Confronting Our Christian Consumerism

If you’ve been following lately, I’ve been blogging all about people (and millennials) leaving the church and in an attempt to segue to a different part of the conversation, I want to focus on Christian consumerism in the Church.

Yes, it obviously exists.

Sometimes we think of what some people call “church-shopping.” This is generally said of those looking for a church to join but that shopping mentality often exists long after.  We often leave the Sunday morning “experience” and say an assortment of things like, “I really liked the music, the preaching, the kids ministries, the youth program, the parking lot guys were nice, etc.” I have always found that word “experience” troubling but for lack of a better term, I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe more on that another time.

Christian consumerism also happens with people who have been part of the same church for years and they leave Sunday saying, “I love it when he preaches on the parables” or “I hate it when he preaches on the parables” or “I love/hate that new song/hymn/chorus/singer/musician/etc.” They are loyal patrons who have a particular expectation and they leave satisfied when it is met consistently (but still feels “new and fresh”) and frustrated when it does not satisfy (“different and inconsistent”). In this instance, church is more of a favorite restaurant “experience” than a community of fellow worshippers committed to growing, serving, and connecting.

A more subtle way of seeing Christian consumerism is in this sentiment: “Another good message today – I needed that honestly. And our worship was beautiful – our time of prayer seemed sincere, our music was alive. It seemed that people left encouraged, some found hope for the first time and some some drew closer to God. It was great to worship in our church today.”

Now at first glance there seems to very little wrong with that and depending on the heart, there may not be anything wrong BUT what if the opposite of this statement were said in kind.

As in “Another poor message today – I didn’t need that honestly. And our worship was “so-so” – our time of prayer was super-long, the music felt mediocre. Seemed some people left bored/annoyed/frustrated. I’m not sure anyone found hope for the first time and I’m not sure anyone drew closer to God. It was not a good day or worship in our church today.”

The one sentence seemed sincere and noble. I know I have said it many times in describing a “good Sunday.” And while I don’t know how many times I’ve actually said the latter, I know I have felt some of these sentiments while I sat restless in my seat.

We would conclude that the heart committed to worshipping God while gathered with fellow believers can have a “good Sunday” regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen in the collective worship service. Further, it has always felt freeing to know that my worship is not contingent on the preaching, singing, announcements, etc.

I think this is why we hear the voice of God when we watch children choirs singing – I’m just going to say it – their “performance” is generally terrible. One kid is always waving, one kid is crying, and it’s really hard to see their collective talent shining when the one kid is determined to moon everyone and the dozen around him are determined to watch or copy. Typically, they are not singing the same song, at least not at the same time and I always feel so bad for the choir director kneeling on the floor, mouthing all the words, doing all the motions, while pulling up that kid’s pants. It took her (yes, usually a her) 4 weeks to pull off that mess but for some reason I can’t get enough and these moments are often the best part of the service.

So what does this mean? If it all depends on the individual heart then why bother with all the planning of a worship service? If we just like children’s choirs, let’s just throw them up on the “stage” every Sunday – they’re bound to improve. And do we really need all these different churches with their different worship services?

I am a firm believer that we ought to do everything with careful thought, with a commitment to excellence consistent with our heart and gifting and all this is done for the glory of God and to invite each other to connect deeper. This goes beyond our worship hour and includes our ministries for children, youth, families, and the many related to those in need, those in pain, those trying to grow in the Christian faith.

All of the functions of the church can be consumed as a patron but these very same practices can also be beautiful and life-giving personal and collective experiences the call us to a deeper love and service to our Lord.

I identify myself as a Christian pluralist and have come to truly appreciate the various different forms of Christian worship. I may not connect with all of them but I do appreciate that others do. I love that some church communities meet in living rooms, in bars, in school auditoriums, “in third places,” in 100 year old cathedrals, in brand new sanctuaries, and the many different forms in between. Liturgical, traditional, progressive, whatever the “experience” is – let us not judge, let us not consume, let us worship the Lord as we see fit together and serve others.