How does church compare to happy hour?

I heard a pastor, once, who said that a neighborhood bar was closer to an ideal church than most churches are. He pointed out the sense of community, the singing and dancing, the fact that folks went out of desire and not obligation. I think he was onto something.

There are a lot of similarities.

The people tend to stay in one spot and sing a lot of the same songs every week. Someone normally comes by, at one point, to take your money. There’s usually one guy doing most of the talking. You end up with a lot of friends that we never see anywhere else. The more popular spots have cops waiting outside.

Church is about the same.

One big difference, is the fact that bars are run as a business. They understand the need to create an atmosphere that draws people in. They don’t generally tolerate troublemakers. Some have bouncers, big guys who throw out folks causing trouble. You don’t get to go into the same bar, every week, aggravating people. They just pick you up and throw you out.

An older pastor once said, “every healthy body has to be able to eliminate waste.” He understood that some folks need to see the exit. He didn’t allow people to stir up trouble in his church. That pastor had a great church.

Bars understand customer service. The people spending money there expect to be treated with respect. If their service is bad, they get to talk to the manager about it. He listens and goes into action. He doesn’t want to lose a customer. He knows what his job description involves. Take care of the customer or they will take their money somewhere else. I didn’t see a lot of churches that understood that.

I worked for a pastor, once, for two years. We were faithful, tithing members as well. Once, in that two year stretch, did we ask to meet with him. It took a week to get in. When we finally sat down, he looked at his watch and told us he didn’t have much time. We felt worthless. We felt like we had wasted those two years. It was cold.

I understand how it works. I have spent about seven years of my life on church staff. We serve God, not the pastor. Sure. But when a young, energetic church member comes in for help, someone needs to listen. They might not ask again. At least, not you.

We didn’t. Don’t act surprised when those folks don’t come back. When someone pours their life into building your vision, they deserve some respect.

Bars normally put their money in two places. The hands of the employees and back into the business. There’s a lot of single moms and college age kids, depending on those tips and wages. The rest of the money, usually goes into to making the place more attractive. Better sound. More lights. Hiring better musicians. Bringing in karaoke nights. Expanding the place to hold more people. Fixing problems that might drive customers away.

Bars are pretty good at baiting people in, offering them more reasons to show up. Too many churches just push guilt and obligation. Not the best way to build up your membership.

Some of the churches, I have worked with, often mismanaged money in horrible ways. Throwing money at one thing, withholding it from another. Setting budgets based on who complained the most at staff meetings. Buying tons of stuff that ended up in a dumpster. Paying staff members pocket change in exchange for passionate service. Knowing that someone is in a crisis and doing nothing about it. Promising to help, then refusing. So many church leaders are detached from reality. Most members are struggling to pay the bills. It gets harder and harder to put that tithe in, watching your church manage the money poorly.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not here to bash churches, I am over all that. But, I would love to see some things done differently.

For us, it just went too far. We felt like we had been pulled into a meat grinder. After all we have been though, it’s hard to slip back into a mainstream church. Once I began to see the patterns, with the churches who were just “dog and pony” shows, I couldn’t stay there. Even the ones that are honestly pursuing legitimate, passionate worship and ministry, are still difficult for me. It’s still hard to sit in a congregation.

You might be surprised how many folks out there are like us.

People who love God. Sincere Christians. People with an honest desire to pursue Christlikeness, but just can’t handle the way so many churches are operating. People have been burned, rejected and ignored for too long. They have been fed tainted messages and poisoned theology. They have sat through too many messages about “don’t,” and haven’t witnessed enough “do.” They expected miracles and community, but got rules and facade.

Can we stop doing church like that? Please.

So, I confess. Our only connection to church, right now, is a small home group church. Rarely more than ten people at a time. But it’s a real “break bread, have communion, dig into the word and encourage each other” kind of church. Exactly what we needed. There might be a day, when I can slip back into a congregation, but I don’t see that happening soon.

I hope that more churches will focus on their sense of community and meeting needs within it. Spending the money in ways that actually benefit their members. Being more concerned with the church family, than with their image. Finding more ways to turn the church into something people want to join, not just stay out of obligation.

There’s a lot of wandering believers out there, who honestly want to be a part of a church again. But, until we get back to doing church the way it was intended, they aren’t coming back. They are tired of judgement. They are tired of spending time with people who are miserable. They want to be somewhere with life and energy, even if there’s greasy food and a beer tap in it. Don’t judge them for being there. Once the church is full of life and energy again, maybe they will reconnect.

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