Wouldn't it be cool if all those who follow God in the way of Jesus viewed the church as a potluck rather than as a restaurant? At a potluck, everybody brings something to the table, and you never know which meals will carry the day. It's up for grabs...literally! Want a better potluck? Bring something better to the table. Want a tastier experience? Raise your own creative contribution bar. Got nothing to bring tonight? That's O.K. There will be plenty of people who've got you covered this week. Just try to bring something next week. A potluck is a collective experience and everybody gets a chance to enrich everybody else.
When the church operates metaphorically as a restaurant, it's a completely different social contract. People come not as contributors to the group experience, but as consumers of religious goods and services. We come and order our meal, and we expect it to be prepared really well and brought to us in a timely and attractive manner. If we like the service and the meal, we come back. Maybe we even leave a tithe...ahh...a tip. If we're not satisfied with the service or the meal, we might give it another shot or two, but we eventually just take our business elsewhere. I know that sounds kinda harsh, but isn't that pretty much what most of us do? And, to be fair, if a church sets itself up as a restaurant, shouldn't it expect that kind of behavior, however unfortunate, from its customers?
I wonder if the church as a restaurant perspective hasn't inadvertently fueled another curious metaphor. When dissatisfied people leave a church, it's often because they say they "weren't fed." (Now I'm guessing that 9 times out of 10 what we really mean when we say "I wasn't fed" is closer to "I wasn't satisfied"). But anyway, the "I wasn't fed" metaphor actually makes some sense if the social construct of the church resembles a restaurant and the staff don't bring anything to the table. But that metaphor would never fly in the church as a potluck for at least 3 reasons: 1) There are all kinds of foods all around you...something is surely edible; 2) It's your responsibility to grab something and eat it...nobody will feed you; and 3) Presumably you brought something to the table, so at least there's that much to eat.
Now, I've been to tasty potlucks and to pretty lame potlucks, (too many of the later, actually), so changing the social construct of the church is not enough. At the end of the day it comes down to each one of us choosing whether or not we will bring our best. When we do, everybody eats well. When we don't, well, it's our fault, nobody else's. But wouldn't it be so cool if our response to a weak potluck was a personal and family resolve to bring something better to the table the next time around? To bing something that we put our hearts into? Somehow that seems more like what Jesus had in mind for us rather just heading out to a restaurant to pay someone to feed us.
For a very stimulating take on a potluck-like church, check out Doug Pagitt's book, "Reimagining Spiritual Formation."