December 5, 2013 by cbbeard
“Christmas has become too commercialized!” You’ve probably heard that before; chances are you’ve said that before. There is something disturbing about stores breaking out the Christmas merchandise in October and something disgusting about fights breaking out over the latest “gotta have it” toy or deep discounted small appliance. Couple those things with the massive amounts of money spent (the average American household budget for Christmas spending in2012 was about $750(1)) and most Christians want to scream “JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!” if only to remind ourselves of that fact as the ever-churning vortex of consumerism attempts to suck us in.
But I think we must come clean about the fact that what we have come to criticize and curse about Christmastime, we have chosen and cherished for our churches.
Are our churches really that much different than your local department store or “discount city?” Has not the American church over the last several decades by and large depended on the same marketing techniques to get people in our doors that the merchants have? We try to develop a product or program that will appeal to our “target audience” and then market our hearts out in hopes that they give us a try. By the way, I’m not pointing fingers here as much as I am offering a confession…I’ve been in salaried ministry for almost 18 years now and I’ve gotten REALLY good at marketing to the church consumer. But I think there are a couple of reasons why an appeal to consumerism messes up our churches as much as it messes up our Christmastime:
1. It doesn’t make more disciples.
If I were to summarize the mission of the church down to a short sentence it would be “to make more and better disciples.” We are called to make more disciples by leading people to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This means that if our churches are fulfilling their mission, then we will constantly and consistently see people come to faith in Jesus for the first time.
The problem with our appeal to consumerism is that most people in our culture just simply aren’t looking for a church, regardless how great a “product” or program they are offering. Alan Hirsch (2) proposes that 60% of people in our Western culture will never darken the doors of our churches as a “seeker,” and that number seems a little low to me, frankly.
I recently had a conversation with a group of people in the context of a “church orientation” type of class and someone made an astute observation. The topic was mission and church growth and a gentleman shared that in his experience it seemed most of the churches he had been around that were growing were simply adding people from other churches. The reality is that using consumerism as a primary tool to accomplish mission “shuffles the flock” more than it actually makes more disciples who didn’t know Jesus already.
This “shuffling of the flock” can also be attributed to an appeal to consumerism, and it shows that an appeal to consumerism messes up our churches because:
2. It doesn’t make better disciples.
The second part of the mission of the church is to make “better” disciples by sharpening one another, teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded, spurring one another on in love and in good deeds, and helping one another find the full life that is offered through a surrender to and partnership with Jesus Christ.
The problem with appealing to consumerism when it comes to making better disciples is that how we package the Gospel influences how people form and grow spiritually. A wise man once said “what you win people with, is what you win them to” meaning that whatever it was you used to get people to come to church will be what it takes to keep them there. Unfortunately we as the church have depended less on winning people with Jesus and his Gospel and instead have depended on our product and programs.
But do you know what happens when people go to the department store and realize they can’t get what they came for? Either they leave and go to the next store or a fight breaks out! But that NEVER happens in our churches…right?
You see, if our churches become primarily vendors of religious goods and services, we won’t make disciples, we make shoppers. If we focus on our programs and products to attract people to our communities of faith, we may get them in the door by appealing to their consumer nature, but it will be quite difficult to change our “come and get it” message that is inherently present in our attractional style to the “come and die” message that is so inherently present in Christ’s call of discipleship.
Jesus is the reason for the season, but we must not forget that Jesus is the cornerstone of the church. If Jesus is enough for Christmas, is he enough for our churches?
What do you think? Is consumerism a problem for our churches? Be honest, how much of a consumer are you? What shifts need to be made in our churches to overcome consumerism?