The Consumer Driven Church, Part 1

Today, I believe that churches struggle with something that is a product of our American mindset, and it is so deeply ingrained into our culture that we must wage war within the Body to rid the American church of this ailment, namely consumerism. Additionally, I believe that there is a mindset in our churches that church staff members are employed by the congregation, and thus it is their job to serve as that congregation desires. This sub-biblical (anti-biblical) model is deeply rooted in many American churches and I believe it affects the Body from the congregation to the elders/pastors.

We in America are a consumerist people; our mode of life could be summed up in the song “American Kryptonite” by Five Iron Frenzy when they say repeatedly, “Buy, take, break, throw it away.” We are a society predicated upon greed and covetousness, and that mindset doesn’t check it self at the church door. When we consider the number of and purpose of the advertisements we see on a daily basis it is easy to see why covetousness is something that is rampant in our culture.

When looking at todays seeker friendly church, the entire purpose of the movement is to make the church friendly or acceptable to people who are driven by consumerism. I remember having a conversation with a pastor who told me that if the bathrooms in the church weren’t nice enough people wouldn’t stay. Maybe that is true, but does this consumerist concept of “people will come to church if it fits their wants, needs, desires, hopes, goals, etc…” mean that they will become saved?

As I examine this issue in several installments, I will be working from the following presuppositions:

1. There are going to be both Regenerated and Unregenerated people in a congregation
2. Unregenerated people are Sinful by nature, and are enemies of God by nature and birth
3. The only thing that causes men to have the mind of Christ is Regeneration

There are a couple points that we can and will address within this discussion of consumerism. First, giving to the church. Second, pastoral employment.

I think that one of the most consumer driven parts of the church is the giving. I believe that giving is a biblical concept; however, it seems that many people in todays churches have the mind that if the music is good and the preaching makes them feel good they will give money to the church. I can tell you that in my experience, this has been a belief that has been explicitly stated to me by at least one pastor I have worked alongside.  It is in effect paying for your weekly concert and motivational speech. This is far from the biblical picture of giving. If you give to your church based on how well the service went or how much you liked it, I would suggest that you should repent of your sin. You have usurped the church’s right to teach what it feels fit to teach and have selfishly made your giving into a cover charge and that is disgusting. It is trampling on the Word of God which clearly says in 1 Peter 5:1-5 and Hebrews 13:17 that the church is to submit to its elders. Moreover, it neglects the new covenant method of giving which is summed up for me at least in Romans 14:23 (b) – anything not of faith is sin.

Another way that consumerism shows itself is the call for giving based on what one receives from the church, or what the church does for the community. At some point I imagine most of us have heard such a call. This pragmatic call makes giving obligatory and the motivation is generally selfish, as in “what can I get” or “look what I am making possible.” This is not the model of giving defined by the New Testament, which is motivated by the Gospel, God’s giving to us. We are to give from faith with gladness, not for a pragmatic purpose, but for a theological purpose of worshiping God.

I want to make a brief note about pastoral employment periods. I have heard these statistics specifically from several sources (however they are not published) that the average time frame for a pastor to serve at a church is 18-24 months. That is 1.5-2 years. Think about that for a second. If the pastor’s purpose is to preach God’s Word and shepherd the flock, the operational job of the man, is the same. So what would cause pastors to be reassigned in a denomination or just fired by the elders after 18 months? I would submit it is the consumer mindset of the church. We are often looking for what we get out of the service, how we feel, what we like, what we don’t like and perhaps most importantly, whether or not the church grows. It is this concept that causes pastors to be run out if the congregation doesn’t like the pastor’s style, voice, delivery, or whatever, but it isn’t based upon the one thing that matters: the Gospel. The American church treats its pastors worse than anyone else; while it works to love the wolves, it neglects and attacks its shepherds.

All of this should cause us to ask, what must we do? The answer is simple: we must repent of our sins. Let us focus on seeing how and when we are acting in a consumer-minded fashion, and look instead to the Gospel in all things. We must exalt and desire only Christ, above our covetous desires for material things. We must abandon our idols given to us by our culture. Only when we rethink our views on material objects, and their importance in our life, will we truly exalt Christ to his proper place and crush consumerism in the American church.

About Ken Cook

Ken Cook has written 15 post in this blog.

I agree with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, am married with two sons. I am finishing my Ordination here shortly. I have worked for Carm for a bit more than a Year.

1 Responses to The Consumer Driven Church, Part 1

  1. John Wrilson says:

    As an associate pastor serving in a smaller church here in Eagle, ID, I definitely see this over and over again. It seems that many who visit our church – particularly younger couples – are judging based on what the church can do for them and what benefits it can offer (child care, youth ministry, rockin’ music, etc.), as opposed to seeking a community of believers who seek to glorify God, consistently preach Scripture, and proclaim the Gospel – a church in which THEY can both minister and be ministered to.

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