MONTEREY, Calif. — First Nazarene
Church used to start Sunday services with announcements and a generic welcome
from the associate pastor. Now service starts with whirling spotlights, stadium
music and a cougar mascot bounding down the center aisle slapping high fives and
making "raise the roof" gestures.
"Adding Christian Cougar was a great move for us," says the pastor.
"No one calls our church boring anymore."
    Churches across the country are adopting mascots to pump up
Sunday mornings and rally people in worship.
    "Our new mascot energizes things," says pastor Del
Richards of Valley Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., which just introduced
Lift-Him-Up Lion.
    On Sunday morning during worship time, the Lion rushes on stage
and does the running man dance to "Blessed Be Your Name." He then makes
"I can’t hear you" motions and broad clapping gestures, then kneels
with his hands raised when the songs turn slower. Worship team members play along
with his antics. During
the offertory he pulls out an oversized wallet and dumps wads of fake cash into
the offering plate. During the sermon he stands to the side and makes rah-rah
gestures and encourages people to applaud.
    "I tell him to go with the Spirit and raise some heaven,"
says the pastor. "By the time I get in the pulpit, the people are so amped
up they can hardly contain themselves."
    Visitors say they enjoy the unpredictable element.
    "There’s an exciting X-factor because you don’t know what
he’ll do next," says one woman. "Without a mascot, the service seems
totally planned."
    Mascots are also an affordable option compared to larger projects.
    "We couldn’t afford a new youth center, but we can afford
a wolverine costume," says a Michigan pastor whose attendance has risen considerably
since they added Worship Wolverine, who does trampoline flips, handstands and
runs across the platform with a banner that says, "Praise!"
But there are pitfalls among the pratfalls. One mascot in Oklahoma got himself
fired for lifting the pastor’s toupee and pointing to his bald head. Another pretended
to fall asleep when the sermon went too long. "People loved that, but that
was the last of him," says one witness.
    Some churches experimented with live characters like Samson
or the Apostle Paul, but people "thought they were weirdos or homeless people."
Most stick with animals.
    After the service in Little Rock, Lift-Him-Up Lion roams the
foyer, shaking hands, playing mild gags on people and doing dance moves as visitors
wave good-bye.
    "Everyone wants to shake his hand now, not mine,"
says the pastor. "That itself is priceless." •
(HT:Nathan Brown)