While occasionally incorporating food into church events or activities is fine, one should never view church as a restaurant, as the place to eat. Eat before you come to church. Many of the folks who love to eat at church are the very ones who don’t need to be thinking about food at church. When a church becomes so focused on, so consumed by food, it’s a symptom of a larger, more disconcerting problem: a church that has become too jejune, too casual, too insipid—devoid of purpose.
Yeah, we all know people primarily attend church on Easter to eat, especially black folks in the South. An all-year Easter mindset pertaining to food, however, should never develop. Church leaders who posit or assume that maintaining and increasing church attendance necessitates food need to benefit from retooling, from a reappraisal of their leadership approaches and strategies. Lacking confidence in delivering compelling teaching and preaching, some pastors substitute food for engaging, authentic, transformative ministry, ministry centered on the Word of God—not decentered from the Word of God.
Ineptly handled, unfortunately, food can produce significant problems. Even though one may think it’s a nice gesture for a meeting or service, too many parishioners become distracted by food, losing their proverbial heads about it. You really have a chance to witness just how “saved” someone is when it comes to food at church. For church leaders who insist on food being served, they need to grow in their practical awareness of how their congregants respond to it. It may be the appropriate time to have an “altar call” when those foul attitudes and discordant spirits emerge while food is being served.
Pastors and church leaders, stop organizing meetings and services just to eat. Ultimately, you guys and gals are the problem.
Church hospitality leaders and staff must play a more instrumental role in ameliorating this problem. Keenly aware of the real issues with serving food, hospitality leaders and staff need to inform their pastors about how challenging it is to prepare and serve food regularly. It can even be a challenge to keep non-hospitality staff out of the kitchen. Why does non-hospitality members need to be in the kitchen? Because they feel entitled, because you’ve allowed them to do what they want for so long, because you’re not being adamant about rules governing the kitchen and food service. Do you actually have rules? How are they promulgated? Are the rules disseminated in such a clear and professional way that all members and visitors are aware of them? Be willing to be firm, even aggressive, with your pastor about your requests—and demands.
Food and church can coexist, of course; they do at successful churches. Just make sure you know what it takes to incorporate food effectively into meetings and services. The food needs to be de-emphasized and the purpose(s) of meetings and services should be elevated. That, of course, requires you to have a purpose and know it.
A misreading of this piece is to perceive it as an attack on food being served in a church. Quite the opposite is true: when you serve food, do it with professionalism, in a spirit of excellence, never distracting from the true purpose(s) of meetings and services.
Again, the best practice is to eat before you come to church.
Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison