Jane is a Christian, she goes to a large church on a Sunday morning. This isn’t the first church she has gone to, actually she used to go to the large church down the street. She found that the worship was too loud at the other church, plus the sermons were not speaking to her needs. So she decided she needed to move on to another church.
When she walks into church she gets a friendly greeting from the ushers, she walks past the door of the church, there she sees a whole lot of CDs from her churches world famous worship band and books from her esteemed Pastor about how to gain everything you wish by saying a one simple prayer. She goes in and sits next to her friends. They talk about the most recent conference they have been on. “Oh man it really changed my life. I have never felt this good about my relationship with God!” Didn’t you love that worship band they had there, man I have to get that album, it just moved me so much closer to God.” They stand and sing some songs, such as “I am found in the arms of the one that I love.” The preacher comes up and speaks for half an hour, seeming to be more focused on preaching the benefits and grace he has received from his cellphone than speaking about the love and grace of Jesus Christ. They go home after the sermon, feeling happy that they feel good about what has been preached and that they can implement the three easy steps the life and happiness that were preached.
Now I have to say that not all this is bad stuff, in and of itself. Music is a good way to worship God, I use it myself. I also believe that we do need to give people a friendly greeting and reach out to new people. But I do have some issues with the attractional model of church. Let’s look at one issue that I’ve brought up here. The conference and the conference Christian:
I have to be frank here; I have been one of the conference Christians in my past. Also I have to state that there is nothing with conferences, but they are only a means to an end, and not an end in themselves. But what I’ve found, especially with the more Pentecostal and charismatic conferences is people go to them to get their spiritual buzz and spiritual high then go back to life where nothing changes. People go for there to here their favourite worship band or favourite speaker. Its dressed up many a times in the fact that “God will be there” but God is there in our ordinary day lives. Going back to this it seems God is only in the exciting fun times of life, the mountain top experiences, yet God is present in the valleys as well. I got very frustrated about this over the years. Why was it that we thought that God was present only when he shouted, when it says in the Bible that he wasn’t in the wind, the fire or in the earthquake but was present in a still whisper. I remember the last consumer conference I went to, I was already questioning a lot of what the evangelical church was looking like and I went to this conference and found a lot of what was going on to just seem like window dressing, it seemed fake to me rather than real and true. I was rather disoriented by the experience. Especially since I had been to the same event over a number of years and had thought I had found something there. I know people do experience God there and don’t get me wrong I think he was present there. But why do we need to go to conferences to get a religious experience? I believe conferences are still important but as I said they are a means rather than an end in themselves. I don’t want to be legalistic in this, I want to go back to this conference and go to others in the future. I’m just cautious in how I approach them.
The sad thing, this is a reality in the consumer world, the marketer sells something which is close to reality but really is a plastic alternative. We sell experiences that seem to be truly spiritual but really are not the real package.
In the modern and post-modern situation, the church is forced into the role of being little more than a vendor of religious goods and services. And the end-users of the church’s services (namely, us) easily slip into the role of discerning individualistic consumers, devouring the religious goods and services offered by the latest and best vendor. Worship, rather than being entertaining through creatively engaging the hearts and minds of the hearers, now becomes mere entertainment that aims at giving the participants transcendent emotional highs, much like the role of the “feelies” in Aldous Huxleys Brave New World, where people go the movies merely to get a buzz.
Church growth exponents used the ideas of big buisiness to try and grow churches. They used business marketing to offer better and bigger “products” to get people into their church. The reality is they commodified the experience, and made church ‘services’ into a shopping mall for Christians to come and get fat at. The reality is that these services are greatly passive, with at least 80% of the church sitting passively receiving their felt needs. These churches focus on slick presentation skills and even gimmicks to get people to come to their church.
The aim of these churches is for people to have convenience, security and safety, feeding our felt needs.
A particular form that we know of consumerism present within the Christian church is the prosperity doctrine. The belief that if you are a Christian you will be healthy and happy and wealthy, because somewhere in the bible it teaches that (this is at the extreme end of the scale). In some churches it is scary how successful this style of preaching has been, it one megachurch in america, when the pastor changed from teaching the gospel to teaching a more properity based doctrine the church has grown to 3 times its original number and is one of the largest churches in the States. The problem with the prosperity doctrine is that it is very very very destructive. It has destroyed numerous churches as greed takes hold in these church and corrupts church leadership. I really really do not believe that it is a biblical idea. It has been created to make people feel comfortable but is not anywhere close to what God intended.
I believe that for Christians to be truly the images of Christ light to the world, we have to denounce the message of consumerism in the way we live out the gospel (I may hit on this in a later post. I do not believe that we can marry consumerist culture with the gospel, they are opposing ideas and ways of living. Consumerism is too strong a spiritual force to marry too, it corrupts and damages the message of the gospel.