Is having fun what defines a Christian? Is FUN what makes a church even worthwhile? Is fun why we do what we do (whatever it is) in the Christian life?
When you look at many church communications, you'd assume the answer was "yes." A recent scanning of material on the web as I was researching alternative Halloween events overwhelmingly advertised events or promoted activities where the FUN promised is promoted as the primary reason people should attend. Though the focus of this article is on the combination of Halloween communications and the emphasis of FUN (intentional shouting with the all capital letters), the same concerns and cautions apply to our communication of many church outreach events.
How fun becomes the primary motivation for Halloween alternative events
Much of the thinking process behind many of these "Christian" alternatives to Halloween on the web seems to go something like this:
- Halloween is evil.
- To take part in a traditional secular celebration of Halloween is evil and sinful.
- Christians shouldn't do evil and sin.
- Instead Christians should have good, clean fun.
- Therefore our church will do a fun event for Halloween.
- People will see we are Christians by our fun.
I don't have a problem with the list up to #3—much of traditional Halloween celebrations are evil. Maybe not as evil as some timid folks fear, but probably not activities that would fall into the class of edifying Christian activities. Dressing up as demons and witches and glorifying magic is not what Christians ought to be doing. Sending your kids out alone to beg for candy in most areas today isn't safe. But the alternative to fighting evil or working to fulfill the Great Commission is not to simply have safe fun.
Why is fun any better than evil on Halloween if you end up at the same place?
Consider this: three people celebrate Halloween in the following ways:
Person #1 casts spells, engages in perverted sexual orgies, mocks the cross, and sacrifices their neighbor's pet dog to Satan.
Person #2 dresses up as a witch, plays with a Ouija board just this one night of the year, and lets her kids go trick er treating alone and eat their candy stash when they want.
Person #3 dresses up in a Bible character costume and every year and then takes their kids (also properly dressed) to the Trunk or Treat at the local church and leaves with bags of candy, which will later be carefully monitored in their consumption. They had FUN. Person #3 and her kids attend the church for other fun events, but have never actually gone to a worship service or Sunday school class, nor have they been visited or called on by anyone from the church. The church doesn't ask for information at FUN events and considers giving aggressively evangelistic or even strongly worded church invitations to the Trunk or Treat visitors or ones at any FUN church event, too pushy.
At the end of their lives, all other things being equal, when all three people stand before God, if none of them has come to know Jesus as their personal Forgiver and Leader, do you think it matters one bit how they spent their Halloween?
Please don't get distracted here on the theology of degrees of rewards or punishment, we're talking about the big picture here: eternal separation from God or eternal salvation and life. Whether you sinned or had fun on the night of Halloween is not the determining issue.
If you don't know Jesus as Savior, how you spent Halloween or any other day of your life won't matter when you stand before God.
Don't lose sight of why you are a church
Does your church exist only to give the neighbor kids a good time? Is it to be known as the FUN religious place in town, where the neighborhood can count on for great times, no commitment events on all the major holidays?
If you don't intentionally work to move them at least a step in the direction of eternal salvation at your fun community event, why are you doing what you are doing?
If year after year the same people show up for the fun times and you never tell them anything about Jesus or that they need to make a decision about him, what makes you different from the mall when it has an alternative Halloween event?
I heard a new preacher on our local Christian radio station recently who started out by saying he was preaching in part, "to warn people of the wrath to come." He continued without ranting fire and brimstone but gave a clear discussion of the reality that all of our lives are moving toward a one-on-one meeting with our God. Your church is, in part, responsible for how the people who have passed through your church fare on that day.
Have you done or are you doing anything that makes a difference?
Holidays and Halloween are prime ones, a great time to connect with people outside the church, and those connections are precious. Think carefully about what you do with them as you consider some of the following challenges:
Eternal salvation joyous life or eternal, conscious suffering and regret—the choice depends on what people do with Jesus.
The Christian church exists to make that message clear and to present people with that choice. The church does not exist as the greatest place to have fun and when a church primarily communicates that FUN is the reason for an event and that the church is primarily concerned that people primarily don't sin, they are greatly confusing eternal issues. Just before Jesus left the earth, he told his followers they were to be witnesses to that choice.
Maybe we focus on fun because we don't understand what it really means to be a witness.
The idea of being a witness has a rather unfortunate connotation in our world today when we think about being a "witness" as Jesus commanded us in Acts 1:8:
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
When we hear the word "witness" we think of a witness in a TV courtroom drama, who comes up on the stand, says something, and then leaves. We think of the person being a witness only for a brief time when they give "testimony."
That is far from what Jesus or the early church meant when they used the term. What we translate as "witness" is the Greek word, martys, where we get our word "martyr." It helps to understand the term when we look at it in Hebrews 12:1"(a cloud) of witnesses," (Vines commentary goes on to refer to the witnesses ) here of those mentioned in chapter 11, those whose lives and actions testified to the worth and effect of faith."
To be a witness meant to live one's entire LIFE as a witness of who Jesus is and of the reality that you were going to live forever with Him. It is because they lived and witnessed in that way that the early martyrs died for their faith. They did not become a martyr when they died. They lived as a martys (a witness) and because in everything they did they witnessed that Jesus was Lord and Caesar was not, they paid for that witness with their death.
How this all gets back to Halloween and having fun
The challenge for the church is to regain its distinct voice and message and to proclaim it always and in every way. Holidays are key times to proclaim our message and natural times to reach out to the community and as Christians, our outreach is incomplete without proclamation. There are many ways to do this and how-tos on this website I have lots of them ( click here to go to the overview link of all the Halloween resources), but a few ideas here will show you how easy it is to incorporate some challenging thoughts into Halloween outreach.
Below is the text from a business card size giveaway that you could create to either invite people to a church event or to simply pass out at this time of year. On the back of the card, you could personalize it with your church event AND most important of all give them a website link to a good evangelism site or the place on your church website where it tells you what it means to become and live as a Christian. Here is an image of the front of the card.
Below is the text for both the front and back sides. You can click on the image to download a ready-to-print PDF of the card and you have my permission to make copies of it and pass it on however you want. You can also just take the text and make up your own card.
Halloween outreach invitation card front text
Halloween, a fun time for tombstones, ghosts, and all things scary. . . .
But what about when it isn’t Halloween ?
This Halloween, take some time to check out the one person in all of history who conquered death—Jesus.
On the back of this card are resources for you to explore. Halloween can be fun, but it’s also time to consider eternally serious and truly scary questions.
Here is the text on the back side of the card:
Life is short; eternity is not. You owe it to yourself to carefully research what happens after you die. The resources below are not mindless quick-skim sites.
They contain well-researched information about Jesus and the truth about life after death. Take time, explore, question, make an informed decision.
Some folks might consider it a bit of a smack in the face to give a friend something like this when all they want to do on Halloween is have a good time and maybe get sick on candy. Some people might even be offended. But some people, even if they get mad initially might:
- Get good and scared and decide to find out more.
- Think about what it says and check out the websites.
- Ask you some more questions.
- Realize you are a friend who cares more about their eternal destiny than just having fun.
- Decide to check out your church because you do offer something more than fun times on holidays.
- Be touched in their heart, look at the websites, and meet Jesus.
Make the most of every opportunity
It is so much easier to go the fun only route. First of all it is, let's face it is—more fun. You also don't have to deal with rejection, spiritual warfare, and agonizing in prayer that people will respond.
But like the Apostle Paul we must take every opportunity to share the good news about Jesus. Those who face death without him will not meet a party-animal devil, but true horror, unimaginable and endless. That does not have to happen—you have good news—use Halloween and every opportunity to share it.
Cory Matthews says
Your right that fun is not the point of the Christian life, although the Christian life is joy filled, but I think in this case a distinction has to be made between communications targeting the church and advertising targeting the community.
Often churches will put out advertising that would only draw Christians, which would only lead to transfer growth and not kingdom (salvation) growth – a huge problem today. Fun is the draw for the non-Christian to these Christian events and thus should be the focus of the advertising in my opinion. Then from there you get to know families and begin to invite to dinners together or have engaging conversations at the event and begin the evangelism and discipleship process.
Yvon Prehn says
I totally agree with what you said. The point I was trying to make (which sadly I guess I didn’t do very well) was that a church shouldn’t be satisfied with fun as the result.
It is the follow up that makes all the difference–being sure you have connection cards or something for a drawing, a way to get names, invite back, etc.
I remember one church that considered things a success based on the number of hot dogs distributed (I’m not making this up) and paid no attention at all to how many people connected with or returned to the church following their event.
GO for it with the FUN invites! In fact, if you’ve done some you’d like to share with others, please send them to me at email@example.com–love to see em and share!
But be sure to follow up!
Thanks so much for your comment!
I think we can bring others to our church through these fun events that are not trying to cram theology down their throats. Reading a card like the one suggested would not make me want to enter the doors of that church. I believe people want a church that can accept them and their doubts while offering a place to learn and grow in their faith.
Yvon Prehn says
I understand what you are saying, but my concern would be when do you let them know about the seriousness of the Christian faith? People are challenged by all sorts of things–I think about the demands of Cross Fit training and they still join.
Sometimes I fear (though this is a continuing thoughtful prayer for all of us) that if we aren’t at least a little serious with people before they come to our church, if all we present is another fun place, are we guilty of bait and switch when we do get around to telling them about the challenges of the Christian faith. It seems like Jesus and Paul didn’t hesitate to make challenging demands on people.
I do thank you for sharing your concerns and I think it takes (as John Wesley said) all the ways we can to reach people.