Because most churchgoers don’t see themselves AS the church, they’re susceptible to becoming consumers OF the church:
- “I’m looking for a new church home”
- “My kids don’t like it there”
- “I’m not being fed”
- “The music is too loud”
- “We don’t feel like we belong”
Americans “shop” because we want more – or something different. We search for what will make us happy. We evaluate the available options and choose the one that provides the greatest value. For many of us today, that also applies when it comes to church.
What do shoppers do at a store? They find what they want (or not) and then leave. There are two ways in which “shoppers” leave a church:
…Walk out the door after weekend services
- and don’t see themselves as the church personified once they’re outside the “4 walls”
…Decide to stop going to a particular church
- and start looking for another one
Christians shouldn’t stop being the church on the way home. They may disperse, but that should only serve to permeate the culture with the love of Christ. Nor should Christians leave a church family because they’re unhappy with it – any more than we can leave the family we’re born into. God chooses both families for us – and for good reasons.
Chicken or the egg…
Why do so many church goers look for something better?
…Did our advertising-driven culture turn us into consumers of churches as well?
- and force churches to adapt, catering to rather than challenging members
…Did churches turn us into church consumers?
- using the latest church growth strategies to drive up attendance
In other words, did churchgoers become finicky on their own or did churches make them that way? For example, are most church ads today aimed at enticing non-Christians to try out (any) church or convincing Christians to switch over to a new church? Advertising a “casual environment” or “fun for kids” isn’t going to attract someone who isn’t interested in church. People can find more relaxing places to go and more fun things for the kids to do elsewhere. Those kinds of ads would only pull in those who aren’t happy with those aspects of their current churches.
If we’re not careful, church membership can look a little like a country club or health club. Consumers are accustomed to working within a membership framework. They pay dues are entitled to certain benefits. Yet that sort of thinking causes folks to join another “club” when their current church doesn’t meet their expectations. Too many consumers within churches have turned many from life-saving stations into social clubs with a life-saving motif. As church has become too comfortable, members have reverted from search-and-rescue squads to partakers of church services. Intensive life-saving courses have been replaced by small groups. Churches are no longer first responders when local families are in need, instead resorting to occasional outreach events. Most church members have lost their sense of sense of urgency for the plight of unbelievers. They are less cognizant of the dire peril facing those who don’t know Jesus. Nor do pastors consider obedience to the Great Commission mandate a prerequisite for church membership.
The other way to reach the lost…
Today, instead of “go and make disciples”, we build first-rate facilities, design engaging worship services, post attractive signage and place friendly greeters at the door. Build it and they will come. Will they? Maybe, but when they get there what will they find? Friends – very likely. Jesus – hopefully. The kind of radical life change expected of disciples of Jesus Christ – probably not. Churches today are producing far too many Pensive, Passive, and Private Christians.
Quick story: A 3,000 member church hired consultants from one of the country’s largest megachurches to rejuvenate its aging membership. The prescription:
- shut down local missions – young families don’t have time to serve the community
- upgrade the band and raise the decibel level – give it a concert feel
- gear the sermons toward counseling rather than discipleship
- more candy and games for the kids – no more boring memory verses
- fun banners and bulletins
- get everyone involved in an activity or group inside the church
- change the “ask” message from Matthew 5:16 to Malachi 3:10
The scary part – it worked! Smaller churches in the area simply couldn’t provide the same “customer” experience for consumers. The church grew – in numbers, although not in disciples or impact. New visitors came, but nearly all were from other churches. Larger didn’t mean healthier.
Unfortunately there are still many people who won’t dare to darken the door of a church. They’ve tried church, had a bad experience, and wouldn’t step back into one if their lives depended on it (and they may).
In those cases, the only choice is to “go” to them.
What if we built Powerful disciples who acting as the embodiment of church all week long? How many more people could we reach with the gospel if members didn’t wait for them to show up at the building? What if pastors scrapped tightly choreographed “consumer” retention strategies and threw caution to the wind? What if we turned the table on church consumers? What if pastors dared do some (or all) of the following?…
…increased service times
…reinstituted Sunday school and expected all to attend
…started an intensive 1-on-1 discipleship program for all congregants
…allocated 40% of the church budget to local outreach and missions
…told members to stop simply inviting non-believers to church and take personal responsibility for bringing people to Christ
…turned small groups into neighborhood groups tasked with BEING the church to the community where they meet
…asked all members to serve in Jesus’ name somewhere in the community at least once every month
Yes, it’s true that nearly all the “consumers” would soon take their business elsewhere. However, would the church be healthier if disciples were the only ones left in the building?
It’s your turn…
What happened first? Did most churchgoers become consumers (and then churches adapted to accommodate them), or did churches turn people into church consumers?