A Church for Dogs or a Church for Homeless People?

At the risk of saying something way inappropriate I am writing this post while still emotionally charged after reading two news reports at www.ministriestoday.com. Both items where about churches in the Los Angeles area. One talked about a move among some area churches to seriously minister to the 8,000 homeless families in greater L.A. The other was about a Los Angeles church in was trying to turn around declining attendance by having a worship service for dogs. Yes you read that right!

In speaking about the need for ministry to the homeless, Pastor Mark Brewer of Bel Air Presbyterian Church said that it is no coincidence that there are 8,000 churches in L.A. and 8,000 homeless families. L.A. Homeless Ministry The push that is being made by more than 600 pastors and civic leaders is to have families “adopt” a homeless family and help them get on their feet. That certainly sounds like the kind of thing Jesus would and does ask us to do.

But then there is the story of Covenant Presbyterian Church which has started “Canines at Covenant”. Worship for Dogs These are worship services in which people are invited to bring their dog. It was purely a church growth strategy to help turn around a shrinking church. Apparently, incredibly and might I say, sadly, it seems to be working over the short-term. A recent service had 30 “humans” in attendance with their pets and 75% of them were new visitors.

I have a couple of problems with all of this. The obvious one is that more and more churches should be about things like ministry to the homeless and not about programs that are designed to tickle some fancy we have, like how good it would feel to have “Fido” in worship with me. If you really want your church to grow then maybe doing ministry to people who need to know the love of Christ like few others would be better than trying to figure out if your puppy likes hymns or praise choruses.

It also concerns me that the ministry at Covenant Presbyterian is the logical step in a growing “consumerism” mindset in the church. So much of evangelical Christianity has turned into presenting Jesus as the person who will solve all your problems and make you feel wonderful, while expecting little or nothing in return. Yet when Jesus called Peter and Andrew, as well as James and John to “Come Follow Me”, he called them to become “fishers of men” and to “take up their cross”. That call is still the one we are supposed to answer. I understand that following Jesus can and does make your life better. But that is the result of following him as a servant and kingdom minded disciple. It is not the goal of following him. There is a huge difference. The more we cater to people with gimmicks and short-sighted appeals to fill the seats, the more we will drift off the path that Christ walks and the less real impact we will have in the lives of people.

4 thoughts on “A Church for Dogs or a Church for Homeless People?

  1. Carol

    That is great, Dan. I have been sort of put off by churches catering to folks “taste buds” in one way or another. I know of one church (and I am sure there are many) that has a total spread of breakfast that entices people to come—and coffee, water, food, etc. is taken into the sanctuary. Pets in the sanctuary?? What ever happened to the lure of Jesus and the promises made by Him to bring people to the cross? I like the 8,000 homeless families and the 8,000 churches and do not think there is any coincidence there at all. :)+

  2. Well, you have to understand I’m a dog lover. In fact I recently picked up a stray in the middle of nowhere and in a couple hours spent several hundred dollars on her at the vet and getting her food, collar, etc. and getting her placed in a humane society.

    I’m rather impressed by the “bring your dog to church” church. (I’d like to think I’m open-minded.) Regardless of whether it’s a “gimmic”, it seems to be exposing unchurched people to more gospel & Christianity than they’d be getting otherwise, and I don’t know how one can object to that.

    You say, “It was purely a church growth strategy to help turn around a shrinking church”, as if you’re looking down at them for not having a very high attendance and upbraiding them for doing something unique and original about that. In any case, how can we know the “dog service” was “purely a church growth strategy”, or whether it was motivated by self-centerdness or caring for other people? Perhaps those who came up with the idea were thinking very little about the church budget, and thinking a very great deal about trying to find some common ground with unchurched people who dismiss Jesus and the church’s relevance to their lives, and get them interested & curious enough to poke their noses in the door… We don’t know, so maybe that’s a case where we shouldn’t judge them too harshly or with too knee-jerk a reaction.

    I believe in your bio you mentioned that you grew up unchurched yourself, but maybe you’ve forgotten just how shy and suspicious non-Christians are of church and Christians. I know non-Christians who wouldn’t be willing to walk into a building full of strangers just because the whole social situation would scare them to death – they wouldn’t know what to say or how to act in a “church”, and they’d be both scared that someone might talk to them (as in “have you been saved yet?”)and scared that no one might notice them the whole morning. If bringing their dog along makes them feel more at home, or having friendly pets and their owners around unbends them to the point that they can face/interact with strangers, I’d say that’s great. I’m sure you’ve heard about “therapy dogs” coming to hospitals and nursing homes, and “service dogs” help their owners emotionally and socially as much as they help them physically. If dogs in church will help bring people near enough to Christ to meet him, by all means, bring the dogs!

  3. Dan Lacich

    Thanks for your note. I really appreciate your perspective. I think what made this thing so startling for me was that the two articles were right next to one another on the web page and it was jolting to see a picture of a homeless guy and then a dog both being the focus of a churches ministry.


  4. Bruce

    I’m a dog lover too. Between a church that is for the homeless and one that allows dogs inside with their owners I think the dogs would be more grateful for being allowed to attend with their owners. Also, I have learned much more about how God wants us to be from dogs than from people. In my estimation dogs make good witnesses and people don’t measure up so well. Dogs have loyalty, unconditional love, a desire to please, and as much affection as you can handle. They can read your mood like a book and respond as needed. I’m sorry but I don’t find many (if any) people that have those qualities consistently.
    I’m sorry and have great compassion for the homeless and for those who are called to help them. I think comparing dogs to homeless folks isn’t actually proper because the dogs actually display those qualities that we should have and rarely ever display. Dogs win hands down. Besides, I’ve never heard of anyone being mugged by a dog.
    All kind of comparisons can be made but I don’t think this is a good one or equal in value.

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