My house looks like a fundraising headquarters. Everywhere I look is letter from my kid's school, their sports team, or choir notifying us of some fundraising event. Unlike years past, the funds sought are not just for the school, team or choir, but often for humanitarian organizations. Our local food pantry is the old standby. Almost every group in town raises money or collects food for them. Although the pantry is a joint ministry of all the churches in town, the fundraisers' letters seldom mention that fact. My local free shopper newspaper is a crowded collection of press releases about which Boy Scout troop raised money for which charity, and pictures of student or civic organizations handing over checks to some 501(c)(3). Although there are many articles about church missions mixed in, it seems like they are no different than any other well-meaning group.
Don't get me wrong. It's all great stuff. However, it strikes me that all these types of efforts used to be what we in the church called missions. I hang out in a lot of church circles that are big on being part of their communities - call it "missional" or "incarnational" or whatever. It's a hot topic. For many churches, they think it's the magic formula to reverse their decline. Yet lately, I wonder if our churches are making any difference.
My question is this; with all the Bono-fied humanitarian efforts originating everywhere from kid's classrooms to the local supermarket, do our communities even need churches to do this work anymore? Especially for more mainline churches who have moved past all the saving-people-from-Hell talk, what purpose do we serve anymore? I have my own ideas, but I would like to hear yours.