broken as they are. But they want to see that hope and that story of how God has brought them through something, even if they haven't reached that turning point yet. That is what it's all about."

MISFit Conference
(Photo: screen grab/misfit.nyc)
MISFit Conference hosted by Christ Tabernacle Church is scheduled for August 21-22, 2015.
3 photo slide
Alive Conference
(Photo: screen grab/Alive.org)
Alive Conference 2015 is taking place from June 17 to June 20, 2015, in Mineral City, Ohio.
Passion Conference 2016
(Photo: screengrab/268generation.com)
Charging People to Hear the Gospel: Does Money Devalue the Message? Pricing information for Passion Conference 2016.

In fact, the "I'll Be The Light" singer said the willingness of Christians to pay for Christian events has to do with the difference between Christian music fans and mainstream fans.

"It's so funny, the Christian music industry is so different than mainstream," said Dixon. "I truly think that [Christian] fans would pay the same amount of money just to go hear an artist speak versus hearing them play music."

Dixon, who rose to fame on season 11 of "American Idol" where he was outspoken about his faith, went on to address the value of production at Christian events.

"The thing is, there is going to be production involved, lights and sound, and you want to create an experience for them, even more so at a concert," explained the singer.

"You're not wanting to fake anything, I'm not saying that at all, but you want people to see visually what songs are kinda taking you through, with video or a huge video wall or anything — you want to create a live experience. No artist wants to get up and just play the music all the way through, people can just listen to a CD for that. So just because we're singing about spiritual things, about God, that doesn't mean we're not allowed to have production."

Chris Durso, the Next Generation pastor at MISFIT NYC, the youth and young adult ministry of Christ Tabernacle, is working on the fifth annual MISFiT Conference and says charging for the event is an important ingredient in its success.

"Money can affect the message, in regards to doing conferences or doing any Christian events," said Durso. "Money does play a big factor in allowing conferences to happen at the caliber they happen."

The MISFiT Conference is scheduled for Aug. 21 with a standard registration fee of $79. Delving into the cost of the event, Durso pointed out that MISFiT Conference not only yields nothing in profits, but also puts Christ Tabernacle "in the red."

"We've never made money off of the conference and we have no problem saying that. We wouldn't mind breaking even, but we hardly ever do," said the pastor.

"And we end up in the red every year, but for us, it's not a loss. We are in the red, and some would say we are losing money, but we would say we are investing, [we are] sowing, we believe we are giving back to the next generation. Why? Because we believe that this generation, the hundreds that are in the room, and the tens of thousands that are watching online for free, are being impacted by this message. We might have to put some money down, there may have to be a registration fee, but when it comes to the registration, we try to scale it back as much as possible to make sure that people don't have to pay more than they would need to."

follow me on Twitter @emmakoonse