The holidays are over. Now what? Is your church taking a deep breath, recovering from the build-up to Christmas worship services? Maybe your church put together a couple Thanksgiving and Christmas service events in the community. Events take tremendous time and effort to organize – herding cats to make sure everyone is in the right place at the right time. Isn’t it time for a well-deserved breather?
There may be comfort, but there is tremendous danger in falling back into the familiar church routine after the bedlam of the holiday season:
- When churches retrench back into the “4 walls” after the holidays, it feeds the widespread perception that church compassion was actually thinly-veiled promotion. Society envisions church members patting themselves on the back for what little good they did over the holidays.
- Families are still struggling to make ends meet in January and February, with little help and hope for the future.
- The mission field right outside the back door of the church continues to be ripe for harvest after Christmas.
- That modern-day church “routine” no longer aligns with Jesus’ model of opening the door to evangelism through compassion. Jesus rarely said who He was before healing and feeding to demonstrate His love and power. He sent the 70 followers and the 12 disciples out with clear instructions to do the same. When Paul went to the “gentiles”, he recounted Peter’s words, “The only thing they did suggest was that we must always remember to help the poor, and I, too, was eager for that.” (Galations 2:10) The Lord expects His Church, yes even today, to follow suit…
What’s Wrong with Events?
For 1900 years, the Church did follow Jesus’ model. Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter. Churches started the hospitals and schools. Churches were engaged year-round in dealing with pressing social issues. Churchgoers were expected to be salt and light to those around them between Sundays, following Jesus’ lead, acting as both servants and evangelists continually.
Yet the priorities of church leaders and members have shifted. Assistance programs are handled primarily 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, typically during the holiday season, that unfortunately…
- Are transactional, not relational in nature.
- Apply band-aids to gaping wounds, not addressing the underlying, ongoing issues in the lives of those hurting and helpless.
- Fail to make meaningful or lasting change, providing a handout rather than a hand up.
- Fuel negative perceptions of “church” by making society question whether the church leaders truly care, or the event was obligatory, meant to make members feel good for having done something.
- Enable churches to “check the box”, giving pastors, staff and members a false sense of compassion and accomplishment.
Yet church is the only true source of enduring help and hope – found in Christ alone. Government and secular charities can’t do that. Church is also the best place for those receiving assistance to land, developing long-term relationships with believers and hopefully with the Lord. Churches miss so many opportunities to reach people by abdicating relational compassion to other organizations and relying on transactional events, primarily centered on the holiday season.
Because Jesus’ model was Prayer, Care (and then) Share, knowing His words alone weren’t enough, churches that rely on occasional events and Sunday sermons to reach the lost are in effect trying to “outpreach” Jesus. It’s as if most pastors believe their words are more potent than those of Jesus, not requiring a preceding or accompanying act of kindness to have full effect. Of course, because our sermons and witness cannot outdo His, they are increasingly falling on deaf ears today.
So Why Do Churches Do Events?
With all that downside, why would churches use events as the primary vehicle for conducting 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:
- Tasks like mentoring troubled youth, adoption or running a food pantry are hard.
- Churches are cautious about challenging members to do the hard stuff.
- Getting members to do hard stuff requires intensive, personalized discipleship – which is hard too.
- Because most churches don’t challenge members to develop the proper mindset regarding their role as the personification of “church” between Sundays, few go out of their way to take on the hard 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).
Although event management is easier on members, it’s harder on church staff. However, since most pastors and staff today act as if they are the embodiment of “church” and treat members as “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 year-round that which fit those criteria and are having a huge positive impact in their communities?