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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Do We Need Fancy? Four Ways to Discern How Much

I’m sure you’ve been to events that were beautifully planned. Fresh flowers, coordinated themes and colors, door prizes … the works.

I live abroad, and my experience with these has been extremely limited. Keep that in mind, and let me tell you how it hits me when I return to the States and see the expense behind church events. Again, it’s probably because we would have difficulty even finding some of the trappings, that it impacts me so strongly. It is a cultural thing. I get that. But, bear with me as I share my observations. My post is also about priorities.

I attended a wonderful ladies’ day with a relative. When I walked into the church, the theme was evident. The women helpers—a whole army of them—were dressed in similar costumes. Themed decorations were everywhere, from the sign-up desk to the church auditorium. The whole platform was beautifully staged with items that supported the theme, including a large installation someone had custom-built for the occasion. We had lunch in another venue, and lo and behold, there were elaborately decorated tables, place settings, etc. The catered food was divided for three preferences: vegetarian, non-gluten, and regular. In the afternoon session, there was a seemingly endless drawing for at least ten door prizes. Some were very expensive, and others less so.

I have no idea if time, goods, prizes, paper, etc. were donated or not. Every lady paid a lot of money to attend. The speakers and workshops were excellent, and I am sure all who were there enjoyed it.

All day, I was calculating in my head what it must have cost to put on such a show—even if many of the items were donated. They had to buy some of them. They had to pay the caterers. They had to spend hundreds of dollars on printing—notes and special packets for every participant, the place settings at the meal, menus, etc. The decorations were fabulous, and I sincerely hoped they could re-use some of the colorful items that were used—plus the wood from the amazing installation on the platform.

I was also thinking how the day could have been simplified. How about only three door prizes? Or none? How about using mainly donated decorations—instead of everything new and exactly the same? How about simpler packets, place settings, and encouraging the ladies to take their own notes? I believe this one-day meeting could have been presented with a much lower price tag. It would have been every bit as spiritually beneficial—if not more so. Also, it wouldn’t have been nearly as expensive for those who wished to attend and therefore accessible to all?

This trend of “bigger and better” can be repeated in all kinds of other church activities—and in the home, as well. For example:
  • Church dinners—They used to be done on site, with pretty color-coordination and homemade decorations. Many churches today rent hotel venues and have the professionals do them. This robs church members of the opportunity to minister in set-up, providing the food, and cleanup. Yes, it’s beautiful, but it’s impersonal and expensive.
  • Men’s and Ladies’ breakfasts, brunches, retreats, etc.—I’ve already gone into detail on one of those. I believe all of these can be done just as effectively and much cheaper.
  • Youth activities—Today’s youth are entertained with a myriad of costly activities. Back when I was a kid, most of our youth group special activities were very simple—like going skating or hiking a mountain. We usually sang and had Bible lessons, and we grew in the Lord. Today, kids pay $20 or more to travel to a special place, then they pay more to do different activities when they get there. A lot of the time, they don’t even get a devotional that day. I am amazed! On the other hand, I’ve known some wonderful service-minded youth groups in my day. You know what? Those kids were happy and healthy. They actually enjoyed serving others. They were having Bible studies and getting into the Word. And, those same kids are active in their churches today.
  • Birthday parties—Little Princess and Batman host costume parties for their friends—every single year. It’s hard to imagine the money that goes into themed cakes, tiaras, clothing, decorations, photos, etc. Is this necessary? Every year? Isn’t it okay to only have family at some birthdays and celebrate together? Wouldn’t a picnic birthday be fine—with a few balloons? Isn’t a non-professional cake with candles child birthday-worthy?
There is certainly nothing inherently wrong with spending what you want on anything. It’s your prerogative. But, especially in a church setting and as Christians, it might be wise to think about these things before you decide how fancy to go:
  1. What is the purpose of this activity? In most churches it would be for fellowship and biblical instruction and encouragement. In the home, it might celebrate a family member or occasion (a graduation, for example).
  2. How can the decorations enhance this activity? Decide what will make your venue look good and enhance the theme. Shop at discount places and use what you have on hand as much as possible. You can ask your church members to borrow certain kinds of items that they may have. (They can put their names on them.) I remember a ladies’ conference in a church we attended years ago. They asked the women of the church to bring large summer hats (in style back then) and quilts. I forget the words of the theme, but the whole church had this old-fashioned picnic look. It was gorgeous! They even decorated the bathrooms. I attended one here in Spain with bottles of perfume on each table with a few flowers. (“A sweet fragrance” was the theme.) When people participate, they feel like they’ve invested something in the event. It breeds excitement.
  3. How can we provide this activity in the least expensive way? What isn’t necessary? What can be done at a fraction of the cost? How can we include all of our members—even those who are poor—and allow them invite their friends at a minimal (or no) cost? (I’m still not completely sure what I think about charging a cover fee for church activities. That might make for another post, sometime. You can share your thoughts on this, of course, in the comments.)
  4. Pray. This is the most important part of your planning. What does the Lord think? Do you feel He is leading you differently? If so, be flexible enough to change. Ask yourself: would Jesus do it this way?

I’m afraid we’ve gotten too fancy. We’ve lost sight of true ministry.
  • And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled (Luke 14:23).
  • And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:40).
  • Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you (John 15:16).
  • The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed (Titus 2:3-5).
  • Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).

One more anecdote before I go: when I was a young mother, I attended a couple of ladies’ meetings. In one of them, the speakers floated onto the platform in diaphanous gowns in beautiful colors. My reaction was two-fold: those dresses are gorgeous, and looking down at my second-hand clothes and post-pregnancy body, I thought I looked horrible. I left the meeting in tears. Shortly afterwards, I attended another meeting. One of the speakers was the same who had worn a beautiful dress at the other meeting. Another lady also spoke. Do you know what they did? They singled me out—I have no idea why—and asked me to sit at the lunch table with them. It was incredible to be able to chat and share. I felt so humbled to be with them and, at the same time, so appreciative for the privilege.

Let’s not get so fancy that poor people can’t attend and enjoy our meetings. Let’s never lose sight of godly ministry goals. And, more than anything, let’s always keep our eyes on Jesus.

What do you think? Can we simplify? Any ideas you'd like to share from what you've done? I’d love to hear from you.


  1. Lou Ann- I understand where you are coming from. I remember the first service back in USA church where the smell of new carpet was strong and the crystal chandeliers made my eyes pop. We had just come from hard, uncomfortable wooden pews, bare cement floors. I felt out of place, and there was a little voice saying "think how much they could have sent to foreign missions if they did simple lights."
    However I will say that when I do a lunch once a month for the older single gals at church I insist I use my best dishes, cloth napkins, silverplate, and a collection of salt cellars with individual chocolates at each woman's place and flowers from my garden. Would paper plates, paper napkins work as well? Yes. But as long as I have energy to put the effort into using my very best I will. Because it makes these women feel special, loved and they often say they notice and feel the love. The meal is often very simple, very inexpensive, but there is something to be said for effort making people feel cared about.If I was serving teenagers it would be paper plates.
    But yes, over the top events are still hard for me to understand.I do think birthdays for children as they become 6 or 7 that we can present to them some ideas about who they could share with on their birthday. Great opportunity to help them think of others when focus could be all about them. Ok, My 2 cents.

    1. Thank you, Barbara! I appreciate your sharing your thoughts. I love that you treat others to beautiful plates and little chocolates! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your "two cents." God bless you!

  2. To some extent, fancy is in the eye of the beholder. For years I wanted a gravy boat, and when I finally got one, I reached for it in the cabinet one time when we had guests over, and the wife said, "Oh, there's no need to get fancy for us." I wasn't trying to "get fancy" - I just thought a gravy boat was more efficient than a ladle. Then just recently I was having a friend over for lunch. She's a widow, lives alone, and at the last minute I decided to throw on the tablecloth and cloth napkins just to make it a special girl time for us. I usually only use such for special occasions - usually the table is bare and we have paper napkins. She, too, said something about being fancy, in a way that made me think I had gone overboard. I agree with the above commenter, sometimes going to a little extra fuss is done just to make the guests feel special. On the other hand, we don't want to make guests feel they couldn't use paper plates or whatever if they had us over - that was one thought with my friend, that I hoped she didn't feel she had to go to any extra effort if she had me over, especially since she's on a fixed income.

    In one church we were in, we had caterers for the annual ladies' luncheon because that was the only time the ladies didn't have to cook for an event. We tried to keep the price comparable to what you'd pay at a mid-priced restaurant for a meal, beverage, and dessert. Most people do go out to eat at times, and we didn't think that was too much for a once-a-year event. However, we had one family with 12 children...and even bringing just the girls would have cost a lot for them. And though we did have room in the budget for a few people to come for free if they couldn't afford it and asked people to let us know if the cost was too much, folks would find that embarrassing and would just not come.

    Another aspect is that most church people don't go to parties or concerts or anywhere fancy, generally, so one really nice dress-up occasion a year is a fun, safe, memorable event. Picnics and paper plates and peanut butter sandwiches are fine most of the time, but every now and then it's fun to do more.

    One more aspect: most women are either working outside the home or homeschooling, and their kids have piano lessons, soccer practice and games, etc., so few people have a lot of time to do a lot of prep for an event.

    I enjoy the creativity and thought behind a themed event.

    I think it comes down to balance. If every event all through the year was this way, that would be too much. And if it becomes a "can you top this" situation year to year, it's going to go overboard eventually.

    1. Thank you, Barbara! I love your comments and sharing. "It all comes down to balance" is so true. I think balance is hard to achieve in so many areas. Thank you for joining the conversation.


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