It doesn’t take a lot of reading within Christian circles to come across a criticism of the so-called “consumer” church. These churches, it is said, appeal to the lowest common denominator, effectively employ entertainment, and utilize shallow preaching in order to just get people in the door.
I have nothing to say to these criticisms. Some are valid. Some are not. It depends on the church. It depends on the criticism.
But what I find more interesting is another way in which almost every church I’ve ever attended – Fundamentalist, Liberal, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, whatever – has succumbed to the consumerist mentality, even the churches who criticize other churches for being consumerist.
Let me explain: Capitalism is fundamentally based on the idea of competition. One business competes against another for a given market. This is why companies spend billions each year trying to get us to notice them.
Churches are the same. Yes, even the churches that are criticizing those other churches for being “consumerist.”
In fact, their consumerist mentality comes out precisely in their criticism of other church’s consumerism. You can tell me all you want that you’re not consumer oriented, but if you see the other churches in your town as competition instead of partners, then you’ve bought into the consumer model. You see yourself as a different company competing for the same market as a another company, and you think your product is better…or at least, you want the consumer to think your product is better.
If you spot it, you got it! The speck of consumerism in your brother’s eye is a big fat plank in your own eye. It’s just, you probably haven’t mastered it as well as your “competitor” has, so you’re jealous. And we always criticize those we envy. (Oh, wait! “Envy?” Yup, that’s another attitude quite common in a consumerist culture!)
By spending so much time criticizing “consumer” churches, many of these pastors/Christians are actually trying to destroy their “competition” in order to gain a bigger portion of the market for themselves.
Let’s be truthful here: If light shows and smoke machines are consumerist (as is cushioned pews, by the way!) so, too, is the mentality that I should criticize rather than celebrate people who are taking some of “my” market.
Is a consumerist church bad?
Well, that depends on the church. In the cases where we are criticizing others who are more “successful” than we are, then, yes, it is bad. This subtle consumerism is ruining the American church by making us inward focused, instead of helping us have a humble spirit that celebrates what God is doing with others. So long as other churches are preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and ascended, so long as they are impacting their communities with the gospel, they may not be perfect, but they are not my competition. They are my partners.
If you spot it, you got it. If you spot a consumerist church, you probably have a consumerist church. And, in fact, your church may have the more sinister form of it.