Full Service Churches

By Irvin Himmel

Automobile operators know that there are two kinds of gas stations. An increasing number of self-service stations have appeared in recent years. These locations provide gas and oil, but the operator of the vehicle must pump the gas and pour the oil. An attendant is on hand to take your money. The service is so limited at some of these stations that one cannot find what he needs to wash his windshield and air the tires. Whatever is available, the customer must serve himself.

Then there are the old-fashioned full service stations. There are attendants to wait on the customer. One may purchase gas, oil, tires, batteries, and a range of accessories. If one needs a lube job, an oil change, a wash job, mechanical work, or tire repair, all such services are available. The attendant will check the oil, the radiator, and the tires; he cleans the windshield; he examines the fan belt, etc.

Some banks offer a limited range of services, but others advertise that they are “full service” banks. They provide loans, safe deposit boxes, different kinds of checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposit, money-market accounts, and numerous other financial services.

The concept has developed that churches, like gas stations and banks, may offer limited services or be of the “full service” type. Many people go church shopping, and they prefer a “full service” church.

What People Want

Terry A. Clark had an interesting article entitled In Search of the F. S. C.*” in the Christian Standard, February 9, 1992. (*F.S.C. stands for Full Service Church.) He observed that people often seek a church that meets their “needs and wants.” This raises a question that demands attention: How far may a congregation go in meeting the “wants” of people?

Younger couples with children want a church with a youth minister, family-life center, special youth activities, perhaps a youth chorus or choir, and a day-care center. Those who like sports want a church with a gymnasium, ball teams, exercise classes, tennis courts, etc. According to Clark, “If you like music you seek a church with choirs, a band, an orchestra, and a music minister.” Senior citizens may want a church with special ministries for the aged, bus trips, senior citizen socials, and game rooms for the elderly. People who enjoy drama may want a church that presents passion pageants, live manger scenes at Christmas season, outdoor sunrise services at Easter, and movies depicting Bible events.

Do the “wants” of church shoppers make it right for a congregation to supply whatever may be in demand? A lot of people want entertainment. May a church therefore provide a ministry of comedy? A comic minister could be hired to work with the youth minister and activities director. Why not?

There are people who want thrills and excitement, something more challenging than mere entertainment. May a church therefore provide a thrill ministry? The church might buy a plane and parachutes and hire someone to teach skydiving. A race track could be built for the young men who like drag racing. And a thrill minister who is worth his salary could be in charge of such activities and think up others even more daring than these!

If a full service church is going to provide whatever church shoppers “need and want,” church activities can be extended to include whatever people hanker after, yearn for, and fancy.

The Bigger-Better Argument

Terry Clark says, “Full Service churches grow. They have more people, more contacts, more workers. They are bigger and, in America, bigger is better!” That is an admission that size is a major goal. Whatever it takes to make a church bigger, go for it! I have been convinced for a long time that this is the thinking that justifies, in the minds of many liberal-minded brethren, the innovations, unscriptural programs, and digressive activities that have become so prevalant. This is America, and bigger is better!

Clark admits in his article that the temptation to compromise in areas of doctrine should be avoided. The “full service” church is itself a compromise. Where does the New Testament teach that a congregation should provide whatever the church shopper “needs and wants”? God knows our needs better than we, and too often our “wants” are confused in our minds with genuine needs.

We are told by writer Clark that the Jerusalem church grew rapidly. (This no Bible student would dispute.) Then he adds, “It became a Full Service Church, even to the point of feeding its widows.” That conclusion that Jerusalem became a full service church requires a broad leap that is not too subtle. Truly, Acts 6 discloses that the Jerusalem congregation fed its widows. Why does a congregation’s taking care of its own needy make it a “full service” church? The Jerusalem church built no orphans’ home nor old folks’ home. It supported no missionary society. It had no youth minister, no family-life center, no activities director, no daycare center, no choir, no band, no orchestra, nor music minister; it had no soccer field nor gymnasium; it had no marriage counselor, no seniors’ minister, and no chariot ministry. It requires far more for a church to be considered a “full service” group than its taking care of its own widows!

Christ-Serving Is the Answer

We need to remember that Christ is the head of his body, the church. As our spiritual head and our great shepherd, he teaches us to bow to his will as revealed in the New Testament. Growth in a congregation is to be desired, but that growth must be based on the teaching and application of the word of God. The New Testament prescribes limitations on a local church’s work. We need to study the Bible and respect those ancient landmarks that tell us how far we may go and no further. Jesus Christ, not the people, determines the service to be performed by the church.

Comparing a congregation to a gas station or a bank in the range of services provided misses the mark. The “full service” notion opens the door for whatever human wisdom may elect to allow. I doubt not that church shopping will continue, and many who have little regard for the authority of the Scriptures will go on competing for the biggest crowds. While others around us are developing and promoting whatever appeals to popular demand, we must steadfastly teach the truth. Bigger may be better in America, but in God’s sight large numbers have never been the gauge for approval. Remember Noah and the flood. Remember Joshua and Caleb.

Church shoppers need what many do not want, namely, the gospel. Instead of catering to the wishes and whims of people who go out to the religious marketplace, let us maintain the unique position of sticking with the New Testament. Let us continue preaching the gospel without compromise. May our faith in Christ our King never waver. May God help us to make the church in our community distinct from the groups around us which are molded according to modern standards * Others may “think it strange” that we run not with them in quest of bigger crowds and more imaginative schemes, but they shall give account, even as we shall, before the Judge of the living and the dead.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 7, pp. 193, 216
April 2, 1992