In an in-depth look at the history of St. Paul's Church in Chicago, Daniel Sack writes:
|Church supper, Harford, MI 1947 (LIFE)|
In 1947 the church council contracted with Booz Allen, a nationally known consulting firm, to evaluate the church, its neighborhood, and its prospects and to propose solutions. The consultants argued that St. Paul's had gone from being a neighborhood church to being a "First Church"--a prominent congregation serving a city-wide constituency. No longer serving an ethnic enclave, its future lay in being the leading church of its denomination (Evangelical and Reformed) in Chicago. To attract members from a larger area however, the church would need to provide more services. The consultants recommended that the congregation build a new parish house, including up-to-date facilities for children's and family programs. With expanded facilities and programs, the church would need an assistant pastor for pastoral care, a director of Christian education, a program director, and a full-time dietitian/cook. With a food service staff, the church could offer regular Sunday dinners, which "help to build fellowship in a large church as well as to meet a growing interest of people in going out for Sunday dinner. Committees take advantage of them to meet afterward." They also encouraged the formation of small groups, called colonies. To keep people coming into the building during the week, the church could also offer "mid-week dinners around which a variety of activities are built such as choir rehearsals, young peoples groups, various group meetings of the church school, church officers meetings, a joint meeting of the colonies with outstanding speaker or special music and other groups." In addition, the kitchen could cater special dinners for outside organizations, to provide a service for local nonprofit organizations and to help raise some money for the congregation. "Most dining rooms operated on the above basis are not only self supporting but often are able to make a contribution to the total budget of the church. It eliminates putting the burden of church dinners on women's organizations except to help with table waiting which may also be shared by young people." Thus the consultants pinned the congregation's future on food.
Do you notice anything missing from all of this long paragraph? Like any mention of God, Jesus, or worship? Yeeeah.
I read this and what I see is "we need more! we need more!" Build more! Offer more programs! More services! MORE FOOD! Food will bring them to church! Then we'll get them to stay for the committee meetings, the programs, the choir, the small groups. Food will save us!
Oh how I wish I could go back in time and say to these folks, What if your time is over? Is it all right to grow old and die? To pass your ministry on to whoever has it next? Is it all right to fail?
I understand: they had the resources to build, so why not build? They thought by building they could reach more people for Jesus and serve God. And they did. For many churches, this era was probably their most successful. Still, I look at this and I see the seeds of the church's destruction being sown even as they grow, grow, grow.
I look at this now and I see this huge plant that probably sucks the congregation dry each and every year with questions of upkeep, heating, repair, cleaning. All the time, money, and energy is spent in maintaining The Plant which keeps saying, "Feed me!" while the congregation they wanted to satisfy with food dwindles away.