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.