Over the past few weeks, Vision Community Church, which I pastor, has begun a monthly soup kitchen for local farm workers and their families. We meet in a closed elementary school that is still owned by our school district. Even though we are renters, it became our responsibility to maintain the food service permit from our county board of health. That meant the county inspector needed to inspect our kitchen. During our preliminary inspection, I asked him if all church kitchens needed to pass such an inspection.
“Of course not,” he said. “ Churches just offer dinners for the members of their congregation. You’re offering a meal to the general public, so that’s a different story.”
How true. Vision is a different story. Here in the Northeast, there is a perception that churches are a bit like private clubs. The only people who go to a church are those who already go to that church. How they think churches get new members, I’ll never know. In reality, many, if not most churches, do little to change this perception.
At Vision, we have never differentiated our church’s events between those for the general public and those just for “members” – whatever that means. We have always intended that all of our events and ministries were open to the general public. Yet, until my conversation with the Board of Health, I never fully realized just how odd that idea was.
The assumption both within and outside the church, is that a church’s worship, ministries and dinners are primarily for those who are already a member of the club. This attitude is so embedded in our community, that even our county’s food preparation regulations buy into this premise. The local Board of Health could care less if one washes their hands before preparing food, as long as that food was only being served to other members of the private club. (If they only knew the myriad forms of unhealthiness that fester inside many churches.)
Frankly, I don’t know which presents a greater danger; the church that sees all its functions as private events, or the world around it that assumes it is not invited. Neither scenario seems particularly “healthy”.
I am interested in hearing about your faith communities. Do you consider your ministries and events public events, to which anyone is invited? Or are they “Members Only” functions? Even if you do think of your events as open to the general public, would the general public have that same perception? How can that perception be changed?