Consumerism in the Church

Consumerism in the Church

As I’ve written these last few months about the issues that divide us, I recognize that there’s a pervasive cultural reality that has a great impact upon the way we relate to one another. That’s because it’s also prevalent in the church. It’s consumerism.

When we interact with others on a consumerist level, we turn people into objects and use them. We relate primarily on the basis of what we might get. We become a world of consumers with goods to be bought and sold. We run on greed —the desire to profit from each other by the transactions we have.

For example, I am interested in you because I am a college president and you are a budget-paying pastor. I treat you nicely because I want you to sit in a board meeting and persuade your recalcitrant members to pay the college budget.

Or the college student is interested in dating that girl because she will enhance his image, provide a sexual partner, or make his ex-girlfriend jealous.

Or you meet your neighbor because you sell insurance and she might be a prospect. People you would normally ignore are suddenly on your radar screen.

We all know what it is like to be treated as an object, an “it” to be used. Our interest in each other is transactional. Remove the transaction, and there is no relationship.

Now this is not all bad. If my tooth is abscessed, I want to have a transaction with a dentist who also wishes to profit from me. I didn’t call him up to get to know him. But the problem is that this way of seeing each other has become so dominant that we don’t see people.

This has leaked into the church for thirty years now. I think it started with the homogeneous unit principle, where we concluded it was easier to reach people who were like us, people with the same consumer tastes. And it is.

Then came the seeker movement targeting felt needs. We got good at marketing. And these seeker churches became megachurches who figured out how to franchise the gospel in multiple locations through technology and reach more consumers of religion.

It’s not all bad. It is how we are being shaped by our culture. And soon, we start thinking about church differently.

We see people in a different way. We tell them we have the hottest band, the coolest youth program, or the youngest old folks group in town. Whatever “it” wishes to consume, we provide.

You want short sermons? Our preacher is up and down in twenty minutes. You like loud? We do that at 11:00 am. Soft? We can do that at 9:00 am.

Fun youth group? Our teens did a work and witness trip at Disney World last summer. Tithe? How does 7.5 percent sound? Controversy? No problem. We stick to the safe middle-of-the-road so as not to negatively affect our consumer base.

We please to the max. You are probably holier than I am, but I must confess that as a Christian living in a consumer world, I find this way of relating sneaking into my tired soul. Love is so demanding. Using people is a lot easier.

Do pastors ever look at the congregation and see “program-doers”? Or worshippers who should like their new favorite style of music as much as they do? Or donors for the newest idea? Or feeders of their ego? Or participants in their codependency? Or approvers of their unhealthy work ethic? Or backslappers following the Sunday sermon? Or problems in the flesh angling to triangle them to one side of an issue?

One time I was trying to move a congregation to love lost people the way God does. They didn’t want to. And they were acting out.

So I ramped up the octane because they wouldn’t consume my new outreach program and go get their lost friends. I planted motivational zingers in the Sunday sermons and made heroes of the people who were on board.

And then by the middle of the next week I was griping and whining to God about these people who wouldn’t open wide and swallow what I was dishing out. And God reminded me, “I love found people too.” So I apologized for treating them like pawns instead of people.

This cultural reality can start making you see a crowd instead of a face, a number instead of a name, a prospect instead of a person.

So what about you? Are people simply there to fulfill your needs, available for your using?

Or do you actually love people? See them as God sees them? Tell them the truth? Do what is best for them in the sight of God?

As I said in my last post, perfect love is the litmus test of a holy person. Consumerism in the church is the exact opposite.

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.


  1. Morris Graybeal says

    It would help congregations if their pastor would suggest that you live a life of holiness and explain how holiness works and how it creates a fellowship with God. Our pastor encourages the holy life and lives it himself. It is amazing how others start living that way when they see it in practice.

    • I’m so sorry, but it seems your statement is backwards. Holiness doesn’t create fellowship with God. Fellowship with God is the root of holiness. A holy life can only be found by walking with the Holy One himself. Anything else is the filthy rags of self righteousness.

  2. Yes, I think there is a balance here for sure. Finding that happy medium of not being enslaved to man-made church traditions and rules while not turning the church into a highly-marketed “show” each Sunday is not always easy. I think the church must tweak and change things like music styles and engagement programs offered because times, people, technology and traditions change. The Gospel message does not change but it can be taught, lived out and reinforced in a number of ways – not only by singing 5 verses of “Just as I am” every Sunday.

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