One of my favorite sayings is, “There is no evidence that Jesus ever missed a meal.” The silliest example of this, of course, is the Zacchaeus episode (Luke 19), in which Jesus enters Jericho and spies the wealthy tax collector climbing a tree like a school boy; then Jesus invites himself to stay at Zacchaeus’ house. But, it seems that it was a common thing for Jesus to do, walk into a village, zero in on the wealthiest person in town, and then invite himself to dinner. Hence, the common complaint that Jesus was a drunk and a glutton who ate with tax collectors and sinners (a jealous whine if ever we heard one). The visual image we have of this gaunt emaciated skeleton hanging on the cross is not supported by scripture; in fact, the opposite appears to be the case.
Furthermore, these meals in the homes of the wealthy seemed to be invitational affairs that would spill out of the house. One imagines the citizens passing the word, “Party at Zacchaeus’ house tonight, Jesus is going to be there!” Not only were the tax collectors and sinners present, gorging their faces; the Pharisees and the Sadducees always managed to arrive in time for the after-dinner debates that kept the affairs lively and made the late night news on CNN, and filled much of our Bible.
I mention this because summer is coming, and it is time for the church to act like the body of Christ … and eat well!
Some churches have done away with all the fun fellowship events of past years. I had one young pastor tell me, “No one does potlucks anymore.” Sadly, I suspect this is partially true. There are a variety of reasons: I’ll leave it up to you to insert your favorite rational. But, having raised those reasons, I also want you to discard them. Making disciples for Jesus Christ isn’t all about studying scripture, going on mission teams, and commiserating with the poor and afflicted. Though those are all worthy and necessary, they are not everything we do.
If we believe that Jesus is being truthful when he said that his purpose was for us to have “life and have it abundantly”; if we believe that the richest acts of God come from breaking bread together; if we believe that it is important to love as Jesus loved and act as Jesus acted; then we need to have more parties!
Summer is the ideal time to schedule all those fun and frivolous frolics that fold the fabric of the church community together. I firmly believe that the season from Pentecost to Thanksgiving shouldn’t be “Ordinary Time”, but rather “Party Time.” In most of the Northern Hemisphere the weather will cooperate enough to let us enjoy some quality time together as followers of the One who never missed a meal.
There are several good reasons to do this:
- Attendance at fun events will always exceed attendance at dreary events. If you expect 25 people for a Good Friday service, you can expect 100 for a Summer Ice Cream Social.
- It is much easier to invite people to social events than to religious events. Why do you think Jesus created these dinner feasts? Jesus did so to invite more people to hear his message. People who sell time-shares were not the first to discover this method of evangelism/sales/marketing.
- Those winter Administration/Finance/Ministry meetings — that go until 10 pm and contain way too many angry voices about conflicts of personality and power struggles — tear at the fabric of the church, leaving the whole organization weaker and less happy. The summer parties/meals/activities knit those fibers back into the fabric. When we understand we can disagree about stuff and still enjoy a hot fudge sundae together, we can truly become followers and disciples of Jesus Christ.
- It is a whole lot easier to find people to organize and lead a fun summer event than a big complicated winter program. Yet leaders who sign on to summer fun events will find it easier to lend a hand and maybe even lead some of those winter events because they were well-fed by the summer ones.
- Clergy don’t have to act so darn holy at a summer fun event. It’s the clergy’s chance to show his/her congregation that he/she is a regular person who enjoys a good time. Nothing like seeing the pastor take the last corner on two wheels in the tricycle races to cement your affection for him/her.
I hope your church has a host of fun events planned for this summer. If you don’t and are looking for some ideas, here are a few with which I’ve had success over the years. A lot of them are “throwback” ideas from previous decades, but you’ll be surprised how much fun they can be even today. These are all designed to be multi-generational, super invitational, and even profit-making if you need a fund raiser.
- Ice Cream Social.
Big containers of ice cream can be purchased, or you can invite everyone to bring an ice cream maker and have a contest for best flavor. Hot summer nights and ice cream are made for each other.
- Choir Pops Night.
The choir sings all that great dead German music all year long. How about a night of Broadway musicals? Duets, Solos, love songs, silly songs. This makes a great entertainment to go with an Ice Cream Social.
- Talent Shows.
This could be a multi-talent show, or a Karaoke night, or Stupid Pet Tricks night, or a mixed menu of entertainment. Throw in Pizza and Root Beer Floats at the tables and you are enjoying the good life.
- Drive-In Movie Night. If your church has a parking lot, this can be lots of fun. Probably your music copyright license includes a video component. Today you only need an inflatable screen, a digital projector, a laptop computer with a DVD or Blue Ray drive, and a short-range FM transmitter so people get the sound on the car radio. Get a group in the church to do Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Milk Shakes, and Popcorn. Show a nice clean G rated movie and invite all the families with kids that you can find. If you do a bounce house and playground an hour or so before dusk, you will be amazed at how much fun this can be. You can even add a cartoon before the movie, just like the old days!
Ah, summer picnics, there must be a hundred ways to throw a picnic: County parks, church back yards, beaches, pools, lakes, etc. Spice up the picnic with an old-fashioned Box Lunch Auction and fundraiser, or a Chili Cook Off, or the ice cream flavor contest, or a pure Potluck with a ballot to vote for winners of best bean salad, potato salad, cake, pie, etc. Add a Water balloon toss, three-legged races, Nerf gun wars (don’t start –it’s all in fun), Best two-minute joke, etc. Remember to give fun prizes.
You get the idea. Remember to invite Jesus, open and close with a prayer, but leave the evangelism to the love you will weave.
If anyone objects to all the fun, just say “Jesus wanted to do this with us.”
Summer fun is the lubricant that can make fall and winter meetings run more smoothly.