It's becoming clear to the churched and unchurched
alike. Serving others is valid and righteous only if it is done
inside the confines of the congregation.
Increasingly, churches have become protective of their members
and regular attendees. They frequently encourage them to volunteer
and serve-in the official functions of the congregation. But not
- After the recent Colorado floods, coordinated community-wide
work days were organized to help the victims of the disaster. But
some church leaders refused to cooperate or encourage their members
to serve. One said, "Why would we want our people out there working
if our church isn't the main sponsor?"
- A pastor recently said he'd never make his congregation aware
of opportunities to serve with Habitat for Humanity or other
community agencies. "We need our people serving here," he said. "We
can't afford them spending their time out there."
- A child-mentoring organization links congregations with local
public schools. But they have more schools than churches that are
willing to partner. "Why would we do that?" a pastor asked. "I
don't think those kids or their parents would ever come to our
church, or give to our church."
- One church noticed that some members were pursuing their
passions and creating new non-profit organizations to serve in the
community. Church leaders formed a new policy discouraging such
activity and denying the church's support. "Those spin-offs don't
help our church's brand," a leader told me. "If we don't control it
and put our church's name on it, we don't want our people
This myopic practice is killing the mission of the
church-especially among the young. Millennials, who are eager to
serve, simply do not get the church's possessiveness when it comes
to volunteers. It's a major turn-off that is contributing to the
Millennials' flight from the church altogether.
Clutching volunteers also corrodes the public's perception of
the meaning of "church"-as a self-serving institution, in a
building, that meets at a certain time during the week.
This behavior is anesthetizing our people from being salt and
light in the real world. They're assuming that the only acceptable
expression of their faith happens at church. Once they leave the
parking lot, they can forget about following Jesus-until they plop
in the pew next week.
I like what Leadership Network's Reggie McNeal says in our
upcoming documentary, "When God Left the Building." He said, "The
big issue for the church is not how to do church better. We've been
doing church better and better and better with the result of an
increasing disaffection. The real question for the American church
is how to BE the church better. How do you be church where people
already are? How do you take church to the people instead of just
expecting people to come to church?"