JOPLIN — A southwest Missouri church that drew attention two years ago with billboards encouraging married couples to have more sex is at it again, raffling off two semi-automatic rifles as a way to increase its membership.
Joplin-based Ignite Church gave men a chance on Father's Day to put their names in a hat to win one of two AR-15 rifles, the Joplin Globe reported. Each father entered a ticket for himself and for each of his children who went to church with him. They also got another ticket for bringing their own dads.
"We thought instead of a lot of small things, we'd give away stuff the guys were interested in," said Heath Mooneyham, Ignite's lead pastor.
Mooneyham said the effort is another way to draw males age 18 to 35 to the church. Ignite also starts Sunday morning services later than many churches, plays loud rock music, its color scheme is reminiscent of a video game system, and its pastor has tattoos and a short mohawk.
"We're not trying to put on a show for anybody," Mooneyham said. "We're just dudes."
The gun giveaway sparked some heated criticism online, and Steve Urie, pastor at the Spirit of Christ Metropolitan Community Church, said he agrees with that sentiment.
"I think giving away weapons, with all the violence in this country, gives way to new violence," he said. "I don't think it's just nontraditional. I think it's careless and reckless."
Guitar shop owner Dan McCain plays lead guitar for the church's band and was one of the two AR-15 winners. He said he didn't think the giveaway sent a bad message.
"Firearm ownership does not equate to violence," he said.
The AR-15 is not a fully automatic weapon, but it can discharge rounds as quickly as the shooter can pull the trigger. It was one of several guns used in Aurora, Colorado, by a gunman who killed 12 people in a movie theater, and a similar style of rifle was used in the school shooting in Newton, Connecticut.
Ignite Church drew national attention in 2011 when it sponsored billboards featuring provocative photos of couples to tout a series about marriage and sex, which encouraged married couples to have more sex to avoid pornography and adultery.
"It's easy to not like us. It's not hard," Mooneyham said. "You don't need to go out and find ammunition, we'll just hand it to you — we give away guns and talk about sex."