Looking at our summer calendar, you are bound to notice that there are a lot of fun events. We’ve got Outdoor Movies, a night at the local Water Park, and even a public demonstration of the World’s Largest Whoopee Cushion. I can imagine skepticism and criticism coming from a couple different angles in light of such events. On the common church-goer side, I imagine the criticism being that none of those events seem to be “religious.” They aren’t Vacation Bible School. They aren’t Bible Studies or worship services. They just aren’t very church-y at all! From those outside the church, the skepticism may have a slightly different flavor. Such people may wonder why a church would bother with putting on fun stuff. Is it a trap? Is it a bait-and-switch? When are they gonna force religion down my throat?
I understand where both sides are coming from. So, let me try to explain a few simple reasons our church can, in good conscience, provide events that are just for fun with no catch. Believe it or not, fun church events can have redeeming church qualities without being a church trap! Here’s why we do un-church-y events:
1.) We actually want to love our community. Of course we believe that our community’s greatest need is the gospel. We wouldn’t be a church if we didn’t believe that, and we will certainly get to that (below). But sometimes people need a break. Sometimes families need an excuse to spend time outside of the normal routine together. Sometimes tired moms need a reason to get their kids out of the house in the summer. Sometimes parents desperately need some adult interaction. We can provide that!
Far too often, churches want to love communities exclusively by assimilating the community to church culture. In other words, there are lots of very loving, good-hearted congregations that will absolutely love and care for your family…as long as you come to them and adjust to their church culture. In a culture with little taste (or even a distaste) for church, an open-door policy simply doesn’t work. Nobody cares if your door is open if they have no reason to enter.
Low-commitment, un-churchy events give the opportunity to forget about the door altogether. Heck, it even breaks down the walls. It gives us all a chance to simply live and laugh together as a community. It’s just neighbors meeting one another without condition or expectation. We want our community to know that we, as a church, are willing and motivated to love them, build relationships, and simply be good friends to them, whether they ever come to church with us or not! We would love for everyone to come and experience the goodness of the grace of Jesus Christ and the joy of being a part of a local church! But, we will be good friends and neighbors even if they don’t.
2.) Building a loving community doesn’t often happen naturally. It’s easy to fall into the patterns of life. You wake up, get ready, leave your garage, go to work, come home, close the garage, and end your day without ever having a reason to interact with the people living closest to you. In fact, recent Pew Research found that fewer than 25% of people actually know most of their neighbors.
An Outdoor Movie is a great reason to spend some time with the people that live near you. Great conversations can happen poolside while your kids play at the Water Park that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. And wow, what a unique memory you could make squeezing the World’s Largest Whoopee Cushion with people you just met! Sometimes, people just need a reason interact, and families need a reason to break the routine and build memories together!
No-catch events like these provide a real service to people around us simply by building a sense of community that may not be there otherwise. Plus, as Christians, we then have the long-term opportunity to continue demonstrating biblical community and Christ-like love to those living near us!
Jesus commanded us to love God first and then to love our neighbors as ourselves. That love doesn’t have catches or conditions. We don’t love them so that they’ll come to church. We love them because we have been genuinely impacted and transformed by the love of Christ ourselves!
That kind of love and community also doesn’t happen naturally. It relies entirely on the transforming work of Jesus, work that we show we are willing to do as a church by meeting people where they are.
3.) Loving our neighbors and building community validates our message. People that accept an invitation to the water park or to an outdoor movie may not have ever accepted an invitation to a Bible study, and they may have a myriad of reasons for that hesitation! Even after the first 2, 5, or 100 free events, they still may not want to “come to church.” That’s OK! We aren’t keeping score. However, our hope is that after spending time with us you will feel loved…not with a generalized friendly love, but with a Christ-like, unnatural, sacrificial love. Over time, that will certainly mean that one of us shares the hope that we have found in the good news of Jesus with you.
These events are not a manipulative means of getting you to “go to church.” They are an opportunity for us to be the church by showing love, being an actual friend, and being honest about what Jesus means to us. Fun events may actually prove to some people that we truly believe what we say we believe, and they hopefully do increase the likelihood that people will accept an invitation to church at some point.
We don’t like to think of sharing about Jesus as an ulterior motive. We aren’t being sneaky and trying to force it on anyone. But we DO want the gospel to be our ultimate motive. Put very simply, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Our lives have been transformed because the sinless and perfect Son of God stepped down from heaven and took the punishment that we deserve. We are recipients of extravagant grace…grace that we want to talk about and share! And if you aren’t interested yet, that’s OK. We’ll still be here loving our neighbors and building community for years to come!
Oh, and don’t forget that we also offer Bible Studies, Family Discipleship opportunities, Service Projects, and other EVENTS…all so we can lead people to growth and transformation in Christ by being ROOTED, REACHING, AND REPLICATING.