Consumerism and the Local Church

April 12, 2006

Another helpful and convicting post Mark. Thank you. Among other things it reminds me again how much continuity there is in our situation from the late nineteenth century to now. With all the pomo hubbub about how everything today is totally different, what always strikes me to the contrary when I’m reading the 19th century leading lights is the similarity of our challenges and situation.

And now for something completely different! (As Monty and the boys used to say). No, actually, it’s related –

I’m looking at a newspaper article about a church in a major metropolitan area in the Southern United States that is building what they term "the finest presentation facility" in their county. A number of things about the story caught my attention, but especially what they are calling their worship facility: the experience center.

It’s interesting, eh? – the Protestant move from sanctuary or meeting house, to worship center, and now – experience center.

There are a number of positive things about the congregation’s emphasis noted in the article: high view of the importance of the local church, desire for evangelism, desire to serve others. But the very name of the event facility, coupled with their advertising mailer, which emphasizes that those who attend Easter Services "won’t be bored" are parabolic of the continuity of our situation with the nineteenth century, aren’t they?

After all, Spurgeon was having to talk about the difference between "feeding sheep and amusing goats" then. And today, despite the emerging/emergent protest against this supposedly locked-in-the-70’s style of ministry, it is still a driving force in church-life today.

I do not think that any discussion of our approach to Christian theology, ministry and worship in the United States in our time can afford to overlook the overwhelming power and influence of the consumer mindset (on both those who plan and lead ministry in the churches, and those they are trying to reach). It must be the starting point of our contextual discussion, and its overwhelmingly negative effects must be considered. While it is all the rage to say that all things are new now and that "postmodernism" must inform everything we do in theology, ministry and worship, there is a far more powerful and concrete force crouching at our doors. We ignore it to our peril.