Church-Sponsored Date Night

There are lots of wonderful reasons not to attend a church.

But every now and then, I come across something like this, and I feel a bit upset that I’m not part of a similar community.

In case the picture isn’t coming through for you, it says:

Select the restaurant you and your spouse would like to go to. Take the completed card to the atrium where you will see white balloons and volunteers in white “Date Night” t-shirts ready to register you and your spouse for your “Date Night.”

In exchange for you registration card you will receive a $30 voucher to the restaurant of your choice redeemable at the restaurant the night of your Date Night as well as a voucher for childcare reimbursement. Please complete the childcare voucher and mail it back to the office for 3-hours of childcare reimbursement.

So, for married people, the church sponsored a date night, complete with a paid dinner and child care.

I don’t know how much it all cost the church, but I think it’s a worthwhile way to treat the people that help your organization stay afloat.

Before you say that money could be better used in other ways, don’t forget this is the same church — Elevation Church in North Carolina — that sponsored the Bless Back Project. For that project, the church put several thousands of its own dollars in the hands of church members and told them to give the money away to others who could use it more (regardless of religious background), no strings attached. They’re not just using money for proselytization.

Regarding the Date Night, Pastor Steven Furtick said this:

The response was overwhelming. Looking at our demographics, approximately 75% of the married couples in the church participated.

Tell me you wouldn’t appreciate that gesture if it were offered to you.

What are atheists doing to help members of our own “community”?

There’s nothing stopping you from telling your married-with-children friends that you’re giving them a night away from the kids as a thank you to them for simply being awesome. Nothing too crazy. You pay for dinner. Steal their children for the night.

Hell, you’re atheists. You probably already do the latter on a regular basis. Might as well be generous and toss in dinner while you’re at it :)

  • Catherine

    Steal their children for the night

    Wait, you mean we are supposed to give the kids back???? Gee, now you tell me, after I already started building that BBQ pit in my back yard.

    Being more serious now, that’s pretty cool that church is doing that for people. I know when I was growing up, my parents put a lot of work into their churches. It would have been nice if they would have been rewarded with something like this.

    I do hope that they also do something similar for single parents to give them a break. Buy them dinner or a movie or something like for them and a friend/date/etc. They could probably use a break too.

  • Kelly

    Hey, Hemant, you live in Chicago, right? You can steal my kids any time. How’s Friday?

  • TheDeadEye

    It’s a nice gesture, but the church is basically just refunding back a very small portion of its donated money to its own members. A moral gesture would have been giving away those dinner vouchers to the local poor.

  • http://aurorawalkingvacation.blogspot.com/ Paul

    It’s probably not costing them all that much anyway. I suspect they got the $30 vouchers donated by the restaurants – consider it an advertising expense, much like distributing coupons. And I suspect babysitting was taken care of by church members’ teenaged children – possibly volunteers as well.

  • http://travelfork.blogspot.com/ Sabayon

    This is nice, but I can’t help thinking of the flipside; all the good Christian girls who will have to give up their Friday night to some church function. See I went to church as a teenager, and when you are a Mormon girl they think nothing of coercing you into babysitting other people’s children for free, sometimes for date night (not that they paid for them to go to dinner, that’s cool). They especially liked to do this on Valentine’s which serves the double purpose of giving nice married couples a night out and keeping single teens from having sex. Once for a fund raiser I even catered a fancy dinner party while my fellow person-with-girly-parts-who-must-therefore-be-good-with-children watched everyone’s kids, but at least someone paid for our labor there. I was also once a singing telegram for a church fund raiser, but that’s off topic.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    why do we want to emulate churches? If we like what they are doing so much, why not just join? I don’t get it.

  • Victor

    Step 1: Donate money to church
    Step 2: Church, in a roundabout way, gives a small portion back to you.

    I really don’t think atheist orgs need to do this because we all have the intelligence to cut out the middle man and just go out on a date on our own.

  • Kyle

    I’m assuming the gay couples are treated to the same “love”?

    How bizarre to have a percentage of the money you put in the offering plate coming back to you in the form of a discount at the local Italian place.

    And think of the wonderful bible stories the kids get to hear while you’re slurping pasta!

  • http://vaneramos.livejournal.com Van

    Churches are so good at building community. Too bad about the code of thought and conduct!

  • Miko

    I wonder how gay/single/childless couples/etc. felt about the gesture. The church essentially took money that all of these groups donated in good faith that it would be well-spent and used it to reward a certain subset of the congregation that most likely didn’t need it.

  • David D.G.

    Miko, I’ll take a “devil’s advocate” stance here and say that married folks with kids often find it very hard to have unhurried social time (let alone unhurried romantic time) as an adult couple; they’re too busy being breadwinners, homemakers, and parents.

    To say that the money would be going to a subset of the congregation that “most likely didn’t need it” and that this would upset single/childless members makes no sense to me, since it is precisely the single/childless members who typically are less in need of this kind of perk.

    Granted, anyone can enjoy a subsidized meal, but child care is of no use to anyone without kids, and that is worth a fair bit of money in its own right. In fact, as I see it, child care is the main “prize”; the dinner gift certificate is just an added bit of glitz to stimulate the “romantic date” aspect.

    ~David D.G.

  • T’s Grammy

    Yeah, and one has to wonder why.

    I’ve taken Christian charity enough to be wary of it. Meaning 2-3 times, each of which I lived to regret even though it was taken in desperation during some very hard times. Mainly when Christian friends have upped and given my name to some organization. Thanks a lot.

    Individual Christians who help out a friend are okay and their motives pure but accepting charity from a religious organization — well, I never will again. It always and I do mean always comes with strings attached. And the nastiness when their “blessings” fail to convert you rather turns said blessings into curses. Not to mention how you’re turned into this vehicle for advertising and treated like what they see you as: brownie points to heaven. I will die in the gutter before I ever subject myself to Christian charity again.

    It may not be quite as obnoxious here since it’s extended to the already converted but I too see something other than generous charity being the true motivation. They’re rewarding parents for being married and possibly encouraging them to add to the congregation. I didn’t think of the babysittng point but it’s definitely there and for the motivation stated. They are definitely sending a statement about which members of the congregation are appreciated and it isn’t the single, childless or gay.

    As for the bless back nonsense (obviously ripped off version of pay it forward), again they want to spread publicity that Christians are good people and if someone doesn’t appreciate the blessing forced on them (boy, how many times have I been through that crap, not even counting the Christian charity stuff above), they’re evil, etc. and look how good the Christians are. It’s obnoxious at best and tries to make anyone just appreciating a favor without feeling indebted to “pay it forward” a selfish asshole. How dare we just live give and take with others instead of looking for a way to “pay it forward” whenever something good happens to or is done for us rather than merely appreciating the good and helping out when we see someone else hurting because we actually care.

    Churches don’t care. I don’t how loudly they claim to. If churches really cared — rather than wanting to exploit those in need to spread the word — they would do their good deeds quietly and without fanfare. Instead of something like this, the Reverend would quietly take parishinoners (whether single, married, parents or not) he knew to be going through tough times aside and say these dinners were donated. Why don’t you enoy? My wife (or whoever) would be happy to watch the children for you.

    It’s phony. It’s sickeningly phony.

    Let’s not become like them. Let’s just continue to lend a helping hand when we’re moved by true human compassion.

  • Stephan

    Yeah, I expected the usual snarky comments here. Atheists are quick to point out that the divorce rate among Christians is just as high as the general public, but when a church tries to do something to strengthen the marriages of people in their church, they are being manipulative and exploiting people, or at the very least being unfair.

    This is the church putting its money where its mouth is, trying to build up something they think is important. To try to find something wrong with it only makes you look desperate. It’s as though you can’t admit that anything Christians do can possibly have merit, or it might give them credibility. At least Hement gets it.

  • Jen

    Because only married couples
    1. Have children
    2. Want to go out for the night

    Also, not to be a snob, as I rarely spend a ton of money on dinner, but I don’t think you can even get dinner at the Olive Garden for $30.

    Its a nice idea, but I think they should expand their outreach. I don’t blame them for, say, not donating the money to the poor, as I don’t think there is anything wrong with putting the money they get into many causes- but I don’t think its fair to offer it to married people and not single people.

  • http://www.mindblink.org Linda

    Hmmm… I do see the benefits of doing this form of organized “act of kindness.”

    My only problem is the fact that it’s organized.

    Sabayon makes a good point:

    all the good Christian girls who will have to give up their Friday night to some church function.

    When anything with good intentions becomes an organized effort, there will always be some people who feel obligated to participate when they don’t necessarily want to. And the ones who do the least amount of work end up doing the most amount of criticizing and/or complaining.

    I don’t have a better alternative, however. I’m just making an observation. Perhaps there’s no way around it.

  • http://travelfork.blogspot.com/ Sabayon

    Oh come on people, most churches sponsor things for singles too, but I think David is right, the main benefit is the childcare. I think the people providing that childcare are probably being guilted into it and deserve to get some of the church’s money too, but I think it wouldn’t be as appreciated by childless members since they can both go on dates without having to worry about a sitter and have more disposable income. I think trying to assign a variety of dark motivations to a date night is silly and comes off sounding extremely paranoid. They probably did get the vouchers compted though, as someone pointed out 30$ isn’t enough for a meal for two and it is good advertising.

  • David D.G.

    Sabayon wrote:

    Oh come on people, most churches sponsor things for singles too, but I think David is right, the main benefit is the childcare.

    Thanks for the nod! :^D

    I’m sure that one can find ulterior motives that can be applied to such a setup if one wants to — but there’s certainly no need for them. And doing such an organized event as an organized event reinforces the sense of community in the church, which is not in itself necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it’s one of the few things I liked about going to church, and I occasionally miss it.

    I think the people providing that childcare are probably being guilted into it….

    Not necessarily. I spent considerable time at two different churches in which there were similar events, and there was never any shortage of truly eager volunteers for babysitting (especially girls ranging from junior high school students to college graduates, several of whom either genuinely enjoyed taking care of children or were giving an Oscar-worthy performance to that effect — and if nothing else, it was an interesting shared experience among them that further bonded them).

    ~David D.G.

  • Vincent

    I think it’s a great idea and I see it as no different from any organization throwing a party to thank its volunteers/staff. Sure it’s only for the married people, but that doesn’t mean they never do anything for single people. Probably have singles events fairly frequently and the occasional thing for married people is the exception. (as a married man I see this the case in any group. My university alumni group for instance has a couple singles nights every month but nothing specifically for married people)

    Granted, anyone can enjoy a subsidized meal, but child care is of no use to anyone without kids, and that is worth a fair bit of money in its own right. In fact, as I see it, child care is the main “prize”; the dinner gift certificate is just an added bit of glitz to stimulate the “romantic date” aspect.

    Exactly, and the voucher is so the parents spend some time together and don’t just use the time away from the kids to catch up on housework or have individual nights out with the boys/girls. That’s community building. You do something to encourage the families that you perceive as your core.

  • llewelly

    They probably did get the vouchers compted though, as someone pointed out 30$ isn’t enough for a meal for two and it is good advertising.

    The last 10 times I was taken out to eat, meal for two would have fit comfortably within $25 (incl 20% tip). Where did I go? Mekong (great Thai food, mediocre service), Cedars of Lebanon (great middle-east food, great service), Shanghai (good Vietnamese food, good service ), The Other Place (great Greek food, good service). Most of you have never heard of these places, but the point is they (mostly) aren’t commoditized chain restaurants.
    I guess restaurant eating outside of Utah must be more expensive – and this must have happened in the last 6 months – or maybe people are silly and think two people need two entrees, which usually results in enough leftovers to feed two more people, unless one goes to a French restaurant.

  • Metatwaddle

    or maybe people are silly and think two people need two entrees, which usually results in enough leftovers to feed two more people, unless one goes to a French restaurant.

    Actually, when my boyfriend and I go out, we do eat two entrees. :) I don’t always finish mine, but he usually finishes his. $30 probably wouldn’t be enough for both of us.

    It may not be quite as obnoxious here since it’s extended to the already converted but I too see something other than generous charity being the true motivation. They’re rewarding parents for being married and possibly encouraging them to add to the congregation.

    I’m skeptical of this one. I really don’t believe that a church could possibly think thirty dollars could be a serious incentive to get married, let alone have kids.

  • Almond

    Two things:

    why do we want to emulate churches? If we like what they are doing so much, why not just join? I don’t get it.

    I think Hemant’s point is that churches offer some perks that are hard to come by as an atheist. I left the church because I couldn’t stand the message. However, I miss some of the community aspects of church, especially as they relate to my kids. Camp Quest is a thousand miles away and costs $500 per kid while church camp is nearby and costs $150 per kid. My husband played bass with the church praise band. My oldest son helped out with the younger kids at VBS, and both kids participated in the Bible Bowl. Having grown up as a missionary in South America, I looked forward to taking them on a mission trip to Mexico so they could get a sense of what life is like outside this country. My husband and I were part of a Sunday school group for couples that focused on marriage skills. You get the picture.

    Ultimately, those perks weren’t worth the price of constant guilt and being told what to think, and, what’s worse, having my kids brainwashed the same way I was. It would just be nice if it were a little easier to get some of these benefits outside the church. Being out here in the atheist world sometimes feels very lonely, even to an anti-social type like myself.

    To say that the money would be going to a subset of the congregation that “most likely didn’t need it” and that this would upset single/childless members makes no sense to me, since it is precisely the single/childless members who typically are less in need of this kind of perk.

    David is dead-on. For at least ten years, my husband and I were rarely able to get a minute to ourselves. When the church sponsored a “Parents’ Night Out” (which was rare, and generally done as a youth-group fund-raiser), we gladly paid for it. Frequently, we did nothing more than go to the grocery store together without the kids. If we’d gotten a restaurant gift certificate, we’d probably have gone out to eat, but that would have been secondary.

    All that to say, I find it hard to ascribe an ulterior motive to this. The only moral flaw I can think of is that they probably excluded single and gay parents. But, hey, it’s a Christian church. What did you expect?

  • Awesomesauce

    What about all the single parents? Do they have to date somebody to get the childcare? Certainly they need it more than the married parents…

    I think that this, though probably not intentionally, is sending the message that the church values married parents over any other of its members.


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