It sounds so inviting and innocent.
“Sit back, relax and enjoy the service.”
But that may be one of the most dangerous sentences regularly uttered in church.
I expect promises of great customer service in a restaurant, an airplane or a store. But the idea that church is a place where we pay others to do ministry as we sit passively, consuming and passing judgment on the product being offered, may be the greatest single reason for the anemia of the modern, western church.
And the church I pastor is no exception.
We’re not supposed to be in the customer service business. We’re a community for life transformation. The church does not exist to serve passive consumers, but to equip and activate disciples.
But, like the monkey stubbornly clinging to the apple inside the cage, we’ll never free ourselves to be biblically active communities for life-transformation until church leaders let go of our please-the-consumer mindset.
Let’s Stop the Bait-and-Switch
I’m a huge proponent of making our church services a welcoming environment for everyone – especially for first-time attenders and seekers. But it’s bait-and-switch to tell church-goers that we’re here to serve them, only to teach them a few months later at the membership class that – surprise! – you’re not supposed to be a consumer. You’re here to do the work of ministry.
And we wonder why people have become so skeptical about the church. It would be like going to Starbucks until you achieved Gold Card status only to get handed a green apron. On a volunteer basis, no less.
This audience-to-discipleship bait-and-switch doesn’t create passionate, worshipful, loving disciples. It creates angry, confused and resentful church-shoppers – and quitters.
How Jesus Called Disciples
When people came to Jesus, they weren’t given false up-front promises that they could sit passively while Jesus wiped their troubles away – all wrapped up in a delightful just-under-an-hour stage show.
They were told to take up their cross. Some were told to leave their nets behind (their ony source of income). One man was told he had to sell everything and give it to the poor.
In one famous incident, Jesus told the growing crowds they were required to eat his body and drink his blood if they wanted to follow him. This was so repulsive that many left him. And Jesus let them go. He didn’t soften his tone to try to win them back. (John 6:53-62)
This may seem harsh to some of us, but the upside of this approach is that when following Jesus got really hard, no one could say they hadn’t been warned. Or equipped.
Change ‘Sit and Watch’ To ‘Come and Participate’
Years ago, I realized that this ‘sit and watch’ issue was a problem for our church. So we’re working to change the way we ask people to interact with the church. Imperfectly, to be sure.
We don’t entice non-believers to come to a church service designed them. Yes, we invite them. And when they come, we greet them, help them and explain things to them. But our church services put the emphasis on worshiping Jesus, teaching the Bible and discipling believers, not entertaining passive consumers.
Instead of doing come-and-be-entertained Big Day events, when we do community service events, we encourage non-attenders to work alongside us.
If you’re new to our church, our hope is that you’ll see that following Jesus is about worship, discipleship and service, right from the start.
People Want to Worship, Connect and Serve
The church was never meant to be a religious stage show for passive audience members.
And, let’s face it, even if it was, those of us who lead and worship in small churches know that don’t have the resources to put on as good a show as our big church counterparts. Oh, who are we kidding? Even megachurches can’t compete with the quality of entertainment people can access 24/7 from the phone in their pocket.
But we can be great at worship, community and generosity.
When someone decides disrupt their normal routine to go to church for the first time – or for the first time in a long time – it’s not because they don’t have other entertainment options. They’re doing it to meet a need they may not even fully realize yet.
They want to connect. With God and with us. Through worship, fellowship and service.
A great, interactive church is the best place on earth to do that.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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