Consumerism fuels America’s economy. Our culture is conditioned by consumption. Churches should influence culture more than they’re influenced by culture, yet consumerism has seeped into many houses of worship.
Americans expect what we want, quickly and conveniently. A church’s viability hinges increasingly on providing the leadership, facilities, sermons, music, programs, and support demanded. Efforts by church leaders to accommodate consumers have contributed to the dilution of nearly every aspect of how Christians in America now live out their faith:
- Go to a Place – In the Old Testament the presence of God was found in a building, the Temple. Thanks to Jesus, His presence is found in each of us, the temple of the Holy Spirit. “Church” is not a place, but the ekklesia, an “assembly of called-out ones”. Yes, we’re called to gather, but each of us should personify “church” between Sundays.
- Invite a Friend – Pastors restore the curtain the Jesus tore and leave the impression God has moved back into the building when they tell members to simply extend invitations, implying that “professionals” should handle evangelism and discipleship.
- Repeat a Phrase – Unfortunately, many leaders then shirk those evangelistic responsibilities by prioritizing softer, “practical” messages over an “offensive” Gospel and reducing conversion to the “Sinners Prayer” without need for repentance and surrender.
- Raise a Hand – In keeping with the core tenet of the Church Growth Movement and rallying cry of the internally-focused church (i.e. Invite/Involve/Invest), new converts are quickly plugged into church “chores” and membership classes, indoctrinating them in “churchdom” rather than training and deploying them into external ministry.
- Attend an “Outreach” – When turning attention outward, churches typically organize seasonal events that do more harm than good through handouts that create dependency. If more churches understood that members are Kingdom workers, not consumers, outreach would be continuous pursuit of who Jesus saw as His “customer”.
- Write a Check – Generosity is sustained giving of time, talents, and treasures to bless the materially poor and expand the Kingdom. Yet cultural Christians prefer to make occasional, arms-length donations to charities in lieu of personally walking alongside the poor, and then compensate pastors for doing their (evangelistic/discipleship) jobs.
- Follow a Leader – Centralization of “church” around buildings and pastors explains today’s obsession with the topic of leadership in church-related articles and books. Leaders come and go…congregations shouldn’t split or implode when they leave or fall.
- Track a Metric – “Nickels and noses” prioritize one church (little “c”) over the universal Church (big “C”). Kingdom metrics look beyond one body’s growth or survival at discipleship “generations” produced, degree of life change observed, collaboration in city-wide Gospel initiatives, and the dent made in global poverty.
- Place an Ad – Business metrics lead to business practices. Even compassion initiatives double as advertising when volunteers don church t-shirts. Members act as marketing reps when they default to asking those who don’t worship Jesus to attend a holy worship service. The Lord’s math is multiplication, but convenience compels addition.
- Solve a Problem – We pray when we “need” God to fix life’s (temporary) challenges. Lacking an eternal perspective in our microwave culture, Americans demand instant gratification, healing for personal wounds, so churches and contemporary Christian songs oblige with messages that imply Jesus came to ease our suffering in this world.
- Cite a Passage – Sermons chock-full of stories and opinions with scripture sprinkled in encourage similar irreverence by churchgoers for God’s autobiography, picking and choosing (and often misinterpreting) whatever Bible verse best consoles or justifies. At worst, church leaders misuse passages to promise “blessing for giving” exchanges.
- Forgive a Sin – Selective amnesia about God’s Word has facilitated a return to Old Covenant, transactional thinking about grace, not grasping our new nature and holiness from New Covenant justification and neglecting the pursuit of sanctification.
- Rationalize a “Mistake” – Not comfortable with confronting consumers, churches overlook sins in the church, chalking them up as aberrations rather than indictments of discipleship or character falling short of the radical transformation Jesus expects. As a result, many act differently on Sundays than they do the rest of the week.
- Learn a Little – Rather than pushing churchgoers through the entire process of Knowledge/Revelation/Transformation, church leaders educate (about God) without challenging to take bold steps of faith that open doors to revelations (of God’s love).
- Entertain a Child – Members who are not challenged become parents that raise children who they want saved but not sold-out lest they forego a prosperous future for the danger of the mission field. So children’s ministries and youth groups align with parents’ wishes and attract more adults by ensuring their kids have fun.
- Locate an Exit – Dissatisfied parents or children become church hoppers and shoppers, finding another church that better meets their current “needs”. Of course, that isn’t the right perspective or the purpose of church; however, striving to meet needs hasn’t produced disciples (who prioritize worship and fellowship over personal interests).
- Fulfill an Obligation – Those who don’t become “Nones” or “Dones” and stay at their church often do so out of a sense of duty or obligation (possibly to the pastor), not obedience and faithfulness (to God) from seeing themselves as the embodiment, not the “customer”, of church.
- Check a Box – That same sense of guilt or compulsion convinces churches and members they should do something to serve those “less fortunate” at the holidays, aware Jesus clearly stated and demonstrated it’s something we’re “supposed” to do. If unconditional love and empathy were the drivers, our compassion would be continual.
- Signal a Virtue – Pretending to care is not just a practice of progressives. Christians pay lip service to justice and human rights but consider their outcry on social media and alignment with politicians and parties to be sufficient “action” on behalf of the marginalized and persecuted, conducting an “air” war rather than a “ground” war.
- Enjoy a Moment – Taking precedence over concern for the suffering of others is the pursuit of happiness and the American dream. We choose the momentary and fleeting over the everlasting joy of seeking God and His righteousness above all else.
- Force an Outcome – If most churchgoers placed their faith in trusting relationship with our loving Father we wouldn’t worry so much about our present circumstances. As it is, we tend to misunderstand faith as believing a particular outcome will occur whereas true faith is accepting God’s will as best and aligning our will with His.
- Make a Decision – The only way that alignment (of the Lord’s will with ours) can occur is if we listen to the Holy Spirit and stop basing decisions on our desires in the heat of the moment. Expedience leads to compromise, situational ethics, and hypocrisy.
- Avoid a Hassle – Following Jesus unreservedly will subject Christians to ridicule for doing what appears irrational but couldn’t be more intelligent. Investing in bringing the Kingdom to earth produces infinitely higher returns than building our own kingdom.
- Conform to a Crowd – The path of least resistance in Postmodern society is concealing countercultural views that risk accusations of “intolerance”, our job security, and even “cancellation”. Despite headwinds, the resolve of the transformed doesn’t waver.
- Cling to a Mirage – “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose”. Dying to self is the only reasonable alternative yet Selfism, America’s fastest growing “religion”, has crept into the sanctuaries of many of our churches.
Raising expectations of church leaders and lowering the bar for churchgoers has ushered America into the last stage of our nation’s history – the Age of Decadence. Jesus established His Church to be on the front lines of Prayer/Care/Share and the last line of defense against the forces of evil. Consumerism has weakened the Church’s offensive and defensive capabilities. Secular society feels emboldened to attack, understandably characterizing churches as businesses, Christians as hypocrites, and faith as transactional.
It’s Your Turn…
In what other ways have you observed churches or Christians conducting themselves “transactionally”?