A ministry working with troubled youth couldn’t find any churches to provide mentors willing to invest the long, painstaking hours required to lead them into a relationship with the Lord and a better way of life. Gradually, as the ministry sought Christian mentors through all available avenues, a few stepped up. When prodding to learn what each of these mentors had in common, it turned out they had all been discipled by another individual. Someone had invested in them the same way they were now pouring into someone else.
Not enough churches are challenging members to step out of their comfort zones and do the hard work of building intentional relationships and loving people to Christ over the longer term. Instead, churches fear pushing churchgoers too hard, lest they head to a church down the road still catering to the congregation, promising “cheap grace” and reducing local missions to a couple quick compassion events.
What’s wrong with events?
The church was the food bank and homeless shelter for 1900 years. It was engaged year round, helping deal with pressing social issues. Churchgoers were expected to be salt and light to those around them between Sundays, following Jesus’ lead, acting as both servant and evangelist continually.
Yet the priorities of church leaders and members have shifted. Assistance programs are handled by the government and local charities. Only a small fraction of church members regularly serve outside the “4 walls”, while the rest occasionally write a check or sign up for an event. Leaders have gotten busy running the church and members are busy with work, paying bills and raising families. Nearly all churches today merely “dabble” in compassion in the community, running infrequent events that unfortunately…
- Are transactional, not relational
- Don’t address the real, ongoing issues in the lives of the lost
- Fail to make meaningful or lasting change, providing a handout rather than a hand up
- Fuel negative perception by making society question whether the event was simply promotion, or meant to make members feel good for having done something (versus truly caring about others)
- Give the impression members are back at church patting themselves on the back for the good they did over the holidays when those in need are still hungry and hurting in January and February
- Enable the church to “check the box”, giving pastors, staff and members a false sense of accomplishment
Yet church is the only source of enduring help and hope – found in Christ alone. Government and secular charities can’t do that. And church is the best place for seekers to land, to fellowship with other believers and grow in Christ. Churches miss so many opportunities to reach people by abdicating relational compassion to other organizations and relying on transactional events. Jesus’ model was to heal and feed and then say who He was, knowing the words weren’t enough. Why do the vast majority of churches today try to “outpreach” Jesus?
So why do churches do events?
With all that downside, why would churches use events as the primary vehicle for local missions? As with all other topics we’ve addressed in this blog, the answer lies in the Church’s gradual redefinition of its “customer”:
- Reliance on events came with the territory as churches shifted from viewing the community to seeing members as their “customers”. In other words, long-term relational engagement is much better for the community, but events are much better for institution-building and for catering to members:
- As we discussed in our opening story, tasks like mentoring troubled youth are hard
- Churches are cautious about challenging members to do the hard stuff
- Getting members to do hard stuff requires discipleship, which is hard too
- Because most churches don’t challenge members to develop the right mindset about their role as the embodiment of church between Sundays, few go out of their way to take on the tough tasks
- So churches give members the “easy stuff” that keeps them coming back like:
- a food drop-off in the church foyer
- on campus meal packing
- taking up an offering
- a quick 3 hour event run by church staff
- Events have the side benefit in the eyes of church leaders of building the “brand” by making a big splash (whereas long term engagement is quiet and behind the scenes)
- Ironically, event management is harder on church staff but since most pastors and staff act as if they are the “church” and members are “customers”, they’re willing to endure that extra work rather that risk losing members by asking too much of them
What should churches be doing instead?
The greatest impact on the lives of individuals, the welfare of the community, and the advancement of the Kingdom comes from service that is highly:
- Compassionate – e.g. shut-in and hospital visitation (for non-members)
- Enduring – e.g. school partnerships
- Relational – e.g. tutoring
- Loving – e.g. prison ministry
- Challenging – e.g. foster care
- Sacrificial – e.g. inner city
- Interactive – e.g. neighborhood outreach by small groups
- Invitational – e.g. open the church for weekly career coaching, marriage counseling, recovery ministry, health/wellness classes, etc.
It’s Your Turn
What other ministries have you seen churches run which fit those criteria and are making a huge difference in a community?