I recently read about a church that canceled its regular Sunday worship gathering to go out in the community and do an Extreme Makeover Home Edition type thing throughout their community. They thoroughly marketed the event in their community and helped do repairs on 60+ homes as part of their Big Event Outreach. On the website describing this church event, I read many voices that chimed in stating that this was an excellent idea. The only criticism was that the Event took place in an affluent area of their town. That's neither here nor there as far as I'm concerned, for I'd like to go deeper to the root of the situation:
Should we cancel a regular worship service to do service projects?
I'm not wanting to dump on and question the motives of the church who tried this; I think they were totally sincere in this decision. That being said, I'm not sure this event is something that would've been imagined just five years ago.
I'm only thirty but I've been around long enough to figure out that the American church is suseptable to trends. From flannel-graph and church buses, to Purpose-Driven Lives and worship bands and, most recently, marketing and social justice. We have to be honest that service-oriented outreach is becoming trendy. Some might say that it found its resurgence here in Cincinnati. Will it end up being more than a trend? Difficult to say. Serving is great, but we have to decide what role it should take on in our churches.
Now I wouldn't argue against a church that wants to be out in the community showing God's love through service. However, I'm not sure that replacing a normal worship gathering to do sends the proper message. Why cancel "regular worship" for this? Is it because that time provides the best numbers? If that's the case, that the only way we can get a good response from our people to do good works is to do it when you usually celebrate God corporately, then maybe our church needs a reality check.
Is it to make a good impression on outsiders? Then we truly need to reevaluate our motives. Is it because we believe this is what God is calling us to do? That's a tough reason to argue against, but I would attempt to hold it up against Scripture and history to determine if we're respecting those who've gone before us.
Why do we worship every Sunday? Scripture indicates that it was to gather together to give God praise. Most notably, it's so we believers can celebrate the risen Jesus through communion [Acts 20:7]. This 1st century tradition carried on. In the Didache, written sometime in the 1st or 2nd century, we get a glimpse into how the early church worshiped:
"But on the Lord's day, after that ye have assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having in addition confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure." [14:1]
Again, we see Christ and communion as center of the gathering. While specifics of worship have changed/evolved throughout the years, the focal point has stayed consistent for almost 2,000 years. So is canceling service for service project right? Not sure; it's difficult to develop an airtight case against it so it's probably a gray issue.
But I would just advise that, if we're going to cancel/transform our weekly worship time, we should make sure to do some soul-searching and see if our theology matches our ecclesiology.