Stop treating the church like Old Country Buffet

Ben GarvinConfession: I love buffets. There’s such a variety. And the quantity of food is the restaurant version of Costco. I mean, c’mon, the bacon comes in bulk. It’s an incredible invention. I feel like a king. I can choose exactly what I want and avoid that unidentifiable, seemingly discolored soup in the corner.

The reality is many of us are treating our churches similarly. We love the variety. We love the quantity of options available. We can hit up what we like and avoid what we don’t like. The fellowship is offered in bulk. We can be misled to think the church is here to serve us rather than us being here to serve the church.

Let me share a couple of examples to illustrate.

Years ago I led our “hands and feet” ministry. The idea is simple: serve the community around us. What I found is people loved the idea of being the hands and feet of Jesus. I’ve never seen so many people sign up for a ministry. You’d think we were petitioning the government to send Justin Bieber back to Canada. But in reality, on a Saturday morning, when rivaled against sleeping in, going for a run, or sipping a latte with a friend, Jesus’ hands and feet proved lame (in both senses of the word: boring and unable to walk).

I’m not hear to criticize others. I’m guilty of this. I’m a fan of the OCB church.

Another illustration comes out of small groups. Whether called small groups, cell groups, missional communities, soma communities, or yo-momma communities (okay, that last one was made up), the aims are similar. We read and study the Word. We encourage one another to keep living for Christ. We invite others to join us. And we experience “fellowship.” And fellowship is often where it goes pear-shaped (that’s a metaphor for “not good”).

Prayer-Youth-945212609_e9693e173bFellowship is an amazing reality where believers in Christ perform the “one anothers”. The Bible calls us to love one another, serve one another, care for one another, exhort one another, and forgive one another. Unfortunately, fellowship has been mistaken for friendship. Why is that problematic? Well, when many people think friendship they mistakenly (and often unconsciously!) warp this to mean someone is to be my friend. So someone in my small group should love me, serve me, care for me, *skip the part where they exhort me* and forgive me.

Again, I point the finger at myself. I find it much easier when someone befriends me with love, care, and forgiveness. It’s much harder when I’m asked to reciprocate and be a friend to them.

The OCB church has so much to offer me and asks nothing from me in return. I can receive. I don’t need to give. I take the best of the best and ignore everything else.

Just like too much OCB has consequences (“C’mon now, PREACH IT!”), so does treating the church like OCB.

To stop treating the church like OCB, we need to start viewing church more as a potluck.

What’s the biggest difference between the two? Unlike with a buffet, you and I are expected to contribute something to a potluck.

Back when I was a college student our church was quite small. There were a few founding families. And then there were a bunch of college students. I’m sure you can imagine what our potlucks were like. There were one or two crock pots which were quickly emptied by the first few through the line. And what remained were countless bags of potato chips and 2-liter bottles of pop. Neither nutritious nor filling but that’s all we college students could afford.

The church is rightly viewed as a potluck, NOT a buffet. The potluck church may not offer nearly as many options. There may be less variety. It may feel like the only thing coming in bulk is frustration. You may feel more like a servant than a king or queen.

Honestly, you may find yourself giving more to this potluck than those around you. You may be opening your house more often, sharing your time more frequently, and losing more Saturday mornings than others. Your potluck contribution may dwarf the contribution of others.

All I can say is “Thank you!”

Your example exhorts me to stop my OCB thinking. Your giving, rather than waiting to receive, preaches Jesus’ words that it is more blessed to give than receive. Your acknowledgement of the messy person in our midst calls me to stop playing favorites. Your “one anothering” of this broken, ugly, lame bride of Christ reminds me of how much more Jesus loves his bride. Thank you.

So let’s together exchange our a la carte, OCB spirituality for something much more compelling and filling.  


  • Do you agree or disagree with the message that we need to stop treating the church like OCB? Why or why not?
  • What else do you think can be done so we can help one another to view the church more as a potluck?

  • I like to start conversations around the gospel in the areas of your life that matter most. Your comments are critical to the conversation!

    Posted on by Cor in FAITH

    16 Responses to Stop treating the church like Old Country Buffet

    1. Jordan

      Cor –

      I definitely agree with you on this! Being involved in a campus ministry while in college then transitioning to being more involved in the church, I’d say this mindset is prevalent in both places.

      I’ve had many conversations with many church-goers about getting more involved. The majority of these conversations have a very consumerist feel to them – I’m guilty of this, too. What am I getting from church? What does Hope do for me?

      Just last night, I was talking to a friend who asked me the benefits of being a member at Hope as opposed to an attender. It was hard for me to come up with multiple things that benefitted him as opposed to benefitted Hope, and he didn’t seem too interested. I was pretty bummed, both by his response and by my thoughts that membership SHOULD benefit the member.

      • Cor

        Thanks for the comment, Jordan.

        Re: attender vs member. I’ve been asked more than once, “So, if I get sick, and am in the hospital, you won’t come visit me unless I’m a member?”

        Nope. I’ll still come visit you.

        What I appreciate about our members is they’ve raised their hands and said, “When there’s a need, call on me first.”

    2. Valerie

      Great post! This captures church perfectly!

      Oh, and I remember those potlucks….and we always had fun!

      • Cor

        Except when we walked away with gut rot due to too many chips!

    3. Roger Messner

      The title of this post says it all and it is priceless.

      I hadn’t recognized the similarities and now I can’t not see them.

      As a family I have intentionally protected my daughters from both OCB resteraunts and OCB expressions of faith. And their exposure to both has been fairly limited.

      My daughters are quick to defend against the assumptions people may make about both the foods that they should like as young adults and how their faith community expresses it’s beliefs. But, when they were younger they were just confused.

      After visiting Church of the OCB they told me of being confused by crazy laser light shows, forced emotive worship music, and “His Bean” coffee shops.

      One time we had to go to OCB for an extended family obligation. Throughout the meal my kids were continually unimpressed and rejected about everything on their plate They even turned their noses up to the unlimited access to desert.

      Upon leaving a line had formed to get into OCB.

      My the young daughter was so shocked she turned to me and within earshot of the waiting OCB patrons exclaimed…

      “THERE”S A LINE DAD! Do you think they know how bad the food is?!?!”

      Oh the unfiltered honesty of childhood!

      Certainly the OCB mentality is inexpensive, and you know going in what you are gonna get. But it would be tough to argue the messy after effects are worth the effort.

      Conversely First Community Church of the Blessed Potluck is the reverse. It”s Unkown, messy, seemingly uninviting and scary. Eventually you dive in, contribute, share traditional dishes, and partake in the riches of a true meal.

      • Cor

        That’s a hilarious story.

        Just make sure to keep her from volunteering as a greeter when I’m preaching!

        “Dad, do you think they know how bad the preaching is today?!?!” hahahaha

        Seriously, thought, the potluck church is unknown, messy, and scary. Hopefully we can all contribute to make it less so!

        Thanks for the comments, Rog!

    4. Peter Brandt

      Good observation, and good analogy.

      We are bombarded in our society by the worship of “me”. We are societally encouraged to think for ourselves, focus on our own needs, watch out for ourselves, worship those who have “made it” themselves. How may of us have been trained to be self-starters, self actualized, self-whatever. So, in our worship of self, and service to self – OCB – fits, right? All the food you want to eat – for me.

      So, that’s the society we’re in – what can we do?

      First, realize “we” (Christians) – need to think counter-culturally. Our worship is not focused on us, and our needs, rather on Jesus, and serving Him and others. This is God’s truth, so we should start with a check of ourselves first – are we being self-focused, or other/people/God-focused?

      Then, realize many of our brethren, may be a bit more world-focused, than God-focused – this happens to be where they are in their faith journey. As Christ’s servants, how do we serve these people? Isn’t that what we’re called to do – to help them, serve them to become more embraced by Christ, more Christ-like? And, to do this in a spirit of love.

      And, within our church, how do we serve people, even if they are consumer-Christians? And, have been eating at the OCB versus participating in a potluck. And, by service, it doesn’t mean catering to world standards with a “show” or a program, but continuing to speak the gospel of God’s awesome love for us.

      Don’t we need to follow God’s guiding, serve them, and then realize God is working on them, and will guide us in serving them, too?

      Our church should support each of us (this is the “me” part)- helping us more fully realize Christ’s love and intention for us, helping us become part of the community (so we can learn more and deal with those issues we all have as humans) , but do this in a way that it is God’s glory, not our own. Getting there is the hard part.

      OCB versus potluck? Might it be a mix, with OCB being resourced with Hopester potluckers?

      • Cor

        Great thoughts, comments, and questions, Peter!

        I appreciate your comment about starting with ourselves before turning toward others. Then we will be in position to acknowledge how challenging it is to be less consumeristic but how much better it is to draw near to God trusting in his ways.

        Good stuff, bro.

    5. Greg

      Great Post Cor!

      You are so right – let me expand for just a moment if I can. It is far too often the case that we gorge ourselves on more and more in all of life looking to get filled.. Gluttony can raise its head in many arenas and, unfortunately, we live in an OCB society and can treat almost anything as if it were an OCB. We are invited to step up and fill ourselves with, well, you name it. Food, fame, fitness, friends, family, and fun are all potential sources for us to stuff ourselves.

      The potluck analogy is very apt but I want to suggest another analogy that went right alongside the potluck in the early church – Communion. When we come to the communion table, we bring nothing to it. We come only to receive. Yes, we have given ourselves over to God but, in comparison to what we receive, even that giving is getting. Listen to what Jesus said:

      [37] On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. [38] Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” [39] Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 ESV)

      I want to suggest that our OCB mentality in life is misplaced. It is not the desire to get that is wrong, it is what we set that desire upon. One of the things that inspires me at Hope Community Church is our Christ centered focus. We have said over and over again this year that Jesus + Nothing = Everything. I love that.

      For me, when I am tempted to look at church or life as an OCB, I need to be reminded that I need to look to Jesus to fill me and then, out of that fullness I can minister to others.

      • Cor

        I love it. Great words, Greg.

    6. Matt Heutinck

      Love the analogy,

      Buffets (churches and restaurants) are a great place for the non-committal. Oh, jr. wants Mexican and dad wants ribs? Lets go to the buffet and I’ll have a salad with won-tons and Alfredo sauce.

      Another way that we can stretch the analogy, is that with a pot-luck, it only is good if people put their best forth. If its going to be a table full of chips, I’d rather be at Old Country Buffet.

      But, mainly I wanted to post so that I can use the word slacktivism. Spell checker flagged it, but Oxford lists it as a real word.

      Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g., signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website:

      Maybe our OCB attitude is a product of social media. We don’t realize that running a 5k, posting something on your wall or liking something will not bring the troops home, cure cancer or stop bullying. To do those things is messy and time consuming.

      • Cor

        Good words, bro.

    7. David Pitchford

      We do this with theology as well as with community. Disagree with your church’s teaching on _____? Go find a different church that aligns better with what you believe and will legitimate and reinforce those beliefs rather than challenging them. Or if one doesn’t exist, find some like-minded people and start your own! All of this contributes to the tragic division of the Church into an increasing number of enclaves rather than the unified body of Christ.

      • Cor

        Absolutely, David.

    8. Faith

      Well this post was def for me. Not that I am any of these things and yet all of them. I almost left Hope a few months back, or thought I wanted to. (& just for the record I am a covenant member). So, I actually went to another church for a few weeks. Just checking it out. Seeing what they had for me. Do you hear that? I was scoping out what would fill me. Because I’m 33 & single and this misfit at Hope. I labeled myself that. I told myself if you’re not married, married with kids, or in college, you’re a misfit at this church.
      Oh & I left my small group too. Because they weren’t meeting my expectations. I wanted friends & found them, but it wasn’t enough. There was dysfunction & I wanted to run from it. These people couldn’t have thought or said nicer things about me, but I wanted more. More community, more more more for ME. & when I was let down or so I thought, I left.
      & then I went to a Good Friday service at Hope & the senior pastor Steve hugged me & said with a big smile, good to see you. You okay? Now I don’t know how Steve does it but he has asked that of me in the past & at that I time I wasn’t okay either. (I had just lost a best friend due to my yep, due to my expectations not being met & other things….). So I left that service thinking wow that is really special that the senior pastor of my church noticed I haven’t been there for awhile. He even asked my mentors husband if I still attended Hope. It had only been a few weeks that I was gone! That humbled me.
      Then I had the opportunity to talk to a friend, and he said, Faith do you realize that even the married mother of two wants to belong? Woah. Yes I suppose she does. We’re all trying to to belong. To be continued……

    9. Faith

      & then I stumbled across a short podcast from ask Pastor John. It was for someone who felt similar to me. Biblically sound church, but not satisfied with some things. In his case, singles for him. In my case fitting in & disliking the women’s events, desiring community in a 30’s group. John challenges the listener to ask himself a few questions. Do the elders approve of my move? Have they given their counsel? How much would I be missed? How much harm would I do if I left? How much am I needed here? Will I honestly be able to throw myself into the ministry of a new church with an authentic sense that I love the people here & I want to serve them, or will I be tempted to feel like I’m just using these people? I’m just showing up here for reasons that don’t have to do with so much of what the church is about in terms of worship & edification, I’m really out to find_______! Have you really exhausted all the all the proper ways to connect? Have you opened up to family or friends that you trust? If you go to this new church & nothing happens there, will you move again? Have you considered whether you want ______ too much? Do I trust the sovereign grace of God to bring me my _______in His time?
      & so I I talked with my mentor & now Cor as a pastor at Hope-I so wanted to sit down with you or Steve & didn’t. But I did talk with friends & my mentor & I’m still at Hope. My home. Serving on hospitality & mentoring. & remembering it’s not about me. & maybe I wish the worship band would dance around more & show emotion, & maybe I don’t prefer most of the women’s events & I am hesitant to join another small group. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus & what he did for us. & how can I serve Him? & serve others? Love others? & gain nothing back? Jesus paid it all.
      (Yes I’m the one who wrote the comment card about wedding photos etc).
      This is just some honesty for you all.
      Thanks for the blog Cor! I don’t want to be a consumer. I really don’t.
      (Praying for Hope church and the financial situation).

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