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.