Thursday, November 27, 2008

Eventism, Contemporary Christianity, Festival Life as a Means of Evangelism, and My Dilemma

I have been concerned about the state of Evangelical Christianity as an event based establishment for most of the 24 years I have been a pastor. I have written extensively about "Relational Christianity", as I have typically called it for the last 20 years, as a model of church life preferable to event based Christianity.

My thinking is this: As evangelicals we have understood that church is not a building. Most of us were smart enough to figure out that the frailties, banalities, and fallenness of humanity made it impossible for a corporate structure such as a denomination to be a definitive expression of "The Church," but somehow we still seem to describe church as an event.

Rather than something we are, church has become something we go to, and something we do. It is and event on a Sunday morning, or a series of events. It has become Eventism.

I still believe that this is true for much of Evangelical, Charismatic, and Pentecostal Christianity. I still believe that this is less than ideal, and sometimes detrimental to church life.

Despite viewing Eventism as detrimental to a holistic relationship with God, I am beginning to consider a new way of doing things - a way of doing things, which comes dangerously close to the very way of church life I have disliked for so long.

Here is my dilemma: I am looking at the nature of our culture, and the manner in which people gather. I see people running from event to event, and finding their source of fun, recreation, and renewal. This looks reminiscently like the fashion of spiritual gatherings in the Old Testament. There is no mention of church gatherings on Sunday mornings, and even the Sabbath was not set aside for sermons and worship singing, but rather for rest. Instead of church the people gathered in festivals throughout the year, and these festivals became the source of connection to the greater community of the faithful, and the center of Israel's religious life. Now the New Testament has a different spiritual feel. The people gathered daily at the temple in the first few chapters of Acts, and the first day of the week soon became a standard time of gathering for the followers of Christ.

The church I pastor is in the center of Salem, MA. 1 million people pass by our doors each year - most of them come in October during the Halloween based events. We have thousands who pass through our doors. They have a spiritual experience based upon a gracious attempt to relate to them caringly, and creatively, and then they head home to the various corners of the earth from which they came. We have crashed this festival Salem calls Haunted Happenings, and have created one of the best parties within the larger party in the whole city. This has allowed us to briefly pastor tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people, even if only for a moment, over the last ten years.

I have wondered if we are in a new season lately. We have learned to crash the festival and create life changing experiences people want to be a part of. Could it be that it is time for us to create festivals, which people want to be a part of?

I have been part of a hundreds of Christian festivals over the 30 years of my following Jesus, but typically no one but church goers want to be a part of those festivals. Is it time for me to learn how to develop a festival, which the world wants to be a part of? Is it time to learn how to create the life-changing type of festivals like those of the feasts of Israel?

I think the answer is yes, and our location, and our mission as a church seem to say yes, but I tremble at the thought. Even as I tremble, I am attempting a couple festival type events as a means of pastoring the greater community of Salem (and beyond actually).

How this will contrast with, and perhaps create a struggle with my desire to break the habit of Eventism in the church is yet to be seen, but it is part of the adventure we are on at this time.

May God smile.


cern said...

WHOAH! Scary stuff there Bro. Starting to run festivals takes things to a whole new level. If you can pull it off I'm sure it would be awesome. But it would be an organisational nightmare.

You'll certainly need a big team.

Whether it becomes eventism or not would depend on whether the festival carried on throughout the year even when it wasn't officially taking place. Living the Christian festival kinda thing. I'm not sure what that would look like. But I imagine it would still be about bringing your understanding of Christ into peoples lives.

BB and hugs


Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

Of course, Festival creation was what early Christianity was, and what the Old Testament was filled with, and what all my Pagan friends ;-) practice.

Hopefully all the friends we developed over our years of running the Halloween events can become part of this new process as well - I guess we'll see!

Scary time indeed!

Unknown said...

I think that church should be event-based - but not limited to event based. If our faith is to be timeless, dynamic, relational, and unconfined, then the events of the early church (feasts, gatherings of philosophers, riots) are certainly a model. I think you and others have always taught just as Paul "becomes all things to all 'men,'" so the relevant church does.

That being said, I still don't think a revolutionary church needs to be only event-focuses - or at least "event" in any common definition today. "Meeting together in homes" or "in the temple daily," "breaking bread, giving thanks" is also counter-cultural in today's "world" (at least in much of the u.s.) of suburban, Internet/Entertainment intensive silos...

Steve Hayes said...

Didn't you have an event in May last year?

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Jere-Mike,

The balance you speak of is the tension which I find difficult to remain balanced upon. Always the funambulists we are as followers of Christ.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Steve,

We've held many events over the season of our church life. The development of full on festivals, which are aimed at the larger community both of Christians and non-Christians alike is another thing, and that is what we are aiming to develop.

Steve Hayes said...


Then perhaps I haven't grasped what you mean by "events". Was it Martin Buber who said "All real living is meeting", so if the church is to be relational, the church must meet, and each meeting is an "event", as I understand it. I don't understand how the church can be relational without meeting, but that is what you seem to be saying.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Steve,

Eventism is a term I use to describe the tendency of Pentecostal Christianity to run from event to event (at the loss of relationships) to find the answers to life, and some sense of fulfillment. "Eventism" a physics term as well, but I am not using it in that sense.


1. Something that takes place; an occurrence.
2. A significant occurrence or happening.
3. A social gathering or activity.

I am not describing either definition #1 nor definition #3 when I talk about events in this post, rather I am using definition #2 and the hunt for the perfect event which answers all the problems of life.

Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm coming so late to the discussion. A busy schedule and health issues have kept me away from the blogosphere recently.

Like Steve, the first thing that occurred to me is that you can't really have relationships without events of some sort. They ultimately create the environment and means for building the relationship. However, I do think that some events are better designed and more effective to building relationships than others. And it may be that this is an area where much of Christianity (and I suspect it applies to other religions and even non-religious organizations) need to reconsider their efforts. Too often, events seem to held for their own sake, which can be problematic, especially if one can go through such an event without making any real interpersonal connections.

Of course, I also think that it helps if one's events and festivals are interconnected as well. I'm reminded of Ellen Canon Reed's book, "The Heart of Wicca," in which she discusses this topic in terms of the Wiccan wheel of the year. She noticed that some groups' Sabbats (and even some that have been in published materials) seem disconnected to one another, a situation she described as "a wheel with spokes but no rim." She spent a chapter in the book discussing ways to help develop that "rim," connecting the Sabbats to one another so that they flowed.

It seems to me that this would be a highly desirable trait in any series of festivals to build relationships and community. After all, it would help strengthen the bonds through a sense of continuity through each festival.

As always, I wish you lots of luck on your endeavors, Pastor Phil.

Pastor Phil said...


Within Christian culture there are events, and then there is an eventism. It is Eventism I am bemoaning, and hoping to avoid. Creating festival life may have the tendency to lead toward the unhealthy belief that the next powerful event will solve my life's problems.

As I mentioned above this is a specific definition for "event," and thus some confusion.

I do like the wheel and spoke analogy here - thanks.

Beth P. said...

So, how would those of us in far-flung places like...Oregon participate?

I want to have fun too....

Smiles and head-scrathes--