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When Did We Start “Shopping” for Churches?

When Did We Start “Shopping” for Churches?

A Notice Board On A National Highway tunnel Showing Happiness Ahead Concept

Profile of a church “shopper”…

Because most churchgoers don’t see themselves AS the church, they’re susceptible to becoming consumers OF the church.

  • “I’m looking for a new church home”
  • “My kids don’t like it there”
  • “The sermons aren’t very interesting”
  • “The music is too loud”
  • “The people are weird”
  • “We don’t feel like we belong”

Americans “shop” because we want more.  Or we want something else.  We keep looking around to find what makes us happy.  I’m not sure that should apply when it comes to church.

What do shoppers do at a store?  They find what they want (or not) and then leave.  There are two types of “leaving” church shoppers do:

…Leave a church after weekend worship

  • and don’t continue to BE the church once they’re outside the “4 walls”

…Leave a church entirely

  • and start looking for another one

But we shouldn’t stop being the church on the way home.  Nor should we leave our church family – any more than we can leave the family we’re born into.  God chose both families for us – and for a reason.  Our church family is one body now – the body of Christ.

Chicken or the egg…

Why do we look for something better?

Did our advertising-driven culture turn us into consumers of churches too?

  • and force churches to adapt, catering to rather than challenging members

Did churches turn us into church consumers?

  • using the latest church growth strategies to drive up attendance

In other words, did churchgoers become finicky on their own or did churches make them that way?  For example, do most church ads today entice non-Christians to try out any church or Christians to switch over to a new church?  Advertising a “casual environment” or “fun for kids” isn’t going to attract someone who isn’t interested in church.  People can find more relaxing places to go and more fun things for the kids to do elsewhere.  Those kinds of ads would only pull in someone who isn’t happy with those aspects of their current church.

If we’re not careful, church membership can look a little like a country club or health club membership.  At church, paying dues doesn’t entitle you to any benefits.  Yet that sort of thinking causes folks to ”shop” churches when their current one doesn’t meet their needs.

Or as the story goes, let’s not be the life-saving station that turned into a social club with a life-saving motif.  Once church becomes too comfortable, we may have a little less interest in saving lives.  Once the life-saving station replaces the cots with beds and rescue training with social gatherings, that ship may have already sailed.

Instead, church should feel a lot more like a training center.  That means getting people out of their comfort zones and discipling them until they’re ready to disciple others.

It’s all about reaching the lost…

We do need first-rate facilities, engaging worship services, attractive signage and friendly greeters to attract the lost.  What we don’t need is to use those as tightly choreographed retention strategies for members and regular attenders.  We could possibly risk not leaving room for the Holy Spirit in our pursuit of perfection.

Clearly we can challenge members/attenders more than our non-Christian visitors.  However, if we coddled them less, they’d actually be more likely to come back next Sunday.  They’re hungry for truth and personal growth.  They’re looking for redemption more than life lessons. Most walk in ready for 1-on-1 mentorship, which could evolve into discipleship.

A true story…

A 3,000 member church hired consultants from one of the country’s largest megachurches to rejuvenate its aging membership.  The prescription:

  • shut down local missions – young families don’t have time to serve the community
  • upgrade the band and raise the decibel level – give it a concert feel
  • gear the sermons toward counseling rather than discipleship
  • more candy and games for the kids – no more boring memory verses
  • get everyone involved in something inside the church
  • change the “ask” message from Matthew 5:16 to Malachi 3:10
  • fun banners and bulletins

The scary part – it worked!  Smaller churches in the area simply couldn’t provide the same “customer” experience.  The church grew – in numbers, although not in disciples or impact.  New visitors came, but nearly all were from other churches.  Larger didn’t mean healthier.

It’s your turn…

What happened first?  Did most churchgoers become consumers and then churches adapted to accommodate them, or did churches make churchgoers feel like consumers?


One Response

  1. Great message Jim!! Love the insight – although it is concerning.

    Personally, I think the bible and the NT epistles specifically – are pretty clear and foundational about how to build and grow a church. The Word will never contradict itself and is always the Truth.

    When church’s adhere to that mandate, they will be healthy and growing. If that means size as in numbers or size as in personal growth / discipleship – let the Lord figure that out. Obedience to the Truth must never be compromised or altered. That is what we crave!

    We handle the breath, and God will take care of the depth. Press on Brother!

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