Is “church” a place we go to be served or do we view the idea of “church” as a means to serve? Knowing that where there are servants, there will be those who are served, it is true that we are inevitably going to be served by the church. There will be times we need to be served by the church. However, there is a common mindset that views the church through a lens whose only concern is: “What does this church have to offer me?” Much like many other things in our culture, many have come to view “church” as a service or a product to consume. Sadly, local churches are more than willing to accommodate this consumeristic mindset and are complicit in fueling it.
Consider the variety of great “products” the church offers. Many churches advertise fellowship to the masses as a product they offer. It even comes in different flavors (consider the various terms churches use to describe their fellowship). We offer bible classes for all ages, as if they are products or services or options. We advertise our worship, and offer it in various formats to meet the needs of our various consumers. Some churches “sell” the various events and functions they host as if they are products to consume (I have seen some actually sell admission to these church-sponsored events). For others, their pitch is all about the various ministries they are engaged in. You name it and some church has offered it, advertised it and engaged in it. We could speak of the shopping mall type atmosphere of some mega-churches, with their own book stores and coffee shops. We can speak of the appeal of the “ministering to the whole man” concept of church function that is so popular today, which is the rationale behind gymnasiums, field trips, “fellowship” halls, youth groups, et al.
Are fellowship, bible classes, worship, preaching, events or ministry wrong in and of themselves? Of course not. Is sharing a local church’s activities with the general populace sinful? Not inherently. The problem is in the mindset that we encourage in others when such activities become the primary net we, the church, cast as fishers of men. Assuming the practices being advertised are lawful (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12; 1 Cor. 10:23), we need to think about the consumerism we are encouraging in those we are targeting—those who would be disciples of Jesus Christ.
To deny the reality and impact of consumeristic thinking is to deny the reality of those who use the church, but are not willing or able to be used by the church. There is a pick-a-service, bare essentials, mentality that commonly exists among disciples. Perhaps we ourselves have complained, like the Hellenists (Acts 6:1), that we have been neglected in the daily distribution or that some service or product offered by the church has not met our consumeristic expectations. Because some put money in the contribution plate, they believe they have a right to figuratively, if not literally, ask for a refund when things aren’t as they think they should be. Have you ever chosen one church over another because they have a better program for this or that than the other church? Perhaps we have been guilty of peddling everything but the word of God, when it comes to our local church, to draw disciples after us (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17).
Paul wrote, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (2 Cor. 2:1-5).
In our consumeristic culture, we would be wise to realize that the general rule applies: What souls are converted with is what they are converted to! Let the gospel, plain and simple, be the net we cast to draw souls after Christ. Let the local church simply be a place of fellowship, worship and ministry (service). Let us not peddle or treat “church” like some kind of spiritual shopping mall or some sort of a la carte, eat-and-run buffet. Instead, let us remember that Christ’s disciples are the church, and local churches are to shine forth His light, not peddle their own wares, even if they are seemingly good wares.