Monday, November 14, 2011

Are You a Consumer Christian?

“Consumer Christianity” is crippling the church. It’s the mindset that somehow church is about us. One mega church pastor, Walt Kallestad of Community Church of Joy, found that his church’s strategy was actually fostering “Consumerism.” “We became a dispenser of religious goods and services where people came to get instead of a missions station where people are launched to give.”1

If we raise up our people to be consumers, what will we get? By definition, a consumer is a “user.” According to church consultant Kevin G. Ford, this is a failed strategy for growing your church. “First, consumers resist change. Second, the consumer is never satisfied. Rather than being transformed into a life of sacrifice and service, the consumer will demand more and more of others.”2 Another way to spot a “consumer” is by their critical spirit. They are the first people to find fault with something, but rarely offer a life-giving solution or volunteer to help improve a situation.

As a church planter, I think we made some mistakes from the start. We wanted our church to offer the best of everything—technology, programs for all ages, etc.—but instead of training our people to serve, I think we fostered their predisposition to be consumers. The trouble is when a consumer is done consuming, they leave to go find another church to consume from, and the cycle starts again.

For example, here are some paraphrased complaints my husband and I heard in our first two years from long-time Christians who left our church:

• “I’m burned out. I just want to show up and enjoy the service—not set up, not serve in the nursery, etc.—I just need to receive.”

• “I want to go to a church where I get fed. . . where they teach deeper things.”

• “This church doesn’t have enough to offer my kids. I’m looking for a church with a strong children and youth program, and this one doesn’t offer Sunday school or midweek youth services.

• “I wanted to lead the sound ministry and speak occasionally, but the pastor won’t let me. I’m going to find a place where my gifts are valued.”

• “Our family likes to participate in sports on Sunday and this church doesn’t offer a Saturday night service. We need to find a place that offers more service times.”

• “I’d like to sing solos on the worship team, but the worship leader won’t let me.”

• “I want to meet in a building. This theatre doesn’t have an altar area, and we need to have an extended prayer time after each service.”

• “I’d like to have weekly Bible studies geared toward my age group, but I don’t want to lead them. This church doesn’t offer anything for my age.”

What’s left if “consumer Christianity” runs amok? If left unchecked, one day the only churches left standing will be the mega-churches. The simple fact is mega churches can offer more to the “consumer.” Unfortunately, since people “can’t get enough of what they don’t really need,”3 church consumers become like addicts--always searching for that perfect church experience, but never being fully satisfied.

Let me say, I have nothing against mega churches. I constantly glean from pastors of mega churches. These men and women started from humble beginnings, and with a great team of believers alongside them, they planted their seed, tended their fields, and reaped their harvest.

But to mature Christians I ask, how can we grow the kingdom of God by abandoning the local church and, especially, the small church plant? “If everyone consumes, who produces?”4

As mature Christians our motivation should be obvious. First, we must walk in an intimate relationship with God. If we love God, we will be committed to loving and serving others. Even if obeying God requires me to sacrifice my own personal preferences, needs, wants, and desires. Period.

The opposite of a “consumer Christian” is a Christian dedicated to the community of believers God calls them to serve alongside in the goal of fulfilling the Great Commission. Creativity will flow from this kind of mindset and heart commitment.

I’ve recently made a conscious decision to start training the people in my church NOT to be consumers. We’re all familiar with the first line of the Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. . .” But, are we aware of the follow-up line . . . “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:18,19) People must be taught to obey God and to serve because it is not in our nature to do these things.

To combat “consumer Christianity,” here are some strategies:

• Learn to embrace change. Although methods might change, don’t forget the main mission that Jesus gave us.
• If you are a consumer Christian, I encourage you to become part of a small, missional group within your local church. Then, participate in the mission.
• Don’t expect your church to meet all your needs and all your families needs, only God can!
• Be careful about criticizing the church—the enemy loves that kind of talk because it causes division and confusion.
• Pray for your church and ask your pastors where you attend, “How can I help fulfill the mission of this church?” Remember, God’s called you to the mission too.

Now, get ready for an incredible God adventure in your local church and in your family! Let the creativity begin!

1-4 Kevin G. Ford’s book Transforming Church.