Shopping for a Church

Marketers, it seems, have rendered Thanksgiving null and void. They have declared the day after Halloween as the season opener for Christmas. Don’t believe me? Just turn on your radio, where Christmas carols will greet your ears. Peruse your mail and newspaper inserts, which are loaded with Christmas specials. Thanksgiving doesn’t promise retailers enough profit potential, so they skip over it in favor of Christmas.

Kicking Thanksgiving to the curb is a topic for another day. Shopping is on my mind today, but not the kind you’re thinking. While America gears up to Christmas shop, many people are also shopping for a church. Selecting a church ranks as one of the most important and yet most difficult decisions. Regrettably, much of American Christianity complicates the situation by embracing a consumerist attitude.

If we Americans understand nothing else, it is consumerism. Marketers compete intensely for our well-earned dollars, the end result of which is a demanding culture that seeks immediate gratification. This serves consumers well when it comes to selecting a restaurant, cell phone provider, or fashion jeans.

We must ask, however, whether this consumer-driven approach serves Christ’s church? I believe the answer is a resounding, no. How is Christ glorified when churches compete with one another for the attention of people who are “shopping” for a church? Taking cues from marketing, these churches craft their worship services and advertising to appeal to consumers.  Well aware that people shopping for a church hear trendy music and embrace limitless media throughout the week, churches hope to appear “relevant” by attempting to match the world’s entertainment. In truth, even large, wealthy churches fail to compete against Hollywood and Madison Avenue. Their music and messages are second-rate, at best.

The great tragedy is that churches cater to the wrong audience: worldly consumers rather than God. They seek to entertain people rather than exalt Christ. By contrast, the only audience portrayed in biblical worship is God. Man’s role is not to be entertained by ministers but to remove all thoughts of himself as he attempts to humbly glorify his Creator.

“Relevant” is a term churches throw around as they describe their unique approach to ministry. By “relevant,” too many mean, relevant to consumers. What a colossal misunderstanding of Christ and His Word!

The gospel is the epitome of relevance; it defines it. By definition, Jesus’ Word, message, and mission are precisely what mankind needs. Attempting to dress up these “boring” or “outdated” concepts tarnishes Jesus’ holiness and reeks of manmade pride. It suggests to God as well as church-shopping consumers that Jesus and the Bible are not enough.

Pastors and churches have apparently grown ashamed of the gospel and self-conscious about preaching the actual Bible. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary, wrote recently: “Contemporary preaching suffers from a loss of confidence in the power of the Word, from an infatuation with technology, from an embarrassment before the biblical text, from an evacuation of biblical content, from a focus on felt needs, from an absence of gospel.”

Combine these consumer-driven churches with church-shopping consumers. It is a recipe for disaster! Neither approaches church accurately. Church-shopping consumers, trained by billions of marketing dollars, carry their consumerist expectations into the church.

They view themselves as shoppers to be pleased, or they will find another church that meets their needs better…and there is always one ready to try! They compare the music to that of another congregation or even the professional music industry. Preeminence is placed on personal preference and satisfaction rather than godly lyrics, theological depth, and true reverence. They critique pastors based upon how well they entertain or tell stories. They fail to emphasize whether the man of God actually delivers the Word of God, truly preaching the full message of God’s miraculous Bible, the only power that effectively changes lives.

Who, I ask, is the god here? Have we not unwittingly removed God from the throne of His church and placed ourselves squarely upon it? Have not church-shopping consumers and members elevated themselves to the position of judging a church’s effectiveness? Is this not God’s job?

How much longer will the church seek to entertain people rather than exalt Christ? I say, it’s time for the church to start being the church! Let’s stop being ashamed and self-conscious. Let’s stop courting the world and minister to it instead. Let’s stop trying to mimic culture and begin speaking prophetically into it. Let’s stop entertaining and start serving. Let’s stop spending on ourselves and start investing our dollars in the kingdom.

As you shop this Christmas season, if you also find yourself in search of a church, please don’t shop for one. Go, worship, and leave changed. Should the church exalt Christ and encourage service in His name, join. Pour your life into the fellowship. Give, learn, love, serve, go – all to the glory of God!