Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Church (part 6) – Entertainment or Engagement

In the context of the last post, remembering ‘church’ is the people, what happens at a service? What happens at the communal gathering, the corporate worshipping?

Does the church service entertain people or engage people?

Do the other activities of the church entertain the attendees or fully engage them?

You guessed it, time for another model! There is some overlap between the consumer / contributor model, but this focus is more on how the church congregation interacts with each other and non members and how leadership interacts with the rest of the church members or visitors.

The Entertaining Church
The main focus of the activities of the church or services becomes ‘putting on a show’ for people, resulting in the attendees turning up to be entertained without anything being asked or expected from them. People don’t feel engaged or part of something, they come purely to
take from and not give to the experience. The structure of the services and activities run by the church panders to the consumerist expectations, demands and lifestyle of the people that attend. Emphasis is on ‘looking right’ or ‘looking good’, on having the latest technology or most recent, most popular songs. The focus is not so much on Jesus as a living, active presence in our lives but on a sanitised, domesticated Christ that is cool or fashionable, grabs a coffee from the foyer on the way in and subtly confirms our underlying desire for everything to be about ‘me’, that life is about talent or appearance and not about character.

The entertainment church model can be very attractive in some respects, often there are multiple things going on at the same time so that if you tune out of one thing, you can go and do something else. Who wouldn’t want a starbucks / costa (replace with coffee house of your choosing) on-site? It seems to be often the kind of approach that you may see in a ‘megachurch’ or a church that has a ‘celebrity’ pastor.
In a way, any church with a paid ministry, with the same person at the front giving the sermon message most weeks encourages less engagement because it is there on a plate for you to take or leave as you wish.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really encourage people to participate deeply in either their own spiritual journey or the shared mission of the body of Christ.

The opposite end of the spectrum is the engaging church

The Engaging Church
People who attend church activities or services are encouraged to participate and get involved. This continues into other aspects of church life, the emphasis on people becoming stakeholders within the church community and learn to journey together, giving as well as receiving.
Focus is on being ‘the body of Christ’, with Christ is the head of the church, living, active and involved by his spirit in the individual lives of the congregation and in the congregation as a whole.
Services are less about ‘putting on a show’ and more about engaging each other in a compelling and participatory way inspiring and equipping each other to be open to the movement of the spirit of God in our midst.

Churches that follow the engaging model tend to be smaller because to fully engage people becomes harder the more people there are. Churches within lay communities without paid ministry find it easier to follow this model, each person becomes an investment of other people’s time and emotion, there is a much more pervasive and diverse sense of shared vision, shared direction, shared journey. There is much less sense of one or two people having the authority or control and each person’s input is valued much more equally. The whole becomes more than the sum of its parts and if any person leaves the congregation, it is much more keenly felt.
This model builds strong emotional bonds and interpersonal relationships where non-members feel like they are being invited into a family rather than a ‘place of worship’.
Fully engaging churches will help people see that church is what you do, not where you go, that everybody matters, that everybody’s opinion and input is of value.

Which is why I would value your comments and interaction here. I’m sure I’m missing something or that you can add something to the conversation! I really appreciate what Tobit said on Part 3 – Consumer or Contributor, it added depth and dimension and inspired some of today’s post.

I imagine you will be there ahead of me in seeing I am suggesting that all church communities should be moving in the direction of engagement and away from entertainment. Entertaining people will last until something more exciting or compelling comes along to distract them, whereas engaging people will give them a sense of worth, a voice, knowledge they are valued and loved, welcomed and wanted.

I don’t believe the attitude of ‘just waiting around, being a good church attender, giving a bit of money charitably, until Jesus can come back and fix it all at once’ is a valid approach to Christianity.  The clue for me is in the name “Christ-ianity” – looking like Christ, which takes us back to – seeing and being (If you missed it last time: to See Christ in others so that we will then Be Christ to others.)

Engaging with people in an involved, connected, genuinely loving and Christ-like way is the responsibility of each individual member of the church – the ‘body of Christ’ and the responsibility of the community of believers as a whole.

“The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”
1 John 1:2

If we are proclaiming ‘the eternal life’ people need to see that within us (individually and collectively) and coming from us, spilling out from within us.  That ‘eternal life’ which has ‘appeared to us’ – the risen Christ who we have encountered, needs to be reflected from us in all our interactions, thoughts, words, actions etc.

It’s all about being Christ-like.  

If it doesn’t look like Jesus, we are missing the point.  

If our church is not as compelling and engaging as Jesus was, we are missing the point, if we are not drawing people out of themselves and into relationship and interaction with God and us on the journey, we are missing the point.  

If we aren’t locally, community focussed, making a positive difference to our community(ies), local schools, hospitals, youth centres etc. or providing some of those services ourselves as a church, then are we really acting out this eternal life, are we really practising resurrection living?  

4 responses to “Church (part 6) – Entertainment or Engagement

  1. Pingback: Church (part 1) – Prologue « [un]conscious-stream[ing]

  2. tobit 18/03/2011 at 10:46

    ok, another interesting post…

    I have been trying to place the ‘church‘ I hang out at in *your* models, and am not sure I winning yet…


    In a way, any church with a paid ministry, with the same person at the front giving the sermon message most weeks encourages less engagement because it is there on a plate for you to take or leave as you wish.
    Unfortunately, it doesn’t really encourage people to participate deeply in either their own spiritual journey or the shared mission of the body of Christ.

    we have a paid ministry, but we never have the same person at the front week in / week out. further, the church is specifically focused on the mission (indeed, we are a ‘mission shaped church’). The point I am wrestling with here is paid ministry is placed in the entertainment end of the scale, yet the model of church I experience is engaging, and absolutely fits with the Engaging church description you cite.
    But, while church is often entertaining, but I don’t go there to be entertained (its not a big production…), but I recognise that in a congregation of 350-400 many people could be going because they like the worship band. that said, we never have the same worship band twice!

    confused? I am!

    In a way, I guess think one of the biggest problems I used to experience (and you will know this well knowing some of my roots) was a church / community that seemed desperate to emulate the ‘entertainment’ approach and all its rewards (e.g. large audiences, high vol of baptisms) and constantly fail (I guess because the ‘entertainment’ on offer had limited appeal). Where perhaps, if it had been able to get down of a platform and engage things might have been different.

    • Alex Green 18/03/2011 at 14:58

      I think Tobit, that my model(s) are over simplistic and rather broad-brushing, they, by nature of what I am trying to explore, are reliant on generalisations.

      It looks like the place you are going to has broken the mold (or my model). [I must put more “I suppose” or “I think” or “It seems like…” into the posts as they aren’t intended to be just stating hard fact. Thanks for the (inadvertent?) heads-up!]

      I don’t think all church communities necessarily fit exactly into the models, I think that they are probably broadly true of many places but there must be lots (I pray there are and the number is growing) like the place you are part of which are managing to balance things really well (by the sounds of it).

      I concur with your final point. It is always dangerous to pick certain ‘attractive’ bits of what other church communities and congregations are doing well or look fun etc. without actually understanding the whole, the full approach, the thinking behind it, the drives, desires and motivations. Its easy to pick out the how without a concern for the why and that can become quite a problem.

      Church communities should draw on the strengths of the people within them to organically grow into something that suits their particular setting. Being bold enough to do that, whilst staying faithful to scripture and open to the movement of God’s spirit is, I guess the biggest corporate step of faith that any group of people can take. Its a lot easier to stay ‘safe’ and stick with what you know.

      Sometimes I guess style becomes possibly one of the entertainment things – not being able to tolerate a style that I don’t like. But then again, you don’t shouldn’t have to stick somewhere that you find difficult just out of a sense of duty.

      Difficult, individual balancing act I guess.

    • Alex Green 27/03/2011 at 22:02


      I’ve been thinking about your comment a bit more over the last day or so.

      I think My initial post is probably coming from the angle of knowing who I am and how I react.
      If I were not intrinsically involved in contributing on Sundays and in other areas within the church, I think I’d end up within the entertainment crowd. I think by nature I am lazy and I probably imagine most of the rest of the population is not too different to me (uncharitable I know, but that’s probably a perfectly human assumption??!)
      It’s easier to be lazy and pick and choose our church by how entertaining it is and how well it caters for our kids and whether we like or can at least cope with the type of worship band etc. etc.

      There is the plain possibility that I’ve got this model completely wrong in the presumption that paid ministries tend to attract people that want to consume / be entertained. I’m pretty sure Francis Chan did a sermon on consumers within his church at one time and this may have been where I got some of the ideas from.

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