“The American church is so consumeristic!” It’s a common line uttered by the religiously fed-up, and of course, there’s a lot of truth in it. Some churches in America do tend to cater to the consumeristic mentality of our culture. But I think, on the whole, most churches don’t, and that’s actually part of the problem.
The American church has a perceived problem of consumerism. And it’s very popular to speak and write on the topic, preaching to the choir and an angry chorus of “Amens.” The insinuation is that churches too often go out of their way to please seekers and make the gospel palatable to nonbelievers, watering down the message and skirting hard truth in the process.
Does this happen? Sure it does. Some leaders, choosing the approval of people over the fear of God, invite people to an easy version of Christianity that never makes the invitation Jesus made to “come and die” with him. But let’s be honest for a moment. For every “six flags over Jesus” fun house version of church, there are dozens of churches that really couldn’t care less about what the average consumer thinks. And that may be the bigger issue.
I believe our greater problem—the reason why thousands of churches will close their doors this year—is that we don’t care enough about consumers to loosen our grip on church done “our way.” We’ll hold on tenaciously to our musical preferences, our outdated modes of communication, our pride in not being one of those consumeristic churches.
Maybe we could shift the argument if we began to think of consumers differently. A friend of mine was struggling with this very issue and expressed his fear about catering too much to consumers. I simply replied, “You keep calling them consumers. I’ll call them lost people.”
The church doesn’t exist for the saved. And the church doesn’t exist for the lost either. The church exists for Jesus. He thought it up, founded it, empowers it through his Holy Spirit and commissioned the church to go into all the world for his purposes. And what is his purpose for the church? I believe Jesus founded the church to be the pillar and ground of truth so that by spreading his truth and showing his grace, we might reconcile a lost world (aka, a consumeristic culture that includes us) to him through the message of the cross and the resurrection.
So before you knock come-as-you-are, this-is-a-safe-place-for-sinners churches, consider these thoughts…
• We are all consumers.
• Every church is designed to appeal to someone’s tastes. Some churches appeal to insiders and some appeal to outsiders but there is no virtue in neglecting the latter.
• Jesus died for consumers. And again, that’s all of us.
• Consumers are the mission.
• Consumers are seekers looking for fulfillment, purpose, healing, relief, wisdom, peace and plenty of other things that Jesus certainly offers to all who will humbly repent and follow him.
• We are all consumers, but we all have the potential to become contributors.
And that last point is the one I want to camp out on.
Don’t believe for a second that there are only two options: catering to and keeping consumers happy, or ignoring consumers in a pious attempt to protect the frozen chosen. There is a third way, and I believe it’s the way of Jesus.
The church’s mission is to tell every consumer on the planet about Jesus so that he can save and redeem them, reconcile them to God, and re-condition all of us for the mission field! He’s in the business of turning consumers into contributors!
• Greet people with a smiling face.
• Reserve the best parking spots for guests.
• Give guests a gift of appreciation.
• Create amazing kids’ spaces.
• Have fun and laugh.
• Drop the dress code.
• Preach in a conversational, but passionate tone.
• Play great music that normal people like for God’s glory.
• Display great art for God’s glory.
Make. The. Service. Attractive! To consumers! Aka, lost people, like us.
No, you may not substitute a watered-down, feel-good, palatable message for the gospel of Jesus and its requirement of repentance and surrender. At least, not if you want to please the One to whom we shall give an account of our stewardship of his church. But you also can’t spend your days pridefully ranting about churches that are trying really hard to care about the people for whom Jesus died.
This is America. We’re a bunch of lost consumers, seeking fulfillment. I know it’s found ultimately in Jesus alone. If you know that too, then let’s reach every last consumer we can and then…
• Invite them to membership in God’s family through repentance toward God and faith in Jesus.
• Grow with them to maturity through the spiritual disciplines.
• Serve one another, surrendering our own self-interests for the benefit of others.
• Go on mission together to find more consumers, whom God loves deeply and for whom Jesus died.
• Learn to live our lives for the glory of the Creator!
Thank God someone reached this consumer. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Now let’s go find others and introduce them to a church that cares more deeply about their spiritual brokenness than our own preferences.