Whenever talk of something a church is doing comes up, it doesn’t take long before all the whataboutery starts. It’s great that we’re providing X, but what about Y? It’s great that X is on at this time, but what about all the people who can’t make that time? It’s great that you are reaching this group of people, but what about that group of people? It’s great that you provide for this need, but what about that need? On and on and on it goes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it can often be good to think about different things you might do as a church. Is it possible to meet a particular need that you currently aren’t is a good thought process to go through. If we are trying to serve people in the church, might moving times allow a different demographic to join in? Are people being unnecessarily excluded or are we doing things because there is only one particular way the thing will work? Are we simply blind to certain needs and people and knowing about them might alter what we do? All these are valid questions to ask and think through. The problem is not in their being asked, nor in their being thought through, but in the stymying effect whatabouttery can have on actually doing anything at all.
Let me offer you two very freeing thoughts when it comes to the church, its activities and what it might care to do. First, no church can possibly do everything. Second, not everything is for everyone. Both are absolutely okay.
First, no church can possibly do everything. If we build our church around a felt-needs approach, we will inevitably miss out some people’s felt needs. It is impossible for any church to perfectly serve the felt needs of everyone in it all the time. There will inevitably be times when somebody feels they have particular needs that aren’t being met. More to the point, the church does not exist to meet every felt need under the sun. It exists to makes disciple-making disciples and to equip them for works of service by allowing the Lord to do his work by his Word and Spirit. Whatever people’s felt-needs might be, the church is primarily there to meet a specific need.
If the result of putting on a women’s group is an immediate call of but what about the men? or what about the youth? we are essentially saying, unless we can run all these things, we will run none of them. Maybe we are in a position to run a youth group but aren’t in a position to run a men’s group. That doesn’t mean we don’t run the youth group. It just means we run what we are able, when we are able. The point isn’t to exclude and insist certain demographics don’t matter, it is just a basic response to the question, what is it feasible for us to do right now? If no church can do everything, we have to think about what we can do. If we are intent on doing what we can, it makes no sense not doing what we can do simply because there are some other things that we cannot do.
On top of all that, we have to prioritise. Maybe we could run one or other thing, but we only have the capacity to do one of them. We have to determine what we will do. We could say we’ll do neither. Which may be legitimate if underpinning that is a view of the church that wants to move away from running formal programmes altogether on principle. But assuming you recognise the church running things is a godly means of reaching the lost or discipling believers (otherwise why are you having the conversation at all), but capacity limits how much you can do (because we’re all finite), you have to make decisions on what is a priority for your church. I don’t presume to say what that priority should be – these things will almost certainly depend on your context and the makeup of your church – but unless you are a megachurch with 80% of your membership actively serving, the chances are you will need to ask questions about priorities in your church because, in the end, no church can possibly do everything. And that’s okay.
Second, it helps to recognise not everything is for everyone. I understand that Jesus calls his people not to neglect meeting together and the apparent pattern set by the Apostles for doing that was on a Sunday, with a few things set down as to what we ought to do in those gatherings. Whilst there are a whole load of commands given to believers more generally, the vast majority of what we do as churches are applications of those things. For instance, the Bible does not demand every church has a prayer meeting. We think a good means of achieving the commands to pray, to encourage one another and to bear one another’s burdens is to have one, but ‘have a prayer meeting’ is just not in the Bible. Most of what we do are legitimate applications of wider principles rather than black and white commands.
That being the case, it is much easier to acknowledge not everything is for everyone. Home Groups, for example, are nowhere in the Bible. We certainly see believers meeting in homes in the week. So, there is nothing wrong with it and it is one application of a number of biblical principles. But you can’t insist that everyone must be in a Home Group. Demanding that of your members is to demand something that Jesus doesn’t. We would strongly encourage our members to be involved, we think going will be helpful and beneficial to them, but ultimately we don’t want to demand from them what Jesus doesn’t demand.
On top of that, we recognise some people simply can’t make it anyway. We hold our on Tuesday evenings. But some people can’t get out to that. Some are in college, some have young children, some have work commitments. We could just can the whole thing. But instead, we are happy to recognise not everything is for everyone. Such groups are for the people who are able to make it and who want to come. If you can’t make it, well, this isn’t for you then.
Similarly, when we set up our Theology Breakfast, we plonked it at 9am on Sunday morning. I expected at least one parent in a family would not come. I didn’t expect single parent families to be there. The point wasn’t to exclude them, if they can make it work that’s great (and some, by various ways and means, do), but if they can’t, well that’s okay. This isn’t for them at this present time. I would encourage people to come if they can. I think it will be more helpful for them than not coming. But if they can’t, or dare I say they just don’t want to, they are free to do something else.
There can sometimes be a reflex in churches that insists every effort must be made to include everyone all of the time. Certainly, if everyone can make one time and nobody can make another, it makes sense to think about that and make decisions accordingly. But in the end, no church can do everything. We don’t want whatabouttery to stop us doing anything at all. Equally, not everything is for everyone. Whether it is that the church can do a particular thing to serve one set of people that it can’t to serve another, or seasons of life prevent some from coming when they might be able later on, not everything has to be for everyone. Sometimes it’s okay to say this is a thing we can do and it is simply for whoever can, and wants to, be there.