A church marketing strategy that was designed to get people thinking about God has had some unintended side-effects, leading some people to believe that the billboards created by McElroy Road Church of Christ in Mansfield, Ohio were actually posted by a local atheist group.
The most controversial of the signs opens with, “There is no God,” but is then followed by, “Don't believe everything you hear.” The sign also features the church's website address and logo, which features both a heart and a cross.
The church posted a total of six billboards around Richland County and also rented a digital sign with the three-fold purpose of honoring God, pointing people to the church's new website, and getting people to “stop and think.”
But some people who have passed by have misunderstood the sign's purpose, leading some of them to contact members of the Mid Ohio Atheists (MOA) organization to congratulate them for putting up a billboard.
“While we certainly do agree with the sentiment expressed on the billboard – that there is no god, and that people should not believe everything they hear, we want to clarify that this is not our billboard,” reads a post on the MOA website.
“We do want to thank the McElroy Rd. Church of Christ for advertising our thoughts on this important subject,” the post continues. “But, frankly, it puzzles us that McElroy Rd. Church of Christ paid to put up this sign, aren’t they afraid to lose church members?”
Frank Moore, pastor of McElroy Road Church of Christ, says that the backlash is to be expected, though he didn't expect so much attention.
"Anytime you do something for the Lord...you know that not everyone will totally understand what you're doing. I think you have to know that going into anything like this,” he told The Christian Post on Tuesday.
Some Christians have sent Moore angry emails, he said, but after re-examining the sign, they later approved of it.
"I'd say that we're in a culture that does not read and think critically, as we should,” he said.
The advertising campaign began when he told his congregation that atheists have been using their free speech rights to promote their ideas through the media, but questioned why Christians, who have the same rights, weren't doing the same. His congregation approved of the billboard idea, and he ran with it.
Other signs that the church had posted around the county read, “Don't believe in God?” followed by, “He believes in you.” Another, which was posted on a digital billboard, simply listed the characteristics of God, saying that He is holy, gracious, kind and powerful.
"The devil always likes to make Christians look stupid. So if they can take what we've done, and make us appear to be unintelligent, unthinking, silly, then they've accomplished their goal,” he said.
Moore also said that the message of “Don't believe everything you hear” is not his own, and that in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 the Apostle Paul teaches Christians a similar message, saying, “examine everything carefully.” (New American Standard Bible).
“Everything,” he suggests, includes statements on billboards and even his preaching.
"I don't think you should believe everything I tell you just because I'm a preacher. You need to check out what I say. If I'm saying something that doesn't square with the Word of God, you've got a decision to make,” he said.
He later added, “There is evidence...that is screaming for God's existence. It's there, it's just if we choose to believe it."