A megachurch in Southeast Michigan is making a lot of people uncomfortable with its new billboard campaign that proclaims that the church is for hypocrites, losers and liars.
But it's the truth, says Pastor Brad Powell of NorthRidge Church, and he wants to communicate that to the wider community.
"As you do ministry, you start realizing there's a false view outside of the church of what the church is – that it's [full of] people who think they're better than anyone else. And there's a false view inside the church of people outside – that they're bad," he said.
"The reality is all human beings are the same. They're flawed. We're all the same inside [the church] and outside. We too are failures, losers, ... hypocrites," he continued.
But Powell understands why there are misperceptions.
He sees a lot of churches building up walls, turning inward, serving themselves and playing defense.
In this sense, churches have failed to reflect Christ's nature, he pointed out.
"Jesus didn't put up higher fences in heaven to keep the bad people out," he said. Rather, Jesus came down to earth and dwelled among the people.
"When you look into God's word, He never turns inward. He turns outward."
It's been nearly a month now since the church launched the ad blitz. Nine billboards, transit ads and mall signage throughout Southeast Michigan state: "NorthRidge is for Liars," "NorthRidge is for Losers," and "NorthRidge is for Hypocrites."
The ads have some in the community thinking "who's attacking that church?" Some Christians have demanded that the ads be taken down,
while threatening to never attend NorthRidge. Yet for others, the ads have proven to be a starting point for discussions about the church.
Overall, the campaign is doing exactly what Powell hoped for – stirring dialogue.
One NorthRidge member was riding in a car with several co-workers when they saw the billboard. They asked "what's going on with your church?" The member was able to explain that people don't have to be fixed before they come to church.
Discussions of that nature are going on in the entire community, Powell said.
Powell describes himself as not your typical pastor. He isn't even keen on the title "pastor" though he's been serving as one for over 25 years. In an interview Thursday, he insisted on being called "Brad" rather than "Pastor Powell."
He has taken unconventional approaches and fought against cultural paradigms as he led NorthRidge in transitioning from an old dying church into one of the fastest-growing ones in the country. NorthRidge, he noted, has always been a fairly irreverent ministry in a cultural sense. While the church of more than 20,000 weekly attendees is absolutely committed to the truth without compromise, it is not committed to the traditional culture or languages of church.
He realizes that "traditional Christians" hate billboards like the ones he put up.
"Traditional, petrified people can't run it through their mind how that can be spiritual," he said. "The church is for liars? They don't get it."
Complimenting the boldness of the megachurch, Bill McKendry, who worked with Powell on the ad blitz, said, "With NorthRidge, there's not a lot of fear."
McKendry, chief creative officer at Hanon McKendry, explained that NorthRidge's ministry is the non-seeker, where church isn't even on the person's radar screen.
And for many who are not engaged in a church, their perception is that one has to be perfect to attend.
Powell explained, "We're consistently reaching new people who are broken or hurting. Any moment that anyone walks in, they understand this is a place where I'm accepted, where it's OK to be broken ... and find redemption and move forward."
One of the key themes at NorthRidge is that "failure is not final."
"[NorthRidge] is a place where we are all on the same level as we seek to discover and get to know God and His power to use and transform our failures for His glory," Powell said. "We're this community of failures who have found redemption and want to share that with others."
The ad campaign is scheduled to run through early November. If successful, McKendry said there may be extensions to the blitz, using other stereotypes of the church.