We introduced the Warm Body Mentality (WBM) in the last post: the idea that churches decide what programming and activities they need (or have always had) and then find the warm bodies necessary to keep those programs going. WBM gathers volunteers not because of their spiritual fruit or proven giftedness, but by a willingness to say yes.
I ended the first post with two symptoms of the WBM which I believe are harming our churches: the lack of spiritual vitality and the departure of many young people from the church.
Isn't it good that we have volunteers running those vital programs? What if we didn't have those programs and we had visitors come in and they left because we didn't meet their needs? Why do you believe the WBM is dangerous and detrimental?
I will answer those three questions asked by my hypothetical deacon of defensiveness:
1. Isn't it good that we have volunteers running those vital programs?
I want to respond with Jesus' words in Matthew 19 to the rich young ruler: "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Ha. Seriously, what is "good" when we're talking about church programming?
Does good mean simply functioning? Does good mean it is still operating the way it was 20 years ago? Does good mean it has a lot of participation?
I believe if we're going to use the adjective good when describing church programming it should mean the activity or program has demonstrated proven long-term results in helping folks become better followers of Jesus Christ. Some would call that discipleship or spiritual formation. It is the reason we should have a program in our church--not to just make folks happy, keep folks coming, maintain a legacy of existence, or to make places for people to get plugged in--but to create environments where healthy spiritual growth takes place.
And how do we know if a program is beneficial to the spiritual formation of its participants?
Great question and a tough one to answer, one I would answer with more questions:
Are relationships being formed that exist outside the programmed event?
Do people get there early and want to stay late?
Do people participate in the process or just spectate?
Are you seeing the fruit of the Spirit in conversations?
Can you observe increased humility, forgiveness, grace, and hope? Increased trust and vulnerability?
Do people talk specifically about Christ and knowing Him or vaguely about God and pleasing Him?
Is there a sense of commitment and faithfulness, of increased interest?
Do people come prepared, bringing their bibles or curriculum or having read the required reading?
Is it something people want to invite others to rather then being told to invite others to?
Those diagnostic questions are helpful but not perfect. They are also tough to apply to our children's programming and much of our student activities. It has been proven over and over that often our kids and teens come and get excited about our programming not because of Jesus but because they are kids and teens--and we give them a space to be that.
We beam with pride when our kids sing the songs in front of the congregation, or answer the Sunday School questions correctly about who lost their power when his hair got cut, or when our youth group is busting at the seams of their boisterously painted youth room. And all of those can be legitimate sources of pride and joy. . .believe me, no one loves a kids choir special on a Sunday morning more than this guy. . .but. . .
I don't just want our kids to answer questions about Jesus or do the nice things because they're scared of Jesus not letting them go to heaven--I want them to share their cookies because they love Jesus. I want them to say "I'm sorry" not because we make them say it but because they've seen us parents practice grace, humility and forgiveness. This isn't a blog about child psychology and age of accountability or a plea for a particular type of curriculum--but a blog about our markers, our diagnostics, for what is good often having little to do with loving Jesus and neighbor and a lot to do with the appearance of a successfully functioning religious institution.
Most teenagers want a place to be themselves, see their friends, and get a little loud and crazy every once in a while. Snacks and music would be great in that place as well. Our churches provide that exact desired environment. Is a youth program good just because it has teenagers in it? Is a zoo good just because it has animals in it? Is a movie good just because it has some cool explosions and attractive actors? Decades of church statistics show us that successful youth programming (having lots of teens participating) often does not equate down the road to young adults who love Jesus and are committed to a local church. Yet, if the youth room is full and the students are having a great time and not getting caught doing the big bad things (Sex, Drugs, Alcohol) then it is a successful and vital program. Do not hear cynicism in that statement--hear instead the observational accuracy of over 20 years of student ministry experience and verified expectations of countless conversations with pastors, youth pastors, and parents.
Back to the original question, "Isn't it good that we have volunteers running these vital programs?"
I would say not necessarily--a program that is just being run for reasons stemming from the desire to see "apparent success of the religious institution" is rarely a healthy fulfilling of the Great Commission to make disciples who obey Christ and His teachings with the whole of their lives.
We only have space to answer the first question today, I will address the other 2 questions: What if we didn't have those programs and we had visitors come in and they left because we didn't meet their needs? Why do you believe the WBM is dangerous and detrimental?in the coming posts as well as offer some ways to combat WBM while presenting some alternative perspectives on church programming.