Social Currency

March 31, 2018 Justin Peter Gudel

Here’s the first half of my point.  If you’re not careful, your work of charity can come across as a stick and carrot.  “I’ll feed you as long as you sit through my sermon.”

It grinds my goat when I hear dynamic descriptions of what a congregation is planning, followed by a rate of return of those words, that are over time, worse than a treasury bond.  Seriously, I’d take the guaranteed 2.97% (as of 3.31.18) over the likelihood that a church will succeed in the numbers that they posit to their voters.

New York University researcher and professor, Gabriele Oettingen, has made a name for herself studying and writing about human behavior.  One of her bits of research that fits my frustration is a concept named positive fantasy. 

Positive fantasy is when an individual takes time to daydream or discuss at length, how the future will be better/more fulfilling than the present.  It’s something we’ve all done.

“In five years, I will have finished my novel.”  

The problem is that just by talking about the desired future, our brains release endorphins.  The chemicals soothe and can even bring about moments of euphoria. But there’s a catch. Far too often, positive fantasies create short-term benefits with long-term costs.  When we fail to follow through with our plans, they don’t happen the way we wanted, or we fail — we are left with a lasting regret. In Christendom, I call those discouraged individuals the disaffected church (that’s a future post).  

What’s more, there is an additional price to be paid.  Over planning is an opportunity cost, where the energy spent in meetings could have gone towards the actual work.

Churches do a great job at meaningful tasks.  I know several congregations stock food kitchens which feed entire communities.  I’ve been part of schemes and designs, where warm meals were prepared and distributed to the homeless.  There are partnerships between ministries where much-needed counseling is offered for free or on an affordable scale.  I am moved each time I see believers noticing needs in their communities and tackling them in the name of love. More examples that I’ve seen include ESL instruction, temporary assistance with gas bills, computer assistance in writing resumes and preparing taxes.  There are very creative givers out there. Or is it that there are givers who are good at seeing needs?

These are sound ministries.  These actions are the church being a light to the world.  

Yet . . . 

This next thought is where many of you will stop reading.  Please bear with me to my conclusion.

What do the above examples of service have in common?


 -Concern for God’s children?

 -Empowered people?

 -They all look good on a resume?

 -Do they create a form of social currency?

What if they are all true?

Each of the described ministries could be an essential part of how churches live out and express faith.  But, it needs to be said, some acts of service, are not evangelism. Evangelism is not always a form of outreach.  Some acts of love, make the giver look good.

Here’s the first half of my point.  If you’re not careful, your work of charity can come across as a stick and carrot.  “I’ll feed you as long as you sit through my sermon.”

Before you unfollow me, let me explain.  This is a danger in optics and hopefully not your church’s actual way of thinking.  But, sometimes, it might be what it looks like.

The second half to my point is that outreach and evangelism are two sides of a Venn diagram.  There is plenty of overlap, but they aren’t synonymous. I bring this up because evangelism often feels like a four-letter word.

Society is accepting of Christians operating a soup kitchen.  But tell someone that your belief is the correct belief, and you will be labeled closed minded.  

So how do we counter that?  

1) We do what those inspiring churches are already doing.  They are loving people (hopefully without the sticks).

2) We learn how to convey that our faith is reasonable.  By that, we can describe Christianity as agreeable with a logical understanding of our world.  

3) We share a better story.

The three-part plan for mobilizing a DIY Christian movement:  action, reasonableness, and a better story.

Wow, that’s a lot to cover.  Below are several links to our approach of the bullet #1.  The second and third points will need to be unpacked further in the future.


Qualitative Analysis

Drinking with Strangers

Do something already


And please.  Please. Please!  Comment your thoughts.  Do I sound poignant or terrible?  I won’t know without feedback.  Just click on the image below.