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When a church offers a service to the community, should it be expected that it will include an attempt to convert?

I have a specific scenario to discuss.

In my area, a local mega-church (I don't actually know if it qualifies as "mega" in the Jimmy Swaggart sense, but the church is HUGE) started offering a respite service to families who have children with special needs.  One Friday evening a month, for four hours, they will take the children with special needs and their siblings under the age of thirteen so that the parents can have a worry-free evening for themselves.

After checking into the service offered, I decided to let my daughters participate.  I was assured that this program, though sponsored by and held in the church, would be secular in nature.  Those in charge of the program told me that their only desire was to reach out to families like mine and offer this respite because they understand the difficulties we often have in finding childcare.  I was told that they realize that there are many families who don't share the church's beliefs and they want us to be comfortable in the knowledge that this program has one purpose only:  to provide excellent childcare so that parents can enjoy a worry-free evening to themselves.

For the past two years, then, we participated in the program, and my girls loved it.  They would have crafts, show movies, have different organizations come in to share activities with the children, like the fire department, the zoo, the aquarium and the children's museum.  It was fantastic, and my younger daughter, the one with autism, looks forward to these evenings with such hope and excitement.

The program has grown in popularity so much that they have had to add a second Friday in order to be able to accommodate all the families who have children with special needs.

Something else has changed, too.  They have started having the children pray.  They have started having sing-alongs to Christian music praising Jesus.  They have also started reading stories from the Bible.

Last night, when I picked up my girls from the program, my younger daughter wanted to know where her Jesus was.  My older daughter explained:  They had a prayer, then sang "Jesus Loves Me", and the kids were handed out Jesus pendants and pamphlets about Jesus and his love for children.  My older daughter refused these trinkets.  I don't know what happened to the ones they gave to my younger daughter.  They weren't in her backpack.  I wonder if her caretaker remembered that I wouldn't be pleased and got rid of the evidence.  Her caretaker for last night was the program director.

This, of course, leaves me with a little dilemma.  I have to decide whether it's worth the occasional proselytizing to children with physical and cognitive disabilities, who may or may not understand what's being preached to them, just so my husband and I can enjoy an evening together.  I have to decide whether the other activities that are so engaging for my daughters are worth the proselytizing they have to endure.  I have to decide whether to talk with the director and remind her that we are not interested in that aspect of the program, or whether I should have expected this, in spite of the assurances I was given two years ago.

What are your thoughts regarding this sort of situation, though?  If a church is offering a service to the community, should we expect there to be strings attached?  Whether we're talking about soup kitchens or respite care, should the services be offered under the condition that the recipients be subjected to proselytizing?

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Asked by jsbenkert at 11:59 AM on Mar. 16, 2013 in Religious Debate

Level 37 (89,331 Credits)
Answers (26)
  • I tend to expect, if I attend something on a church's grounds or being run/sponsored by a church, that they will...not necessarily try to convert, but that there will be at least some religious overtones.

    The problem I would have, in your situation, is that you were assured this wouldn't happen and it wasn't happening - and now suddenly it is, and with no heads up that it was going to happen. I would try talking to the director first. Ask what brought about this change and why there was no warning given that it would be happening. Find out if there's a way you can avoid having your daughter exposed to this, without having to take her out of the program.

    But, there may not be anything you can do, aside from either dealing with it or pulling out of the program.

    Answer by wendythewriter at 12:11 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • If including a pamphlet in the information sent home is an attempt to convert, then yes I think you should expect it.
    My kids sing Hannukah songs at school, doesn't bother me. If I were to take them to a temple for child are then he's I would assume they would hear stories from the Torah. I would explain any questions they had between their beliefs and ours and let it go. Nothing anyone could say/do for a few hours once/month is likely to change their beliefs.
    But if it concerns you I would discuss it again with the director.

    Answer by missanc at 12:27 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • I'm not concerned about my older child.  She has developed into quite an astute critical thinker.  She knows she doesn't have to pray or sing the songs.  She also knows that she can politely refuse the trinkets and pamphlets offered to her.  She is capable of making these decisions.

    When we're talking about a vulnerable population, though, and in particular small children and those with cognitive differences, it seems a bit subversive to take the time that was supposed to be about providing safe, fun care and entertainment to the kids and use it to preach to them - especially when they gave assurances from the beginning that this was supposed to be a safe environment for families of all belief systems


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 12:40 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • No. Some churches will. Most don't.

    Answer by maecntpntz219 at 12:47 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • Preaching to children, especially children, as you said, "with physical and cognitive disabilities, who may or may not understand what's being preached to them," doesn't seem right. If the church was advertised as providing secular care, it should remain secular. If they had changed their mind they should have made that clear to the parents before any advances in that are were made towards the children, allowing the parents to choose not to have their child/ren included. I think, especially if some parents don't realize it's going on and are therefore unaware of the possibility of needing to discuss it at home (if they believe differently, etc), it is a huge abuse of what they have advertised, seeing as it takes such liberties while parents could remain unawares. There should be value in doing something worth doing for the sake of the goodness of it, and not tied to conversion attempts or indoctrination, exposure, etc...

    Answer by bandgeek521 at 12:47 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • You and your family would have to decide for yourselves what you are comfortable with, now that you are aware. I would be hesitant, and would want to know exactly what kinds of things my child/ren would be exposed to and taught, whether I would feel as though it were something I could discuss with him/them at home without it being too complicated or too contradictory to our own beliefs, etc, etc. I would be at least a little irked, though, that something was advertised as secular, and then it became more religious in nature. I would wonder whether it was intentional - like they were trying to draw people in and advertised to non-Christians in order to have an audience that needed to be reached - or whether it was just that they decided to take a more religious approach without really giving a fair warning to the parents already taking use of the service. I wouldn't mind pamphlets or invitations to other events, etc, (cont)

    Answer by bandgeek521 at 12:50 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • I'd ask the director if about the change. While it IS a church it's odd to me. I can definitely see your concern/dilemma.

    Answer by maecntpntz219 at 12:51 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • but I do think that advertising for one thing, giving assurances, etc, and then layering in the religious stuff is something that shouldn't be done. If someone is showing up for one thing it's not right to include more without warning. Invitations that one can refuse is one thing. Captive audiences, especially of children, and especially children with different needs and abilities, etc, is quite another, IMO.

    Answer by bandgeek521 at 12:52 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • I'm actually surprised it didn't happen earlier. Do ask about the change, and check out the church's stance on evangelization. Two years is a long time in church life, and things can change. If they've renewed a focus on evangelization (and this being Lent I'd expect that), then the change in program would be part of it.

    We do community outreach, like a car show, and we run a thrift shop, but we don't expect conversion. We answer questions of anyone who asks and offer tours of our church, but that's all.

    We have a preschool as well, and that IS faith based but it's stated up front.

    Answer by gdiamante at 12:59 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • In that ituation I ould ave sad it was a iven...
    Howevr the program director tol yu it was strctly secular (and was at the time it wasbeing sarted up), soIMO everyone shuld hae been informedof the changes before they occurred.

    I woduld definitely talk o the program director and see if they are going to contiue he worship aspect of the pogram before making my decision.

    These outreachesare part of the church's missin and so yes any time there is a program at a church I would expected some sort of religious aspect.

    To answer the oher part, there was a Bapist church about a block away that had a program that oth of my children wanted to participate in.
    knew very welthat there would be somes ort of preaching and offering. The famly talked and they went and when we were there we listened to the preaching. Baptist and Caholic are worlds apart even if we are both classified as christian

    Answer by Dardenella at 1:08 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

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