“Only in the Western world is the phrase ‘church shopping’ used.”
These words from the book, “Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians,” caught my attention.
Consider the rest of the quote: “The consumer church does not require enough from its members. People look for church as a place to go to meet their needs, rather than a base to be sent from to serve their community. We consider what we got out of a worship service and go home feeling well fed or not. So, church turns into a mall for consuming goods and services, rather than an equipping station to send us into the world.”
I’ve heard this phrase “church shopping” numerous times.
Recently, we had a woman visiting our worship service for the first time. As usual, I greeted people as they left the worship service, and she stopped by to see me.
As I found out a little more about her, and her being new to the community, I asked what brought her to worship.
She said, “Well, to be honest, I’ve been church shopping and thought I’d drop in on you all today.”
She talked about how she liked to “church shop” and that she might be back to see us. I got the impression she thought she was doing us a favor by showing up for an hour on that Sunday morning.
I wanted to hand her a bill for services rendered and tell her to pay the deacon next to the coffee and doughnuts on the way out.
This sentiment was illustrated by a recent Instagram post. A woman was leaving a worship service and told the pastor, “I didn’t like worship today.”
The pastor responded, “That’s OK. We weren’t worshipping you.”
When asked how I feel about the church, I usually respond that I am hopeful for the kind of church my children will have as they get older.
Recently, our church had a “Family Night” in which we viewed a video presentation of a dozen or so new and younger members to our church.
It was inspiring to see what brought them to our church and what keeps them at our church.
Frequently, the reasons for getting connected to the church related to our hospitality and specific persons showing interest in them.
I was impressed to learn this perspective, especially from those who don’t have the history or institutional memory like some of our older members.
It was also important that these older members recognize that what they found important for “young people” wasn’t necessarily what was important to them.
We learned from watching that video together, people of all ages and backgrounds, that what connects us is our love for Jesus and a desire to belong without being judged.
And, of course, we learned that doughnuts and coffee are a staple for conversation, and we’ll keep that going after worship for a while longer.
Let’s be mindful of our consumer-driven culture and its not-so-subtle impact upon the U.S. church.
The result is an attractional approach to doing church; we are supposed to find a way to “attract” people into the walls of the church building.
I very much understand the temptation to do church this way. It involves trying to find the one thing, one activity, one event, one solution, which, when implemented, will result in droves of people coming into the church.
What I’ve been thinking about over the last several months, and more recently emphasized through the video presentation, is how important it is for the church to continually ask itself whether it is creating consumers or disciples.
In my study of 1 John in recent weeks, I’ve noted how John called people who claimed to love God but hated other people “liars” – a scathing rebuke of the early church as well as the 21st century church.
The church is known for its love for others. Let that be our calling card as well. God has been good to us, so let’s share that Good News with those around us.
There’s no digital substitute for being involved in a family of faith. No amount of church shopping will fill that void for belonging and connection with real flesh-and-blood people.
It’s still about what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “Life Together.”
Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Clinton, Tennessee.