Friday, September 26, 2014

Experience Consumers, We Are

Part Four in the question—What Is the Church?
And Part Three on the topic—Do I Even Need To Go There?
(Because now you're wondering—when is this going to end?)

That church is not meeting my needs.
The kids' program isn't exciting enough.
The music is not to my taste.
I'm not being fed.
So—church doesn't work for me.

In a study of why people go to church, the results open a window on Americans attitudes.

This is an experience of entertainment.  Fun.
Only fifteen percent of people who attend church said they do so to worship God. The other answers sound good.

“It keeps me grounded and inspired.”
“It helps me with spiritual growth and guidance.”
“For the fellowship of other members.”

But look at something subtle about them. Specifically, look at who benefits from them. There is an awful lot of “me” in those statements about why we go to church. And an awful not lot of God.

Which could explain much about the state of the church in America.

Most of the arguing and entrenched behaviors that happen in churches can be traced to one attitude—the church exists to meet my needs. One attitude that is, sorry folks, highly unbiblical.

In his book The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani argues that the church has become, like the rest of American society, consumer driven:

“The old utilitarian function of the church — gathering people and connecting them with God — simply wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Americans wanted church to be comfortable, entertaining, relevant, and nonthreatening. Up-and-coming pastors (have) shown that people would still attend church in a post-Christian culture if it appealed to their perceived needs and desires. Whether intentional or accidental, by beginning with the desires of the religious marketplace these pragmatic leaders were redefining the church’s purpose. Rather than viewing the church as a means to an end (connecting people with God), the church became an end in itself.”

Slightly scary, but fun.
Meeting peoples' needs is a fine goal. So is getting people into a church. Unfortunately, when we redefine what the church's mission is by making those criteria the most important ones, we lose the mission.

Problem -- the church was never meant to serve us. We were always intended to serve it. Somehow, Americans, at least, have got this all mixed up.

That doesn't mean we go back to a day when our grandparents were at the church every minute it was open and gave all their time, and jello salads, to their church. That's not particularly healthy. (Especially the jello salad part.) We need time to be Christians in our community and our families.

It doesn't mean return to the time when church meant sitting in a pew and not making a sound while you listen to the preacher because church is meant to be good for you, darn it, not fun. 

It means retaking our central mission. Making those great experiences a side effect of people joyously serving God and one another rather than the central show we must put on for the masses. Relearning, and then communicating, that it's not all about us. 

If church is not suiting our needs, perhaps it's time to check 
whether we are suiting it. [tweet this].

That's completely counter cultural in America. We are a consumer nation. We expect to be able to “consume” church as well, and largely, church has complied. The methods of past decades have been all about “make it appealing, make it practical, make it fun.”

This is an experience of God's glory. Less than  half mile away from the other.
Theologically a different world.
Those methods are not in themselves bad. Church should be appealing. It should meet needs. But it should also be honest. At some point, following Christ is hard. It's painful. It's sacrificial. If it's to be recognized as anything remotely related to Christ, it must be those things. And if we'e taught our people that it's Sunday morning cartoons, we have only ourselves to blame when they get bored or balk at the tough stuff. It's the reaction we've cultivated.

Why do we go to church?

One important step in discipling people regarding the value of church is to be honest about what we're there for. Then tell the truth about what we should be there for. 

Some people will leave. But oh, what God can do with those who get it, and stay.


  1. This blog is so very true. I have believed it for many years already. My problem is, it hits too close to home!

  2. This blog is so very true. I have believed it for many years already. My problem is, it hits too close to home!