How do we respond to the demise of Christendom? The question haunts me.
I've searched the Church Leadership books for a prescription. They've suggested slowing down (e.g., Slow Church), creating missional communities (e.g., Everyday Church), and rediscovering our neighborhoods (e.g., The New Parrish). None of these authors promotes "attractional outreach events" -- a wordy way of saying, activities that entice people to come to your church building.
Unfortuantely, I was raised and trained on the method of mass entertainment. Living Christmas Trees and Vacation Bible Schools brought my family to church. Fall Festivals and Wild Game Feeds have knit our church together in service.
I will not abandon attractional outreach events. Not yet. Below I make my case:
- Attractional outreach keep Oriental Trading in business. Who else will buy 100 plastic off brand Slinkies embossed with crosses? What other occasion justifies the purchase of 50 paddle balls stamped with the phrase "Jesus saves"?
- Attractional outreach events promote big volunteerism. As much as we want everyone to serve as a mentor, tutor, or spiritual friend, we can at least feel good that large groups of people will move chairs, donate baked goods, and distribute candy.
- Attractional outreach events integrate different social classes. While the average church goer may not brave a homeless shelter, jail cell, or trailer park, when a church advertises free gas cards, sweatshirts, and entertainment, the "least of these" is sure to show up with open hands.
- Attractional outreach events direct money outside the walls of the church. Well, technically speaking, if the event is attractional, the money stays within the church walls, but its target audience is outsiders. And, for the record, at an attractional event these people are not referred to as "these people," "outsiders," or the "the least of these." They are called "unchurched" or "prospective members."
- Attractional outreach events encourage church members to invite others. Apparently, most congregants subscribe to a belief that friends and family do not need corporate worship, spiritual community, and preaching. They need chili and bluegrass music. We are better at selling a good time than God.
- Attractional outreach events employ pastors. As most of us know, pastors only work on Sundays. Two or three times a year, I schedule an outreach event on a Friday or Saturday to give the impression that my work responsibilities go exceed Sundays.
- Attractional outreach events reflect Jesus' ministry practice. The Son of Man did not exclusively work big miracles in big crowds, but He did feed five thousand, four thousand, and preach to masses. Perhaps Jesus preferred the slower, smaller, more local forms of reaching people, but He did not altogether avoid crowd-pleasing moments.
Perhaps some day our neighbors in Leesburg will invite us to hide Easter Eggs in their living rooms and cook hotdogs in their backyards. Until then, we'll invite them to our lawn.