The Truth About Church Folk Serving Others
There is a common misconception that churches do a good job of serving people in need. That may be due to the fact that the news often reports churches responding to disasters or conducting high-profile compassion ministry events. But the fact is that a small percentage of believers are personally engaged in these ministries.
Churches, too, are guilty of leading their own members as well as their community to think they are doing a lot to address human needs in the community when in most cases, as few as 10 percent of their members are involved. When we at the Inasmuch ministry talk with church leaders, we often hear that their church is doing a lot to serve people in need. But when we ask for more information, we learn that a few dedicated, compassionate members are doing all of the church’s compassion ministry, with the vast majority completely uninvolved.
I estimate that no more than 20 percent of the churches with whom we share actually follow through with an Inasmuch event in which a majority of their congregation is personally engaged in serving others. Most of the time, we simply never hear back from church leaders with whom we talk about helping them serve their community. Silence is impossible to interpret, but I think it’s safe to say, in this case, it means “No thank you.”
New survey confirms our conclusions
Lifeway Research (the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) recently researched how many church folk are actually involved in serving people in need outside their own church membership and published their findings. Here are some of the highlights of those findings:
- 84 percent of Protestant churchgoers say their church encourages them to serve people outside their church
- 30 percent of churchgoers say they have volunteered for a charity in the previous year
- Young and middle-aged church folk are more likely to say, “they want to serve people in their community,” but those over 65 are the most likely (40%) to participate in volunteer work
- In another Lifeway Research study, Protestant pastors said churchgoers are more likely to serve in the church than in the community.
These findings are precisely what we at the Inasmuch ministry have found in our dealings with churches. In one way, they validate what we have surmised for a long time. Now we have factual evidence to support our opinions. In another way, they reveal an unfortunate disconnect between the biblical priority for serving others AND apparently church values and behaviors of “people in the pew.”
How will change come?
The difference between 84 percent and 30 percent is alarming. It shows that the idea that churches are doing a lot to serve people in need is not supported by the facts. For those who would object by saying their church financially supports local non-profits who do serve people in need, I say that’s not good enough. Financial support is the easiest and least impactful way of serving others.
So, what can close what might be called “the serving gap?” The first step in making necessary changes is to be honest about the effectiveness of current efforts. What churches are doing now is not working!
One of the first things to do is call the congregation to biblical discipleship, . . . which is to pattern our living and all our relationships after Jesus. Unfortunately, institutionalism has the church by the throat, which is to say that the needs of the institution take priority over discipleship. Such a change will be an uphill battle for most churches, but if they intend to be obedient to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, they must wade into that battle.
Another part of the change is for churches to provide opportunities to serve others. Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, says in response to the Lifeway study: “The easiest way to serve others is when a charity or group organizes the effort. They recognize the need, come up with a plan, and often gather needed resources.”
This is precisely what the Inasmuch ministry does. We give them a plan, show them how to implement the plan, and give them proven strategies for success. We are even available for coaching throughout the implementation in case a problem arises.
Consistent call to biblical discipleship that gives appropriate emphasis to serving people in need coupled with opportunities for hands-on experiences in serving WILL move the needle in the right direction. I have seen it. I know it happens . . . when churchgoers and their leader(s) want it to happen.
What do you think?
I admit this blog is more confronting than most I have written. Frankly, I have wanted to say some of these things before, and the Lifeway research has given me the opportunity to say them supported by more than my personal opinion. What do you think? Please take a moment to comment on this subject.