I have wrestled with questions like this one for many, many years. The question of entertainment in ministry is one that will be debated until the second coming of Christ. But before I get into answering the question, I want to explain what I mean when I say “entertainment.”
When I speak of entertainment, I am really using this word as an umbrella term for a few different things. As a parent of a two-year old, there are many times that I try to “entertain” my son so he will behave correctly. Toys are a great tool to help achieve this goal. I’ve also used certain things, like throwing trash away, to distract him from what he is upset about. Just last night, he was ready to eat and our dinner was not finished cooking. So we threw away every single grocery bag individually to pass the time. Sometimes, things are used to distract.
But this is not what I’m speaking of.
When I speak of entertainment in ministry, I am speaking of games, events, and activities to, not simply let our students have fun, but to bring them into your churches. I am speaking of using different methods of entertainment to increase your attendance in whatever ministry you are leading.
Just a side note: this principle really isn’t exclusive to student ministry. This issue of attracting people through entertainment is something the local church as a whole faces.
The entertainment I am speaking of is doing things in your ministry that will attract people to keep coming back to your church.
Doing fun things is not a bad thing.
I know by the title of this post, it will impress upon minds that I have negative connotations toward doing anything fun in ministry. Nothing can be farther from the truth. I want to make this clear up front, that I am not against doing anything fun. In fact, I do fun things with our students. I take our students on hiking trips. I take our students bowling. We have back-to-school bashes.
In and of themselves, activities in your ministry can be a sure way of producing community among your students or your church. Nothing brings people (especially students) together better than doing activities that require everyone to be involved.
But the question arises when we start depending on these activities to not simply bring people into our churches, but also depend upon these things to produce healthy Christians and churches.
Can activities produce spiritual growth? Brian Cosby notes,
“Entertainment simply hasn’t provided meaning or answers to the ever-wandering hearts of America’s youth.”
Here are two reasons why I believe entertainment doesn’t work in ministry:
1) Entertainment does not provide a strong, biblical foundation.
Those who are a part of the 88% who have left the church left because they were not taught to root themselves in Christ (Col. 2:6-7), nor were they taught the spiritual disciplines to stay grounded in what they have learned (2 Tim. 3:14-15). And this problem is not waiting until high school to become an issue. Ken Ham argues that it is prevalent in middle school Sunday school classes. He comments,
“We’ve always been trying to prepare our kids for college, but it turns out that only 11% of those who have left the Church did so during the college years. Almost 90% of them were lost in middle school and high school. By the time they got to college, they were already gone!”
What Ham recognizes, through research, is that we are not losing our students after they graduate. We are losing them in their middle school years. We are dependent upon lecturing Sunday school lessons and memorization programs to form the faith of the younger generations in the Church. Bold statement? Yes. True statement? You bet.
I grew up in a church where we were offered a reward if we would memorize verses, bring our bible, wear our t-shirt, etc. At the end of the year, the person with the most points from doing these things would receive a trophy. After a year or two, it becomes more about the trophy than it does anything else. Why? Because memorizing verses for trophies makes Scripture memorization more of a competition than an effort to instill God’s Word in the hearts and lives of children. Even Scripture memory, something every Christian should be doing, can become an activity in which we place more faith in than the Author of the words we memorize.
But it isn’t just our attempts at making Scripture memory a competition. It is also the reality that we are doing an injustice to our churches when we simply aim to entertain them so they will keep attending our church. When we aim to keep our people attending our church by entertaining them, we are communicating to them that their presence is more important than their growth in Christ.
The fact of the matter is this: your church can only entertain people until the church up the road does it better. When the church up the road “one-ups” your entertainment methods, people will start to notice and will accuse your church of being “boring.” For far too long, we’ve depended upon these antics of entertainment to bring people into our churches and to keep them here. It just doesn’t work. Cosby writes,
“..post high school teens are leaving the church because they have not been nurtured and established in the faith through a Christ-centered, means-of-grace ministry.”
2) Entertainment does not hold our members to high, biblical standards.
I am convinced that there are too many pastors who are spoon-feeding their congregation. I’ve seen churches that hold multiple community events throughout the year, but are as spiritually mature as new believers. I’ve also seen more mature Christians sit idly by while the church does absolutely nothing through evangelism and discipleship – what’s missing is a ministry specifically for spiritual growth, discipleship, and evangelism.
When we seek to bring people in by events or by entertainment, we are drawing them to something other than the gospel. When we draw people to events, we are winning them with the event which in return will win them to the event. Have you ever heard the statement?
“What you win them with is what you win them to.”
This is what happens when you draw people with entertaining events and activities. When people are won through events and start attending church for the entertainment, they end up with a belief called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). MTD is described by the following beliefs:
A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world-religions.
The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
Good people go to heaven when they die.
MTD gives a person the belief that God is accessible when we need him, but until we do we have complete control over our lives. This is, as noted in the title of the belief, Deism at its finest.
What we communicate when we hold entertainment and activities in such a high regard is that Jesus is only needed when the church is in a bind or when the church needs a problem resolved. And the consequence of this is a multitude of church members who have no spiritual compass on what it means to be a church member. So instead of loving God, loving others, serving others, and giving abundantly as we have been commanded by Christ, we are a holding tank for people who are going through the motions of Christianity waiting for a problem to arise so they can access the “little Jesus in their pocket.”
By using entertaining activities and events, we are using methods that are not biblical to grow our churches and are not holding our members to the standards that God has set forth in Scripture, because we are communicating the importance of events over the importance of a relationship with Christ and becoming like him through our attitudes and actions.
Simply put, entertainment is not the means by which God wants to grow his Church. It is our job, as ministers of the gospel, to obey the commands set forth for us in Scripture and make disciples who make disciples.
Cosby, Brian H. Giving up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., ©2012.
Dean, Kenda Creasy. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
DeVries, Mark. Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, ©2008.
Ham, Ken, C Britt Beemer, and Todd A. Hillard. Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It. Green Forest, Ark.: Master Books, ©2009.
Root, Andrew, and Kenda Creasy Dean. The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, ©2011.
Ross, Richard. Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ. Bloomington, IN: CrossBooks, ©2009.
Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Revised, ed. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014.
 Brian H. Cosby, Giving up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., ©2012), 17.
 Ken Ham, C Britt Beemer, and Todd A. Hillard, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It (Green Forest, Ark.: Master Books, ©2009), 31.
 Cosby, 17.
 Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 14.