April 25, 2011 Tony Morgan

Are events killing the Church?

Tim shared a great post last week about “The New Normal Project” at Granger Community Church. It was a post written about what used to be known as stewardship campaigns. You should check out the full article.

This is the quote that grabbed my attention:

“We had very few extra events (i.e. banquets, home meetings) and focused everything we could around the weekend services. People are very busy with very good things–and most of them can only give us one shot a week. That doesn’t mean they are unspiritual or don’t love Jesus or the church. It just means they are living their lives, investing in their families, and contributing to society.”

Tim was writing about their specific project, but I think we as church leaders need to be challenged by Granger’s learning. Generally, churches are very event-driven. We are a one-trick pony. If we want people to take a next step, we try to gather them at a specific time at a specific location and we teach them. Then, when people don’t show up to our events, we assume they are either unspiritual or uncommitted.

Do you know why we do events? Let me give you a few reasons…

  • We do events because churches have always done events. It doesn’t matter if the event actually helps people or not, we do the event because we’re supposed to do the event.
  • We do events because they’re easy to measure. If more people show up, we assume the event was successful and helpful.
  • We do events because we’re lazy. It’s a lot easier to just throw events on the calendar than it is to think about how we might effectively help people take their next steps…especially if that involves engaging people in relationships.
  • We do events because they justify staff positions. Staff members feel obligated to do events to prove the need for their positions.
  • We do events because we have egos. It feels good to get up in front of a group of people and teach them. We feel fulfilled.
  • We do events because we’re afraid to say no. Many times we don’t know when to say no because we haven’t established a clear vision and strategy.

The reality is that your “successful” event could actually be doing quite a bit of harm. If you keep people busy at your events, you may be preventing them from investing in their marriage, their children and their relationships with other people including people outside the faith. You may be preventing them from fulfilling their calling. They think they’re becoming more Christ-like by going to church, when you could actually be pulling them away from what God has called them to do.

The next time you try to play the event card, ask this question: “If we can’t do an event, then how might we help people take their next steps toward Christ?”

There may be instances when an event is the right call. My concern is that we seem to overplay that tactic. Here’s my guess. If we get aggressive about eliminating events on our church calendars, the alternatives for helping people take their next steps are going to look a lot like the discipleship relationships we see modeled in the Bible.

Interested in some of my other non-traditional thoughts on ministry strategy? You may want to check out my new eBook that officially launches later this week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

Comments (26)

  1. Greg Rudy

    Wow. Well said.

    We have got to stop doing every Good idea, and focus on the God Ideas!

  2. Mark Morgan

    It was this very issue that moved me from a staff position at a large church to a smaller one. I was being successful, and part of something that is “happening” but I was losing my spiritual life, my marriage, my kids, and my relationships. Leading this church for almost seven years now, I am slowly stripping away all of the old expectations and pointing people to Jesus and each other…

  3. Good thoughts. I’ve often wondered this for years, that we’ve lost the true measure of the Christian faith. Instead of faith prompting a passionate pursuit of the Lord Jesus, it has morphed into attending programs and upholding of polity. We’ve transformed the gathering of the church into a weekly “event” instead of a fellowship of believers. Fellowship, for many, is reduced to a “pot-luck”, and discipleship is little more than processing through a particular Bible-study that produces little transformation. We must hear the word of God from Ephesians: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

  4. Jonathan Ford

    A “Simple Church” argument. Maybe true in some respects – although how many times have we heard of people choosing a church because they have this for my kids, or that for my teens, or even great weekend worship (which doesn’t happen without other “events” during the week) or people who really love one another (which isn’t as evident if people aren’t living in community) or great leadership (which often take events to disciple, nurture and encourage)? I believe that a full calendar for the sake of having a full calendar is insanity. So is not having events to not have events.

  5. Tony … Wow! Your on point with this one. I do notice that events are a way of life in the church today. I here of Pastors/Ministry Pastors, Staff and even volunteers who are burnt out. Could you write another post that elaborates on this point? Maybe That explains these questions: “Then how might we help people take their next steps toward Christ?” and “What does discipleship relationships we see modeled in the Bible look like?” answered from your perspective. Or answering the question: What is better then events, what are some examples? Awesome post brother!

  6. This is great, but how are you defining “events?” In the quote above banquets and home groups are given as examples, which seem like to extremes (macro event vs. micro event).

    I’ve seen and had this type of conversation pop up in other places (with events and programs used synonomously). It feels like the trendy thing is to say, “we aren’t program driven.” Which I get. And appreciate. But what are we driven by?

    One last thing, how would you describe the life of Christ and the early church? Isn’t a narrative strung together by describing a series of events? If we deflate the events in the church (which several should be deflated), what becomes our narrative?

  7. Richard Hearing

    We are the body of Christ, the priesthood of believers, do we expect the man or woman at the front because they get “paid” for what they do we expect them to get on with it?, on the other hand this world is not our home, we are His, so what is needed for us as “Church” is perhaps the greater question, often in leaders what those they are teaching to grow, and show them there place in his Kingdom

  8. something I often remind our team is:
    “whatever it takes to get them, is what it takes to keep them”

    – so, if it’s big events or programs, than we’re going to have to stand on our heads eventually! but, if what draws them is the real presence & power of Jesus – GREAT!

    looking forward to your e-book! thanks, Chilly

  9. Greg

    So true!

    Of all the subjects Jesus could have talked about, and the places He could have gone, etc. The absence and silence of Jesus teach us a lot.

  10. Ryan Tate

    If an event is at odds with the goal of discipleship I’d say the event should be canned. If the event aligns with that ministry’s goal of discipleship (which should be every ministry’s primary goal above all others) then do the event.

    Great post and great thoughts.

  11. How does this correlate with Acts 2?

    It seems that the churches in Acts weren’t concerned with “focusing everything they could around the weekend services”, instead they were about living in community with one another on a daily basis.

    I’m not advocating more events but more life interaction. Sunday morning is nothing more than a spiritually glorified event where we get together and stare at the back of each others heads.

    So maybe the list of why we do events could very easily apply to the Sunday morning extravaganza.

    It’s easy to downplay the cookout in someone’s back yard but maybe that cookout is more important and more beneficial than the flash and bang of a 48 minute hand shake on Sunday morning.

  12. Shawn Struckmeier

    I sense that what you call a non-traditional stance may be just the pendulum of church life swinging once again. I agree that churches have over extended themselves in the area of events. We have done a disservice to our staff’s, our volunteers and those attending our churches by having an event just to have an event.

    However I see a great value in the church getting together to celebrate, to rub shoulders with each other, even, when appropriate, to have a fun event that those interested in church might be comfortable coming too. I have seen countless families over my years of ministry plug in to a church from just such an event.

    As some others have stated here the Old Testament and New Testament is filled with examples of God’s people coming together, “an event”, to celebrate, to share a meal, to worship, to confess etc. I wonder if the real important thing for churches is rather to be much more intentional with our events. Canceling those that are just busy event’s to have an event and focus on those events that have been well thought out, well managed, creatively excellent and honoring to God.

  13. Randy

    i agree with jonathan, milo, and justin. while i agree that we do not need more events, we are mistaken if we think we can effect the purposes of the church in one weekend service. i like what craig groeschel says in the latest issue of catalyst leadership:

    “if someone only attends weekend events, their spiritual growth will be limited. if the same person starts using thei gifts to serve, participates in biblical community, and begins to live missionally, their growth trjectory will likely skyrocket.”

    none of that stuff will happen if we “focused everything we could around the weekend services.”

  14. ken

    IMHO, this is the money shot: If you keep people busy at your events, you may be preventing them from investing in their marriage, their children and their relationships with other people including people outside the faith.

    It is my understanding that Events, in the context of this article & train of thought, include chunks of time marketed to the masses & promoted by the church, usually under the guise of “fellowship” or “discipleship”. They are more about religious activity than relational investment.

    In reality, these activities do little more than create additional busy-ness. They provide the attendee with a checked box, but not necessarily what they really need.

    It may be a great class on discipleship, apologetics, or spiritual formation. But if all people do is gain knowledge or check a box saying they’ve been there, it’s a waste of our most precious God-given commodity – our time.

    It’s in the back-yard bar-b-ques, the book clubs, the small groups, the running groups, the conversations over coffee – people sharing life together – this is where the potential for real life change exists. I don’t believe these qualify as “Events” in this context.

    If we enter into these relational communities with the intention of growing closer to our Lord together – wanting to spur one another on, encourage, and even challenge each other along the way – then we are, in my opinion, being more like the healthier models we see in scripture.

    As a pastor in a growing church, I barely have time for the key priorities in my life. I am so thankful I don’t have to worry about a multitude of “events”. Relationships alone are hard enough, and it takes time to develop them…

  15. Priscilla

    One of the issues of having events in the church is that we feel we must “out do the last event”. Keeping things simple is not church language….keeping it better than the church down the street or better than last year is how we speak. Do we fear we will lose people if we don’t do the same things over and over? That may be the million dollar question.

  16. Art

    If by killing the church you mean wearing out and burning out the committed members/attenders… ABSOLUTELY YES!

    If by killing the church do you mean limiting the effectiveness of the the church in the community because we are so busy wrapped up in the activities going on inside a church building… BINGO!

    If by killing the church do you mean destroying marriages, causing children to become bitter towards their parents and God because no one has time for each other anymore… NAIL ON THE HEAD!

    If by killing the church you mean people going to church rather than being the church… CORRECTOMUNDO!

    Yeah, I’m passionate about this, if you can’t tell. :)

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