Have it Your Way 68

YOURWAYIs Consumerism Killing the American Church?

      On Sunday, my wife and I were talking about Little House on The Prairie. We were discussing the church on that show, and how everyone in the town went to the same church, and the Pastor was active in the life of each family.  Families who were at odds with one another sang hyms in peace on Sunday morning.  Everyone from merchants to servants sat in the same pews as the Reverend delivered his message. As we reminisced about the TV show from our childhood, my wife asked a question that really made me think.

     What if someone in Walnut Grove didn’t like the church?

I guess they would have gone anyway. With no other options for worship in town, no means of travel to get very far from home, and no internet campuses, the devout believer would have most likely continued in fellowship regardless of personal taste. Now, fast forward 150 years. My hometown, with a population of around 16,000, has 219 mainstream Protestant churches. That doesn’t include the charismatic off-shoots, non-denominationals, Catholics, and other groups that seem to pop up daily around here. Count in the thousands that are claimed to be going the virtual worship route, and you can see that this pie is being sliced thinner and thinner.

I will give Rick Warren the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he was meaning well when he started Saddleback Church in 1980, and though he didn’t create the seeker-friendly concept, most of the major trends in evangelical churches can now be traced back to him. His influence on the modern church can’t be overstated.  It could be said that Warren begat Ed young, who begat Perry Noble, who begat Steven Furtick.

With each successive generation we move farther away from Biblical Christianity, and more towards a pragmatic business model.  The chain of thought seems to be:

  1. If it draws people, it works.
  2. If it works, it must be from God.
  3. If it is from God, do it.

Of course, this line of reason is fundamentally flawed from the very first point. Scripture never tells us to do whatever is necessary to draw a crowd. We are told to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). We are told to test all things and keep what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  We are told to study to show ourselves approved ( 2 Timothy 2:15). We are told to do many things, but I’m having trouble locating anywhere in Scripture that advocates frivolous activity with the only purpose of drawing a large crowd.

Frivolous, you say? But wait Downing, these are ministers of the Gospel Surely you aren’t calling their actions frivolous. I am. You be the judge:

  1. Dropping 50,000 Easter Eggs from a helicopter. Some of the Eggs contained certificates for prizes, including plasma TV’s.
  2. Hyping up naughty sex talk with suggestive videos and provaocative images. Making promises that the things said about sex haven’t been said in church before.
  3. Intentionally dismissing solid doctrine, because something else draws larger crowds.

Of course, those are just the tip of the iceberg. We could come up with one hundred silly things that churches are doing to draw crowds without even thinking hard. And let’s be honest, if you are a new believer, or not a believer at all, are you going to the church with rock-solid theology, or are you going to the church that might just give you a plasma TV? If you start connecting the dots, it makes complete sense that there are more mega-churches in America now than ever before, but there are less Christians now.

When Rick Warren first polled his community to see what they wanted in a church, I can see where he was coming from. It is good to ask what is wanted in a church, but he should have been asking God instead of lost sinners. The result of his questionnaire could only lead to the type of watered down Christianity that is all too common today.

 Sometimes, too much choice is a bad thing. If I let my six year old choose what she would eat all the time, she may occasionally put down cotton-candy long enough to eat a Happy Meal. Being that I love her, and know what is best for her, I don’t allow her that choice.

With that in mind, how loving is it for us to offer a dying world a steady diet of spiritual cotton-candy and fast food.

Do we know that there is something that is better for them?

Do we care?


68 thoughts on “Have it Your Way

  1. Seth Oct 7, 2009 12:39 am

    I feel like all the major players are jumping in, so im going to make myself known. I love this conversation. Its really good and deep. This helps to grow and sharpen people and lets you see very different points of views and draw you own conclusions and come up with your own defense. Love it. I would jump in but I will be at Catalyst for the rest of the week so I won’t have the needed time to debate this issue, though I do believe it deserves alot of time and attention.

  2. Ron Oct 7, 2009 6:11 am

    Josh, salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, to the glory of God alone. Those affirmations come from Scripture alone.I understand your question and where it comes from, I think. I do not want to add any work to what is necessary to be redeemed. Again, what we find in “Try Jesus, He’s the best deal going” and in those ‘easy button’ metaphors is an unintentional devaluing of the Cross. Does one grow a deep love for a ‘get out of hell free card’, for an easy button? Also, I am absolutely not saying that those who use such terminology do not love the Messiah, but that those words, those buzz phrases, when honestly examined, fall short.

    The hot button issue in this particular dialog is, I think, the word ‘repent’ What are we being saved from? What is it that condemns up before God? I think one can find exhortations in Scripture to repent and believe the Gospel. Time constraints and the current lack of caffeine in the circulatory system preclude me from going into that ‘Lordship salvation’ vs.’easy believism’ debate other than to say I find myself in the John MacAurthur camp on this issue.

  3. Ben Oct 7, 2009 9:12 am

    David Horn says….
    The main problem here is the Gospel takes a backseat to bait/switch antics designed to draw in large crowds in order to entertain…” Using my decoder ring I hear him saying “Church can’t be entertaining or enjoyable and still be real.” You can’t really hear God’s word and your salvation doesn’t really “take” unless you go to church old school style.

    “rather than preaching the whole council of God.” What part of the Bible is Newspring not preaching?

    “The church is the body of believers and it’s purpose is for the believers(building them up to go our and spread the good news).” But don’t spread it to the point that your church grows quickly or else some might have a problem with that.

  4. Ben Oct 7, 2009 9:32 am


    I continue to enjoy your posts, including your last one. As I openly admitted, I’m not sure exactly where you draw the line either when it comes to marketing a church or the gospel. I used to think that “Friend Day” and “Fill a Pew” day was corny growing up. But they worked.

    Marketing IS about getting people thru the door, filling the seats. But the reason you want them thru the door and in the seat is so that you can present the gospel.

    I understand your point but lets not limit this to Newspring alone. Have any of you ever seen a church sign that says “Visit us this Sunday so that we can present the gospel to you.” Isn’t that almost an understood?

  5. JT Oct 7, 2009 1:43 pm

    >>Downing- “JT – No offense intended, but do you understand the definition of hyperbole? The examples you cited weren’t hyperbole at all.”

    Then feel free to explain the meaning of Luke 14:26, Matt. 5:29, and Matthew 24:2 (among others) if not in the context of hyperbole.

  6. James Downing Oct 7, 2009 1:52 pm

    Simple JT – Jesus meant exactly what he said. None of the examples are hyperbole. I don’t how to comment on them being hyperbole, when they aren’t.

  7. James Downing Oct 7, 2009 2:11 pm

    Let me back up JT – so as not to confuse this thread with a literal / non-literal discussion. If you want to call it hyperbole…ok.

    But, what Jesus does in those passages is STILL truth. Your claim is that Noble was using hyperbole, in that the sermon wouldn’t really be R-rated. Thus making his orignal statement UNTRUE. No matter what name you put on it, it’s two different things.

  8. KeithO Oct 7, 2009 7:36 pm

    I think we should all look at Brandon’s comment earlier in regards to the non christians view of how “campus christians” try to be relevant in attracting (assumably) non christians. What does it say about a church that believes it must take its cues from culture and Madison Avenue marketing schemes in order to do its mission? Even the non christians appear to smoke out what really is going on better than some christians who should know better.

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