Christian Consumerism …part 1

Consumerism is the attitude/belief of many Christians that the church exists to serve them.

Too many Christians in America believe that the church exists for its members rather than for mission. Neil Cole observes in
Organic Church, “We try to woo people to come and keep coming. What we end up with is an audience of consumers shopping for the best ‘services.’ We cater to this sort of thinking by trying to compete with other churches with a better show” (p 69).

Consumerism is the biggest obstacle to missional activity! The consumer-focused approach to ministry successfully attracted crowds, but it has failed for the most part to transform lives or construct significant personal relationships that provide encouragement, spiritual growth, accountability and avenues for Christian ministry. The old adage “easy come, easy go” has proven very true in terms of many churchgoers, especially the boomer returnees. Many wander from church to church, seeking fresh religious stimuli, entertainment and diversion. The Unites Dates may have a vibrant religious marketplace compared to the rest of the Western world, but more and more people spend their time just shopping around, looking for diversions while avoiding commitment (Eddie Gibbs, LeadershipNext, p 12).

Milfred Minatrea describes the consumer mentality of many Christians who have adopted and adapted to a consumer culture in, “Just as they count on Wal-Mart meeting their material needs, they expect their churches to provide religious goods and services.” (Shaped By God’s Heart, p. 7)

John MacArthur adds this insight, “It is easy for Christians to get to the point where they expect things to be done for them. They show up for church only if they think they will get something out of it.” (The Master’s Plan for the Church, p. 23)

There is a whole generation of church shoppers and hoppers who decide where to worship based on getting their needs met. Mark Atteberry observes: Church A might have an awesome worship band, while Church B has a preacher you love to listen to. But then one of your buddies who attends Church C asks you to play on their softball team. Is this a problem? Of course not! You just do what any good consumer would do. You hop back and forth between the three churches (The 10 Dumbest Things Christians Do, pp. 84-85).

One evidence of consumerism is the “Pareto Principle” (discovered by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist) which states that, for many phenomena, 80% of the consequences stem from 20% of the causes. In American churches, eighty percent of the people allow the remaining twenty percent to do eighty percent of the ministry. There are a lot of spectators watching the show.

In Stop Dating the Church!, Josh Harris identifies a “me-centered” attitude at the core of many church attenders. He identifies the driving question to be: “What can church do for me?” and suggests that they “treat church with a consumer mentality—looking for the best product for the price of our Sunday morning. As a result, we’re fickle and not invested for the long-term, like a lover with a wandering eye, always on the hunt for something better” (p. 16).

This expectation that “church is for me” and “I’ll just go to the church that serves me best” is fostered by low expectations of commitment, and programs that cater to needs.

When churches stop catering to consumers and Christians stop behaving like consumers, then the Kingdom may begin to advance in local communities.

How have you sought to abandon a consumerist mentality in your church, or in your own personal behaviors?

(Consumerism is one of the dangers to Missional Christianity that I wrote about in my doctoral dissertation; other obstacles include Clericalism, Mega-ism, and Infantalism.)

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
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  1. […] Consumerism is the attitude/belief of many Christians that the church exists to serve them. This is the second part of a two-part series on the danger of Consumerism in American churches. For the first part, see here. […]

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