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When Did Church Become an Event?

When Did Church Become an Event?

People Praying in a church

Part 1 (of 2)

No pastor sets out to make a church primarily about its weekend services.  Seminary students envision impacting a community mightily for Christ, something putting on a worship event every Sunday alone could never accomplish.  They understand that occasional outreaches or service events during the holiday season won’t transform a community either.  Church planters and new pastors realize that attaining such a lofty vision requires utilizing the other five or six days of the week.  They know that powerful, eternal impact must extend beyond solely pastors and staff; it will require empowering, equipping and mobilizing disciples.

Yet, when in the throes of running a church, it becomes a scary proposition to ask faithful attenders and members to endure the costs of discipleship Jesus laid out in Luke 9 and Luke 14.  Pastors find out the hard way that few are willing to undergo that degree of life change and therefore they request a lesser commitment.  In other words, instead of expecting congregations to accept their rightful role AS the church personified, pastors lower their expectations, hoping some will attend regularly and volunteer to help out with their weekly events commonly referred to today as “going TO church”.

How to Know if Your Church is Event-Centric

How will you know whether your church has adopted an event mentality?

  • Allocation of Resources – High degree of emphasis on weekend services in terms of pastor/staff time, budget and volunteer responsibilities
  • Tyranny of the Urgent – Church service planning and logistics commandeer the agenda of staff meetings
  • Hard Work – Putting on an event takes substantial effort, requiring extensive preparation and rehearsals throughout the week
  • Pressure to Perform – Staff and leaders issue a collective sigh of relief when the weekend is over (assuming it went well)
  • Hoping Lots of Folks Show Up – Church leadership is counting and concerned with attendance, whether it is rising or falling
  • Infrequent communication by leaders throughout the week
  • Church is rarely engaged in coordinated community service activities between Sundays
  • Local missions are largely restricted to service events, particularly during the holiday season
  • Little intensive, personal discipleship taking place (Note: Small groups meeting during the week are not evidence that your church does not have an event orientation.  Small groups are less about building disciples than building relationships, helping ensure people come back to the next event.)
  • Increased use of commercial promotional tactics, like mailers or email lists

What do events typically look like?  How prevalent and evident are the following at your church?:

  • Those already attending the event are encouraged to invite their friends
  • Many arrive early to get good parking spots and seats
  • Greeters are staged at every door
  • Arrivals are ushered to designated seating/rooms (i.e. kids) and general admission is offered
  • Engaging entertainment and speakers
  • Agendas are short and jam-packed, building up to a crescendo to maximize emotional response
  • Attenders come and go as they please, free to show up late or walk out early
  • Nearly everyone leaves soon after it’s over, saying a quick goodbye to a few folks, to go home or out to eat

What does it take to put on a successful event?  How much effort is your church putting into improving in the following areas?:

  • Planning – Increasing lay leader involvement yet still geared toward weekend logistics, budgeting and promotion
  • Marketing – Creating awareness and excitement through multi-channel advertising (email, mail, word of mouth) of appealing content (e.g. stronger marriages and relationships) and offerings (e.g. casual atmosphere, programs)
  • Volunteering – Continually recruiting volunteers to work various positions during weekend services
  • Attendance – Finding ways to increase engagement by loyal “fans” that leaders can count on to show up at every “event” and invite others
  • Signage – More attractive signs for welcoming, directing and designating rooms for first-time guests
  • Interesting Speakers – Sermons that reach a wider audience, hoping softer messages will bring more back than they scare away
  • Great Music – Better performers, acoustics and audio/visual

The Problems with Churches Becoming Event-Centric

Putting on a big show each weekend distracts pastors, staff, members and attenders from the proper, Biblical definition of “church” and from Jesus’ demands of His followers:

  • Sucks up tremendous resources, redirecting them internally and away from the community impact the pastor once envisioned
  • Makes the experience of church more about the pastors, staff and facilities than the members, who are intended to be the “ecclesia” (or “Church”)
  • Caters to members versus challenging them by appealing to their attraction to events and their limited time commitment to religious activities in this day and age
  • Does not provide enough room for the Holy Spirit to move, with careful choreography and scripting leaving little to the Lord’s discretion once the service starts
  • Infrequency and seasonality of local missions ignores the fact that families are still hungry and hurting Monday through Friday and in January, February, etc.
  • Jesus did church services all week long, giving impromptu sermons at every opportunity, rather than preparing for a big weekly event.  Jesus expects all of His followers, including pastors, staff and church members, to do likewise.

Letting your church be reduced largely to weekend events may actually grow your church in numbers, but not in health or effectiveness for the Kingdom.

When Did Church Become an Event?

Jesus discipled, healed and fed.  The apostles discipled, healed and helped the poor.  The early church discipled and continually reached out to the least and the lost.  Churches for 1900 years were the food bank and homeless shelter; they started the hospitals and schools; they were often the center of town.

What changed in recent decades?

  • Government and charities not affiliated with a church took over the lead role in compassion
  • America became a consumer-driven culture, leaving less time for non-revenue-producing activities and raising expectations on those receiving anyone’s valuable spare time
  • Consequently, churches came to recognize the need to provide a first-class experience in a less time-consuming format, reducing the commitment from ½ day of Sunday school, worship services and fellowship lunch to a one hour event
  • In other words, making church an event was a natural outgrowth of (in effect) treating members as “customers”, no longer seeing them as the embodiment of “church”
  • Pastors and staff became viewed as the “professionals” charged with evangelism, leaving congregations with the diminished role of inviting people to weekend events
  • Therefore, intensive discipleship became less necessary, evidenced by the conspicuous absence of one-on-one and triad discipleship in churches today
  • With paid staff and facilities increasingly seen as the definition of “church”, the congregation treated by church leaders as “customers”, and other organizations assuming the lead role in compassion, the lost in the community (which had previously been considered the church’s “customer”) are now effectively ignored – except for seasonal service events to “check the box”.

It’s Your Turn…

Where Would Jesus Be (WWJB) right now, between Sundays?  Would Jesus be preaching and serving or taking a breather after a busy Christmas season?  Would Jesus condone an event-centric mentality?  What would Jesus change about your church if He walked in its front door today?

Next week in Part 2, we’ll unpack an alternative model for church that breaks the event cycle.  Plus we’ll introduce a new initiative from Meet The Need that helps your church make that difficult transition.

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15 Responses

  1. Jim,
    My adult daughter and I were just talking about this subject. We tried to remember any church congregation in our area which has a “traditional” service with hymns versus contemporary Christian worship music in concert done with dimmed lights in the meeting room, or sanctuary, with spotlights on the performer/worship leaders/band. Though we have not been to any Lutheran congregations in the area, we have attended most independent, UMC, and Nazarene congregations over the course of looking for a home congregation of Wesleyan-Holiness doctrines. Suntree UMC has a traditional service as well as a contemporary service. The Community Church of God-Anderson, IN affiliation has a traditional service for all 10-12 congregants. Most of the congregations we attended had music concerts followed by a message, with invitations to join small group meetings during the coming week called “connect groups”. Very little discipleship takes place unless one signs into a connect group focused on discipleship.

    1. Lee – Yes, the emphasis on the weekend has certainly increased in nearly all churches, and along with that shift has come a de-emphasis on discipleship and community service/engagement during the other five or six days of the week. Hope you’re able to find a church that’s doing discipleship and local missions well – all week and all year long. If so, please let me know! – Jim

  2. It sounds like we might be following Him in the same direction! We just publicly announced the start up of New LifeScape Ministries, a faith based non-profit designed to help churches minister to the needs of low income people in their community. We will be equipping churches to address the mental health and mental illness in the community, along with actually helping people get off the government support system that traps them in poverty. It is all about discipleship and rediscovery of what it means to be the church, not just a church!

  3. This is a timely and much needed article admonishing fellowships to return to biblical principles rather than embracing contemporary marketing methods.

    The article is spot on and the writer keys in on the central issue when saying:
    ‘Does not provide enough room for the Holy Spirit to move, with careful choreography and scripting leaving little to the Lord’s discretion once the service starts.’

    I couldn’t agree more because services have become so choreographed that I feel we have ‘organized’ the Lord right out of the church.
    Maranatha

    1. Thanks for your comments, Howard. Some of the most impactful moments I’ve ever experienced in church have been when the pastor/service went “off-script”.

  4. You have put into words the feelings I have had for several years!

    Last fall I announced “I quit” to my church. They thought I was planning to leave the pastorate. Instead I meant I was quitting the production of church as a program or event. We still meet together as Hebrews 1:25 commands. But I am putting as much time as I can into small group discipleship as Hebrews 10:24 also commands.

    1. Gary – I would love to have been in your church that day when you announced “I quit” – great way to open the congregation’s eyes to the Biblical definition and model of “church”. By the way, in your comments you referenced my favorite chapter in all of scripture (Hebrews 10)…sure that’s not simply coincidental.

  5. Rob, really good idea. Or, what I have thought of, to get my favorite vegetables (Snow peas) and de-string a heap of them already straight after I bought them, and have them and some carrot sticks sitting ready in the fridge so that you do#n28&17;t have to prepare it any more

  6. As a church consultant for a large Association of churches for 25 years and 31 years as a pastor of a (use to be) church planting church, this article is 100% right on. When I respond to most consultant request, nearly all of them have focused on “how and what I need to do to get my church members not to forsake the assembly on Sunday Mornings”, instead of,” how do I get them to provoke one another to do the work of making disciples”. Jim, thank you for provoking us to good works.

  7. Totally agree with the article. My question is where do followers of Jesus Christ gather for the kind of worship he would desire?

  8. Does this whole article imply that it’s wrong to host a church based event that is happening only once in every single month where people pay entrance fee with tickets and well known artists being invited for music performance?

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