28 January 2008

Consumer Church?

Kathy has written a post - from a US perspective - that raises a lot of questions for me: How the Church is Training Consumers instead of Disciples. This is very interesting in light of my previous post: Reasons for Giving Up Church-Going.

I've just ordered the book that I referred to in the previous post but I haven't read it. However, the suggestion that churches 'multi-plex' strikes me as incredibly consumerist. The review suggested to me that the conclusion of the study were something like: 'I'm only attending church if I get the style of worship / liturgical tradition / kind of teaching that I'm interested in. Otherwise, I'm outta here.'

If people in our society are used to being able to get 'what they want, when they want', how does the church 'compete' with other Sunday activities? Should it compete? I think the dilemma here is: What's the difference between being 'In the world but not of the world' and 'Being in the world as well as of the world'? Many people seem to use the criteria of 'bums on pews' as being a successful indicator of a church that is a good witness for Christ and is making disciples.

It seems to me that the activities that Church is competing with - on Sundays or on other days - aren't activities that are going to help people find the meaning of life or love their neighbour. The activities are largely short-term and pleasure-inducing: sleep, sport, shopping, eating out, country walks; with apologies to those who have to work on Sundays or until 9:00 or 10:00 on weekdays! For church to compete head-to-head with these consumerist or consumerist-led activities, it has to become even more entertaining and gratifying. How does that square with learning to love God and love our neighbour?

I expect that some will see this post as an excuse not to change anything. In fact, I think it's vital that the church change and I agree that discipleship has to have a measure of fun and joy; but I do worry very much about the issues Kathy raises and whether we'll still 'be church' if we pander to all consumer whims.

6 comments:

Beyond Words said...

Wow, Pam, I just read both posts. You're right, the church can't compete with the world. That yardstick for success, ironically, leads to failure from a kingdom perspective. We are supposed to display the rule of God, which looks like an utter reversal of the world's systems-- with humility and unity and sacrificing for one another instead of pandering to our individual tastes.

I think some of the older, mainline denominations, when they truly proclaim and live out the Gospel without gimmicks are dying precisely because the way of Christ is the narrow way.

What do you think?

PamBG said...

I think some of the older, mainline denominations, when they truly proclaim and live out the Gospel without gimmicks are dying precisely because the way of Christ is the narrow way.

What do you think?


This is precisely my suspicion, but, unfortunately, I don't know for sure. Wish I did. Like you, I see the Gospel as pretty well turning everything about prevailing social values upside down.

Many in my evangelical tradition[1] value increasing numbers as a mark of being faithful. I feel like I'm also 'fighting against' my own denomination sometimes by seeing 'the upside down Gospel' as being the mark of faithfulness.

Basically, the consequence of accepting Christ is trying to be selfless in a world that encourages only selfishness and self-centredness. Hardly an 'easy sell'.

[1]or maybe I should say 'evangelistic tradition as I'm not sure British Methodism would qualify as 'evangelical' in the US.

Rev Tony B said...

"...value increasing numbers as a mark of being faithful."

It's easy to fire salvoes against that kind of position, eg by arguing that we should be after quality rather than quantity, deep planting rather then wide and shallow cover, etc.

But to be honest, how much of that is a defensive justifying of a "church of small things"?

Not saying it is, or that the smallness is a sign of success or failure. Just aware of the question.

PamBG said...

It's easy to fire salvoes against that kind of position, eg by arguing that we should be after quality rather than quantity, deep planting rather then wide and shallow cover, etc.

But to be honest, how much of that is a defensive justifying of a "church of small things"?


Tony, my answer to you is the same as to Kathy. That I don't know.

At the moment, I'm looking for some ray of hope and encouragement.

Perhaps the big yuppie congregations full of young professionals have got their discipleship 'right'. Perhaps my lot of ill and elderly people supporting each other and trying to reach out to those around them as best they can have got Christianity wrong.

If Christianity is about 'God helps those who helps themselves' and 'Successful birds of a feather flock together' then maybe I don't actually want to be a Christian. Maybe I just want to follow Jesus.

Rev Tony B said...

I suggest that both big congregations and small may have got some things right, and some things wrong. Sometimes it's a case of 'blossom where you're planted' and accepting that we're all wearing L-plates.

I've never had a big yuppie church. I've had one sizeable and lively one, lots of village chapels, and a handful of inner-city urban-type places. I've seen a fair amount of Christlike living, as well as a fair amount of pharisaism and selfish dogmatism. And I find plenty of signs of grace outside the church, aong folk who reject 'chapel-culture' but are open to love and spirituality.

'Just following Jesus' sounds like a good rule of thumb...

Lisa said...

"If Christianity is about 'God helps those who helps themselves' and 'Successful birds of a feather flock together' then maybe I don't actually want to be a Christian. Maybe I just want to follow Jesus."

I came upon your blog Pam via a post you wrote on "Gifted for Leadership". I have read a few postings. This one caught my eye.

Your comment above is so on target. The key is for us to FOLLOW JESUS.

In my not so important opinion, I must say that I'm concerned about what I see "today" in the American church (as I live in the US) rather than what I saw as a child growing up and serving the LORD in church. There is so much sensationalism in church today. The message is get all you can get...get the blessing...get the promises of God, etc. So much so that the message that Jesus Saves, the message of the Gospel (repentance and salvation) is not focused on. Humility is barely taught in the church today. Pride seems to reign in so many circles of the Body of Christ that we sound more like the "world" than the "Word". Judgmental? I hope not but certainly an observation and an area I continously seek GOD on. I long to see the type of unity in the body of Christ that represents Him. I long to see (even in our human frailty as people, leaders and lay persons) that we would worship GOD in spirit and in truth, forsaking all other idols and not running after GOD's hand (the get it from God mentality) rather than running after His heart (the pleasing GOD mentality).

I appreciate the opportunity to communicate with you all today.

The Lord bless you.