In The Next Evangelicalism, Soong-Chan Rah identifies consumerism as one of the Western cultural captors of the church. If you’ve been around church for awhile, you’re probably familiar with the idea of “church shopping.” Church shoppers ask many of the same questions when taking a trip to the mall or choosing a church:

What style am I looking for? What’s the lowest price I can pay? Do I want the convenience, and predictability, of a nationwide big-box retailer? Maybe I’ll check out that hipster boutique?

And, even for those who are not shopping around, the primary question is not What can I give? but, rather, What can I gain? As my friend Jason Coker points out in a recent post, The Mega-Freeloader Church:

The long-standing (and deeply-resented) cliche’ thrown about in church leadership circles is that only 20% of the people in church do 80% of the work. However, according to this survey, 20% is way overestimating.

Sacrificial Love or Spectator Sport?

When we advertise ourselves as “here to meet your every need,” we shouldn’t be surprised if people show up with less than sacrificial mindsets. As Soong-Chan rightly notes in Next, consumerism affects everything from worship gatherings to church architecture. Here’s another great observation from Jason in Mega-Freeloader:

If you had a family of ten, would it be a healthy family if only one person did all the work while the other nine simply “showed up” to eat and watch T.V.? Isn’t that basically what “church” has become in the modern spectator model of worship? We’re free to come and sit and just watch the show without ever engaging, giving, or sacrificing in any way.

Be the Church

This gets at the very heart of what it means to be the church.  Church is more than a building or scheduled meeting time — and it must be more than a quick pitstop for receiving religious goods and services before we head off to our “real lives.”

The church is us.  We — people, not programs or structures — are the church.

In our community, we’re always saying, don’t just attend church but be the church! We believe God has not given up on the world and neither have we, the church. We believe in God’s kingdom, the place where Jesus’ dreams to reconcile us with God, each other and the world become reality.

Keep a Running Tally

I spoke at a youth retreat recently and found out afterward that some leaders were concerned because I did not conduct any “altar calls” where middle and high school students could make “decisions” for Christ.

Now, let me state for the record that I do believe in milestone moments (this Old Testament story comes to mind). However, I had spent the better part of the weekend saying — as my friend James Choung writes in True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In — we need to shift from one-time decisions to a life of transformation. Big moments are great, but most of us live somewhere in between the mountaintops and the valleys; and it is precisely in that in-between and everyday living that we need to discover what it means to love & follow Jesus. Sure, it’s messy and not easy to quantify but, for me, it’s a more accurate representation of and a more faithful response to the love of God.

Believe me, having worked for churches for over ten years now, I understand the need (both legitimate and not-so-legit) to assess and measure the impact we’re making.  However, when it comes to matters of the soul, I think we can find much, much better metrics for success than what we’ve borrowed from consumeristic, business transaction-oriented culture.

As Dave Gibbons wisely notes in The Monkey and the Fish:

We in the church for a long time now have tried to cater to the “customer” in our pews, trying to make church as convenient as possible because we know how busy people are and how fractured their attention span is. We’ve aimed our resources, ministries, and programs at making church as simple and fun and easy as possible…

We need to radically shift our thinking from believing that success means being a safe place for people to catch up and be together for an hour or two on Sunday and maybe hear an entertaining message, to recognizing that we are, first and foremost, a movement of people called to a dangerous mission.