The parable of the ice cream store

This post is from the defunct blog “Dying Church”

Imagine working at an ice cream store. One day you wake up and realize the importance of eating right. It's not just a phase; it's something you have to do. You'd face a bit of a crisis. Do you quit? Do you start serving healthier ice cream? Do you stop serving ice cream altogether and transform the ice cream store into something altogether different? Or do you rationalize that ice cream is okay as long as people are getting their nutrition elsewhere? I've felt like that before. My kairos moment a few years back became a crisis for me. I rediscovered my calling, but I felt a little like the guy at the ice cream store trying to promote health. Most of the goods and services of the church seemed about as likely to promote spiritual growth as ice cream is to promote good health. I realize the church has been tremendously helpful to a lot of people, and many churches are doing a fine job. But overall the news wasn't encouraging.

  • Half of believers say they have not experienced the presence of God or a genuine connection with Him in the past year.
  • The promises delivered by most churches – that if you attend regularly, join a small group, sign up for a ministry, attend this or that – seem increasingly empty. "We don't have much evidence to support the assumption that all this church activity has produced more mature followers of Jesus. It has produced many tired, burned-out members who find that their lives mimic the lives and dilemmas of people in the culture who don't pay all the church rent" (Reggie McNeal).
  • The church in North America is having a diminishing positive impact on the culture at large.
  • The attractional model of church – trying to get unbelievers to come to church –  seemed to not only be failing, but to be the wrong model in the first place.
  • Most of the energy expended in a church is focused on programs and maintenance rather than spiritual formation and service. A lot of the serving that takes place is self-serving rather than serving those who can't repay us, especially the poor and those who might never attend the church.

I faced some choices:

  • Quit the ice cream store? Was it time to move away from the traditional model of church to something completely different?
  • Start serving healthier ice cream? Instead of the normal programs and emphases in the church, to try to use them to serve something better, even though people really wanted the stuff that's bad for you? Rich, unhealthy ice cream does taste better, after all.
  • Transform the ice cream store into something else? Try to change models of church within a church?
  • Rationalize that people will get their nutrition elsewhere? Keep doing church and hope that people grow elsewhere?

I was stuck with this dilemma for a long time.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada