Is 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:
- If it draws people, it works.
- If it works, it must be from God.
- 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:
- Dropping 50,000 Easter Eggs from a helicopter. Some of the Eggs contained certificates for prizes, including plasma TV’s.
- 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.
- 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?