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Christian Consumerism

August 31, 2015
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The article below was written with a sense of love, passion, and concern for the well-being of God’s church. There are tactics and strategies being used by many church leaders around the world to reach the masses that I consider to be dangerous and detrimental to the long-term and sustainable growth of local New Testament churches. Having a dissenting opinion on the particular tactics being used for church growth is not very popular among today’s church leaders. Many Christians who are devoted to the faith have mistakenly gone down a path that I believe will hurt the cause of Christ. Only time will tell the full impact of their decision making. While I point out and make blunt statements that run counter to their current direction and beliefs, it is with a heavy heart that I must make these claims.

Over the years there have been many other messages that have not fit the popular sentiments of the day. While the discussion below will in no way be equivalent to the importance or eloquence of those previous warnings just mentioned, I hope that it will encourage a healthy debate and cause people within the church to think about designing our way forward to a healthier Christian leadership worldview.

For example, Jonathan Edwards preached a compelling sermon called, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This message sparked the beginning of one of the most significant spiritual awakenings that the country has ever known. Another well-known evangelist and theologian of that period (Gilbert Tennent) wrote a stirring and equally controversial sermon titled, “On the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.” This too cut to the bone of the Presbyterian clergy and sparked a much needed discussion on the issue of salvation in the ranks of senior church leaders.

Christian Consumerism:

Let us now contemplate some of the strategies and tactics that many of the major big box retailers use to achieve their relative greatness in the world of business.

1.     Logistics – Most big box retailers have advanced supply chain and distribution networks around the globe.

2.     Product Variety – It is soup-to-nuts. For the most part, there is very little that you will not be able to purchase at these stores if you are a consumer.

3.     E.D.L.P. – This is one of the “hooks” in my opinion. Generally speaking, shoppers know that many big box retailer’s products will be priced lower than, or equal to the competition. Yes, there may be items here or there that are priced a little higher, but their corporate mantra and marketing focus is to provide “Every Day Low Prices.”  At the very least, these stores have done a nice job of creating this perception.

4.     Reasonable Quality – While the product quality may not be in the Louis Vuitton range, they do hold their suppliers to a reasonable level of quality. They provide at least enough quality to keep their consumers from revolting and leaving for the competition.

5.     Location, Location, Location – The big box retailers do in-depth studies to find the locations that will draw the biggest crowds. They want to be where the action is in order to maximize per store revenues.

6.     Technology – Most have become leaders in the use of technology. Their route optimization software along with their TMS (Transportation Management Systems) and WMS (Warehouse Management Systems) are some of the best in the world.

In a nutshell, these big box retailers are the masters at leveraging their suppliers, running an efficient operation, using technology to the fullest extent, while providing cheap and semi-reliable products that can be accessed in convenient location

Question: What does this have to do with Christianity and the church?

There has been a movement over the past few decades to what I will call a “Christian Consumerism” approach to worship. There is a very strange and eerie parallel to what is happening with the local body of believers. The church as a whole has adopted a retail mentality. In this article I will give you several examples of how the big box retail stores and the “super churches” of today have much in common.

First, I will compare the “everyday low price” approach of most big box stores with the super churches’ ability to draw in the masses with a cheaper version of the gospel. The Bible and its impact have been so watered down that the Word of God has been relegated to nothing more than a mantel piece. The Word of God is occasionally referred to in the abstract, but only when it fits a social gospel and all-inclusive mentality. Yes, this is the hook. Give them just enough (a cheapened version) to draw them in and keep them entertained to be able to fill the coffers.  These super churches work hard not to step on anyone’s toes, for they want everyone to feel comfortable and enjoy the “event” experience. The church goers like it because they do not have to invest as much emotional or spiritual capital into their Sunday mornings. Congregations can hang around the fringes without making any real commitment to change.

Ephesians 4:14 – “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”

Second, let us compare the product variety and the breadth/depth of all the “stuff” that you can buy at the big box stores for relatively cheap/fair prices. Isn’t that part of the allure when you shop in these types of stores? There is a fairly good chance that they will have what you want, or at least a close substitute. Ditto, the mega churches of today. They want to tickle the ears of everyone that walks through their doors. They want to create an experience that is satisfying to everyone in the broadest sense of the term. Retailers and the super churches of today want to make sure that they keep you coming back through the doors and spending/giving more money. They will only be able to keep you coming back if they appeal to the broadest spectrum of “Christian consumers” as possible.

How do you do that? You take customer survey after customer survey, study the dominant buying needs of the consumer, look at purchase activity, and provide solutions and products that meet their individual needs. In the case of the church, it is no longer about preaching the whole truth of the gospel and sounding out the message of absolute truth. It is about putting on a demonstration, event, and/or performance that reaches the masses. You simply find out what our church members want and give it to them. You see this experience playing out with the multiple sermons being preached at many of the mega churches of today. One service is put on for those who like contemporary “events”, while another is put on for the more traditional approach to worship. In other words, the importance of absolute truth, unity, and that horizontal covenant relationship with fellow believers only applies based upon the needs and the wants of the church members themselves! Basically, they are indicating that the authority of the Bible is secondary to the wants/needs of their congregation. Does this seem a little backwards to anyone? How disappointing is this? Are we to let human desires, human satisfaction, and entertainment trump the purity and holiness of God’s Word? Hmmmmm……..

Colossians 2:8 – “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

Third, is the issue of the quality of the product offerings. Like most major retailers, the super churches work hard at providing the ultimate church experience. You have heard me say this before and I think that it is worth repeating. If churches have a “come as you are and go as you were” mentality, there will be very little evidence of spiritual growth. They can put on event performances that would even have the big box stores wringing their hands with envy. They could draw in the masses with good quality performances, continue to give them what they want, and then pass the offering hat around. For now, it seems like a fairly successful business model.

2 Timothy 3:5 – “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

Fourth, what about the technology? Boy, do the super churches ever have technology. They have three or four screens with state of the art video technology. They have the most sophisticated electric guitars that will rock your brain, literally. Because they are currently appealing to a much younger audience, there is no lack of technology skill and savvy. These folks are hard-wired to use technology (social media – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) to the fullest extent. There’s nothing wrong with technology if it is man’s desires and actions, under God’s control, for selfless ends.

Lastly, lest you think I forgot about logistics and location, I will briefly touch on these issues relative to the super churches. Most of the senior church leadership and staff at these organizations are very smart and highly educated individuals. They also understand the importance of campus logistics and efficiency. Their individual church supply chains are run with good quality control. Most seem to be very organized, neat, and smoothly operated. There are many very sincere folks who run these super church events. Unfortunately, they are sincerely wrong in their approach to a holy and righteous God.

2 Timothy 1:13 – “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”

What is the impact for the future state of our church if we continue down this road?

  • If you allow everything, then you stand for nothing

    • The word of God must be the only anchor for your life

    • A holy and righteous approach to Godly living is the only approach

  • Pop culture standards become the standards of the church

    • Buyer beware, you are starting to look just like the world

  • A watered-down version of God’s word and the gospel will not have the impact of penetrating the heart and changing lives

    • As a result, there will be fewer ministry-minded Christians who are willing to step out by faith and be a part of the ministry

    • Over time, the lack of ministry participants will hurt the effectiveness of global outreach

  • Longer lasting spiritual decisions will be few, while spur of the moment church event affinity will have short-term impact

    • The church will become a very transient crowd, always on the go trying to find the perfect church that meets their individual needs

  • Like the major retailers, who forced many locally operated companies out of business when they moved into town, small local churches will lack the youth necessary to grow into the future

    • Small local churches will either shut down, or be forced to produce a level of quality that keeps the youth in their current pews (more on that later)

  • A further disintegration of the family unit

    • Grandparents, parents, and children will continue to go their separate ways

The spiritual maturity, wisdom, and education that elders were once able to share with the rest of the family will disappear as the opportunities to minister and influence will be limited.

Titus 2:2-5 – “That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discrete, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”   

Call To Action – So what are the next steps for those small-to-medium sized local churches who are trying to have long-term growth in the face of those big box retail type churches? First, they should continue to preach and teach the whole counsel of God. Preachers and leaders in the local church must stick to their guns. They must not let their standards diminish even for a second. Second, they should be willing to innovate and try new things to keep the youth interested. I am not suggesting that we should always try and entertain them, but find cutting edge investments that will help them grow and allow them to enjoy learning. Again, I repeat that we should not let down our standards, ever. Stand tall in the face of adversity! Third, pray that God would show you a clear path forward with a vision to create a vibrant local church for the long-term. Some of the best youth ministries that I have seen and been involved with come when their leaders have significantly involved themselves in the lives of their students. A balance in age groups will be needed for long-term church growth and maximum evangelistic impact.

Hebrews 5:14 – “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

My prayer is that the body of believers will once again become a dynamic community in and through their smaller local church bodies. I truly believe that God has given to us this example in the New Testament.         

 

 


Comments

jim clinton September 4, 2015 @ 1:08AM
Well spoken. Sacrificing a church's focal niche (for example reverential worship) and therefore losing a unique strength and replacing it with a broad, popular approach due to competitive pressure ultimately dilutes a church's differences from the "big box" and results in competing on the same level, size, and surrendering to their size advantage. Focusing on size makes a faulty starting point, and certainly a non-spiritual one.

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