A friend sent me this question, which she received from her father:
I just found out that our church is charging for tickets to our Christmas event…music, drama etc. They want members to buy tickets to hand out for the event. I notice that lots of churches are doing this now. There’s a church in Florida that spends over a million dollars on their Christmas presentation, and charges up to $35 for their big Broadway production. What’s your take on this?…I have a dilemma…Do I continue to work on the music (a lot of it being secular Christmas songs) for the upcoming Christmas extravaganza and feel uncomfortable, or bail out and let the ministers of the church know why I don’t want to be a part of a ministry that charges for ministry outreach events?
The question about charging money for a Christmas event leads to a deeper question. Are there any biblical guidelines for a church putting on a production at Christmas or some other time of year?
What’s Good About Productions
Church productions can serve numerous good purposes. Those involved can grow in their musical, artistic, acting, and technical skills. Participants can experience the joy of working on a project together. Meaningful fellowship can take place before, during, and after rehearsals. People can use their gifts to serve. Non-Christians can hear the gospel presented in a relatively non-threatening environment. And a godly desire to steward our gifts faithfully and with excellence will often result in productions that are impressive, even to non-Christians.
Excellence Has Limits
But artistic/technical excellence in the church has its limits, due to limited resources, the realities of “volunteerism,” and the nature of the gospel we proclaim. Certainly we should strive to do our best, and “being Christian” is no excuse for sloth, apathy, or carelessness. Let me be clear: we should strive for excellence for the glory of God. But competing with the world’s production standards should never be our ultimate goal. The world will almost always “out-WOW” the church in terms of production quality.
More importantly, our talent and expertise are not what we rely on to draw people to Christ. It’s the gospel, proclaimed and demonstrated through a group of ordinary believers who have an extraordinary Savior. It’s our humility, joy, servanthood, power, integrity, and love, all produced by our relationship with a risen Savior. As Paul put it, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:2-5). Ultimately, we don’t want anyone’s faith resting in the power of our performance or the creativity of our stage designs, but in the power of the gospel.
The Church As Production Company
The New Testament gives no indication that the church is responsible to put on lavish productions for the purpose of evangelism or edification. That’s because the church isn’t a production company. Performances, plays, and productions, despite the evident fruit at times, were never meant to be the main instrument of evangelism for the church. The main instrument is a body of believers who have been redeemed through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, and who have now been called to proclaim the excellencies of him who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). How do they do that? Primarily by preaching the gospel, by doing good, and by keeping their “conduct honorable, so that others may see their good deeds and glorify God when Christ returns” (Heb. 13:16; 1 Pet. 2:12). In other words, it’s more a matter of faithful living than lavish productions.
Fruitful or Faithful?
So when I hear of a church that spends a gazillion dollars on a Christmas presentation, with much of it being secular songs, it raises some questions. In our effort to be fruitful, rather than faithful, are we becoming so much like the world that people can’t tell the difference? I don’t presume to know what’s in anyone’s heart, but I know that investing that much money in a musical extravaganza eats up huge amounts of time, energy, and resources. Is this the best or primary way to proclaim the gospel and build the church? No. Some churches might see these as pre-evangelism events, to get people in the door so they can be invited to something where the gospel is presented more clearly. That’s certainly plausible, but we always have to evaluate their effectiveness and unintended consequences.
Should the Church Charge Money?
And as for charging money? It’s not necessarily wrong to charge money for a church event. I’d encourage someone to ask their pastor to explain their thinking before assuming the leaders are caving into the world’s value system. It might result in a profitable conversation that helps define the real issues.
But charging money for a production does limit your audience to those who can afford it, and can be misunderstood by your community (those Christians…always asking for money). When an all-church event is held as an outreach to the community, it seems that offering it for free is one way to clearly communicate that we are God’s ambassadors of blessing to a world that is lost and dead in sin.
And the best thing we have to offer them is not just a good production, but the Good News.