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. James Downing Oct 6, 2009 1:14 pm

    JT – If the promotion made murder seem really cool, then yes. That would be horrible.

  2. Corner Coffee Oct 6, 2009 1:16 pm

    1. No problem. I just call it like I see it. That’s not to say I don’t see it wrongly sometimes.

    2. I never said “just a salesman”. But did Jesus try to persuade people to accept him? Yep. Did the apostles try to persuade people to accept Christ? Yep. Perhaps you’re getting hung up on the word “salesman” and the negative connotations associated with it.

    3. I’m having trouble finding any references to “r rated” or “r-rated” in regards to the “Lie #5: It’s just Sex” sermon by searching Noble’s blog.

    Did he hype the series and that particular message? Sure. Why wouldn’t he?

  3. James Downing Oct 6, 2009 1:23 pm

    1. That’s cool. I’ve heard that a few other posters here are imperfect too. 🙂

    2. Of course I’m getting caught up on that word, because it is wrong. A salesman’s job is to sell a product. My job is to present the truth. A good salesman will never be killed because of his sales pitch. If Jesus was trying to sell a product, he did something horribly wrong.

    3. You may have to look at his twitter feed to see the exact R-rated comment. I don’t read his blog regularly.

  4. JT Oct 6, 2009 1:24 pm

    >>Downing: “JT – why do you assume that Jesus didn’t mean exactly what he said?”

    Do I really have to explain why my examples are hyperbole?


    Luke 14:26
    Hating our family is inconsistent with Jesus’ other commands.

    Matt. 19:24
    It’s physically impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (besides, the Talmud used a similar metaphor of an elephant through a needle prior to Jesus’ words).

    Matt. 5:29
    Nowhere in the NT do we see evidence that the Apostles or the early church followed this advice.

    Mark 4:30-31
    Simile with usage of hyperbole. I’m not sure how you could read it any other way unless you believe Jesus was saying that God’s kingdom is literally encompasses in a mustard seed.

    Matthew 7:3-5
    Was Jesus really giving practical advice on proper eye care, or was this metaphorical?

    Matthew 23:24
    Did people really swallow camels in Jesus’ presence?

    Matthew 24:2
    Some of those stones are still on top of each other.

    Jesus did mean exactly what he said. Sometimes he used parables, metaphors, similes, and hyperbole to prove his point.

  5. James Downing Oct 6, 2009 1:27 pm

    Jesus definitely used imagery (metaphors, similes) but I would not say that he ever used gross overstatement.

    Maybe feeding the 5,000 was just hyperbole?

  6. Paul Oct 6, 2009 2:21 pm

    Here are gospel presentations and calls to decide I have heard in various churches (seeker sensitive, pentecostal, traditional, etc.)

    God has a plan and purpose for your life. Will you stop living a mediocre life, and start living for God today?

    We’ve showed you how God can save yoru marriage. He can bring healing to your marriage. He can bring healing to your life? Will you turn to him now?

    God wants you to be blessed. Take that step of faith, and turn to Him and receive that blessing

    Try Jesus for 30 days, you won’t regret it and you’ll never turn back. (actually heard this one recently)

    Jesus came to die for sinners. He stood in your place,a nd received the wrath of almighty God that is comign down on all who do not believe. His death breaks teh bondage of sin and death. Repent of your sins and, and believe in Jesus alone.

    Which one is the true Gospel?

    When you market the Gospel, and make it look appealing, ayou lose it’s message and saving power. Just the simple message alone with no strings attached or bells and whistles is more powerful than any marketing scheme, or any “creative”idea. People won’t follow Jesus for “their best life”. They will when the burden of sin and condemnation is removed at the cross, and the unspeakable Joy of Jesus consumes them. People will die at the stake for this Gospel.

  7. Sylvia Oct 6, 2009 2:23 pm

    Are we salesmen of the Gospel? I want chapter and verse on that. My understanding is that we are fishers of men, the kind that throw out big nets off the sides of their boats. Is this a difference that makes a difference?

  8. Ben Oct 6, 2009 2:28 pm

    I think some people are going to be surprised to see other people in heaven who got there through evangelistic efforts they spent their lives on earth criticizing.

  9. sam Oct 6, 2009 2:28 pm

    Coffee, we are not salesmen on the Gospel. We are to present the gospel to people.

    Read up on the history of Charles Finney. How did he fare in “selling” the gospel. Finney created many of the practices that the modern church uses today in the form of altar calls.

    Where do you find that Jesus had to persuade people to accept Him? After he fed the crowd, the next day Jesus presented a hard message to the crowd and most of them left. Jesus even asked his disciples if they were leaving as well.

    The weekly gathering of the church is not meant for the primary evangelism of the church. It is meant for the equipping and edifying of believers in order that they may go OUT and spread the gospel. When Newspring’s band plays AC/DC, friends in low places, Beyonce’s Crazy in love they are not worshipping and glorfying God. The do it with the specific purpose of targeting unbelievers. But the problem is that is not the biblical model of the weekly gathering of believers.

    If I may paraphrase Charles Spurgeon, “are you feeding the sheep or just amusing the goats?”

  10. Corner Coffee Oct 6, 2009 2:49 pm

    Rom. 10:9
    “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

    Pretty weak Gospel presentation, don’t you think?

    How about Acts 16:31? Pretty weak, eh?

    I’m not saying that it’s OK to say something untrue: “if you spin around 3 times, touch your nose, and say this prayer, you’ll go to heaven”. I’m just saying you don’t necessarily have to give an entire Gospel message, start to finish. Jesus didn’t do this with the thief on the cross, did he?

    So when Stephen used Jewish history and prophecy to persuade the Religious leaders, he was just casting the net, right? Or when Paul “reasoned with” the Jewesh leaders in Athens, and appealed to the altar to the unknown god on Mars Hill, just casting the net?

    You limit God where he does not limit himself. There is neither an admonition to limit church gatherings to focus on believers only, nor a prohibition to focus on non-believers.

    I prefer to think of it as turning goats into sheep.

  11. James Downing Oct 6, 2009 3:00 pm

    Ben, maybe so.

    But, what if you are shocked at the people who aren’t in heaven despite being assured that everything was OK, at these seeker services?

    Personally, I’d perfer being pleasantly surprised every time.

  12. Barbara Oct 6, 2009 3:01 pm

    It’s gotten worse. Phil Johnson, of John MacArthur’s Grace To You and the Pyromaniacs blog, tweeted this little gem from Jacksonville, FL as an example of the boundless depths to which modern evangelicalism will lower itself: http://www.folioweekly.com/documents/main092909_000.pdf

    I’m reminded of Ezekiel 36:22-23, and the first petition in the Lord’s model prayer of Matthew 6 – Hallowed be Thy Name. And I think, surely the Time is near.

  13. Sylvia Oct 6, 2009 3:54 pm

    Mr Coffee,
    Fishermen don’t “JUST cast out a net”, obviously. The point is that the DO cast out a net.
    Stephen was not “selling” the Gospel, he was preaching it. If his job was that of a salesman, he was clearly a very poor one.
    As for Paul at Athens, you gotta make note of the fact that “a few believed”, rather than many, he was not persecuted there, and that, in his very next mission (Corinth) he was determined to know nothing among them except for Christ and Him crucified. After Athens, (where Paul was not stoned, but neither was a church established) Paul was strongly convicted to preach to the Corinthians “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom” (1 Cor 2:4)
    All this aside, Paul was still casting out a net. He didn’t create monument to an unknown god, bring it to his church and invite the Athenians to come to his place of worship and “discover the unknown God”. He went OUT, and presented the Gospel so that men might believe.
    Now, I still need to see chapter and verse stating, or clearly implying that we are “salesmen of the Gospel” pointing out alleged weaknesses in other concepts does not make this concept any more correct.

  14. Corner Coffee Oct 6, 2009 4:31 pm

    If you’re determined not to see these events as (pretty clever) salesmanship on the part of Stephen and Paul, then I suppose you never will.

    Both men adapted their presentation according to the audience to whom they were speaking. Was Stephen unsuccessful? One might think so, but it wasn’t for lack of effort (or risk, obviously). Was Paul unsuccessful? The “few” are likely eternally grateful for his effort.

    (As an aside, the people of Corinth were much different than the people of Athens. The fact that Paul changed his technique for them is only further evidence that Paul was aware of the audience to whom he spoke, and NOT because he considered his methods in Athens to be incorrect)

    To me, these are pretty clear examples of good salesmanship. If you don’t see it that way, that’s not my problem. I choose to take their actions as an example of what a good Christian, and a good church, would do in order to reach non-believers.

  15. Corner Coffee Oct 6, 2009 4:37 pm

    “Now, I still need to see chapter and verse stating, or clearly implying that we are ‘salesmen of the Gospel’ …”

    Preaching IS Selling. If it weren’t, then there would be no art to it. One could simply read from scripture, monotone or in a whisper, and the Holy Spirit would move. Those whom God wanted to be saved, would be saved, right? But passion and creativity in the delivery is a trademark of a sermon or a sales pitch (and public speaking in general). It’s just that we actually have a product that’s worth passionately promoting.

    When Peter delivered his passionate and desperate plea at Pentecost, those who heard were “pricked in their heart”.

  16. James Downing Oct 6, 2009 4:39 pm

    So what did Peter get in return for the product that he sold?

  17. Corner Coffee Oct 6, 2009 4:47 pm

    Nothing personally. Not all salesmen work on commission 🙂

  18. James Downing Oct 6, 2009 4:51 pm

    The sales analogy is 100% completely flawed. You are having to really dig to try to keep it alive.

  19. Corner Coffee Oct 6, 2009 5:35 pm

    Never having been a salesman myself, perhaps so. I never said it was a perfect analogy. There’s no such thing. It’s a minor point anyway, so I’m perfectly happy to drop it.

    Moving back to my original points:
    1. Marketing isn’t wrong.
    2. Marketing isn’t bait and switch.
    3. Sin isn’t necessary in marketing.

    So what is the problem, exactly, with marketing a series, promoting it, getting as many people in the door as possible, and preaching the Gospel to them? (it is a church, after all)

    What’s the harm? Where’s the sin? Why would God be unhappy with this?

  20. JT Oct 6, 2009 5:41 pm


    I offered seven examples of Jesus using hyperbole, and you respond with: “Jesus definitely used imagery (metaphors, similes) but I would not say that he ever used gross overstatement.”


  21. Barbara Oct 6, 2009 6:16 pm

    Somebody a few comments up said, “Preaching IS Selling. If it weren’t, then there would be no art to it.”

    Hmm. Jonathan Edwards might disagree with that, given that he typically read his sermons in a monotone with the intent of not appealing to man’s emotions, as he realized that human emotion is an unreliable measure of grace; and under whose preaching a large part of the Great Awakening took place. As he read his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to his own congregation, it was complacently received …. but when he went to Connecticut, the congregation of 500 people were wailing and crying so loud out of grief over their sin that he literally could not continue.

    And then there’s the words of the Apostle Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 1:17-18.

    See, Biblically faithful preaching – the kind that God ordained – is not about selling anything. The idea of “sellling” the message runs so far counter to the whole counsel of God that it even draws images of Jesus with a whip of cords and the death of Nadab and Abihu, the earth opening up after the rebellion of Korah, and the death of Uzzah after touching the ark of God. Preaching as ordained by God is what John the Baptist and Jesus and Paul and the Apostles did, proclaiming the Gospel over dry dusty bones, saying “Hear the word of the Lord” with a call to repent and believe the Gospel, knowing full well that those dry, dusty bones cannot form sinews and skin and breathe life into themselves unless the Holy Spirit moves over them. To try to “sell” the message betrays a fundamental problem of unbelief in the “seller”, unbelief that God will bless His true Gospel, that He means what He says through Paul in Romans 1:16, that it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. To try to preach in a way that “sells” betrays a faith in man rather than in God.

    I’m done. Back to my corner now.

  22. Ron Oct 6, 2009 6:25 pm

    Okay, I gotta get my rant on….

    Quite frankly, this idea of marketing the Gospel absolutely nauseates me. It reduces the Good News to a product to be marketed, and with that, a desire to make the ‘product’ attractive to the point that the offense of the Gospel is too often removed, where the sharp edges are rounded off to the point that the clarity of the Gospel is too often compromised. What marketing the Gospel does is often reduce, without intent, Christ as a means to an end…and that makes me want to spew vomit.

    To further elaborate, here a some thoughts:
    http://ronclick.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/more-than-a-pet-peeve/ …this influenced by a sermon by P Noble.
    http://ronclick.wordpress.com/2008/04/04/some-i-hope-not-too-pedantic-thoughts-on-evangelism/ ….so was this

    Knowing this post is not specifically aimed at NewSpring, but NS is representative of this ecclesiastical model…but….

    I remember from my time at NewSpring Jesus being presented ‘as the best deal going’
    I remember from my time at NewSpring Christ once being presented as the easy button to salvation.
    I remember too many times at NewSpring inferred promises of my felt needs being met if I accepted Christ.

    What exactly is the problem the Cross is to fix that cannot be fixed elsewhere? That is the problem with this bait-and-switch seeker sensitive marketing. I may get better financial advice, better relational advice elsewhere…. and cheaper, too, once you get past the callow and manipulative tithing schemes/sermons that roll around about 4 times a year at these seeker sensitive churches.

    And yes, I do believe that many have come to a saving faith at NewSpring, and that in spite of, not because of their well-intentioned but errant marketing methodology.

  23. David J Horn Oct 6, 2009 6:52 pm

    The main problem here is the Gospel takes a backseat to bait/switch antics designed to draw in large crowds in order to entertain rather than preaching the whole council of God. 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).

    To compare the Gospel to a sales campaign is sickening. The Gospel is not about $$$$$ and sales. This shows the perverted thinking that is running a rampage in the American church. This is shameful and sinful at best. We are to go out and spread the pure Gospel in love and truth. The Gospel is offensive because it is the Gospel. When you market the Gospel as a salesperson the power of the Gospel is watered down or not presented at all. Jesus never commanded His people to go out and bait/switch people into His church.

    2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NASB)

    [edited for space]

    We are to preach the full Gospel of Christ even when it is offensive and unpopular amongst the lost.

    It is the Gospel that saves and not antics, sales gimmicks, contest, music, etc….

    Romans 10:17 (NASB)

    10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

    The Gospel is enough…

    Ephesians 5:1-21 (NASB)

    [edited for space]

    No AC/DC, no filthy talk, no sex craze, no worldliness, no usage of acronyms like BAMF, etc…. we need to preach the whole council of God and respect God’s Word even when we do not like what God says in His Word.

    1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (NASB)

    [edited for space]

    God clearly meant what he said regardless of what Warren, Noble, Furtick, Cooper, etc… says about it.

  24. Corner Coffee Oct 6, 2009 7:06 pm

    Edwards did to that, you are correct. But my guess is that your pastor doesn’t.

    With all due respect to your nausea, what makes me sick is using theology as an excuse for lack of effort.

    Strategies, techniques, marketing, promotions, music … these are all tools that we can either choose to use, or choose to ignore. If the Gospel is not worth marketing and promoting, then what in the world IS worth marketing and promoting?

    1. Jesus is the “best deal going” – I agree. I get eternal life, salvation from hell, and get to spend eternity with someone who created me, then loved me despite knowing me … enough to die for me. Would you call that a bad deal?

    2. Jesus is the “easy button to salvation” – He certainly doesn’t make salvation difficult.

    3. Felt needs met by Jesus – Only to the extent that such needs were promised to be met in scripture (Matt. 6:26)

    I guess I’m just missing what is so bad about a person coming to church because they believe Jesus can help their marriage, then realizing that he can also heal a much more serious illness … our sin.

  25. James Downing Oct 6, 2009 7:13 pm

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

  26. Corner Coffee Oct 6, 2009 7:22 pm


    1. It’s not bait and switch. There is no switching going on.

    2. I never said there was money being exchanged. Nor did anyone else.

    3. One needn’t water down the Gospel in order to sell it.

    4. A huge list of verses is only impressive if they’re all relevant to the conversation.

    5. I find it interesting that you believe that scripture is enough, yet you volunteer commentary with each passage you cite. Didn’t think God did a good enough job writing it himself? (obviously you don’t think that, but the ridiculousness of the question illustrates my point)

  27. Barbara Oct 6, 2009 8:00 pm

    Well, Coffee, I’ll admit my pastor doesn’t read with a monotone, but he’s an expositor who believes the Scripture and he takes 2 Timothy 4:1-3 very seriously. The only topical message he’s given lately was an exegetical one repeating a pastors’ conference message he recently gave on the importance of seeking and submitting to God through Christ in frequent, private, fervent prayer whether in a position of an elder or other teaching position, or in a position of laity; fully grounded in scriptural examples given to us by the authors of the Gospels regarding Christ’s prayer habits and including Christ’s instructions regarding how to pray.

    Let me leave you with some quick clips regarding the depth of the reality of the Gospel in the everyday life of the Christian, in whom the Holy Spirit lives and dwells:

    John Piper – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3psJWtT68WE

    Matt Chandler exposits 1 Timothy 4:6-7 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5YzI7b92L8

    Sproul, Mohler discuss seeker-sensitive methods: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2zvqQ1w-Os

  28. Ron Oct 6, 2009 9:09 pm

    Corner Coffee….Regarding that easy button thing….was it easy for Jesus? Let’s talk about marketing a bit more. One problem in these marketing stratagems is how sin so often is presented and defined in attractional churches. Too often, it as presented, is marketed, as something that prevents us from reaching our potential, as ‘mess ups” and “mistakes” that hurt us in the here and now with a seemingly lesser emphasis on sin as being an affront to a trice holy God. The Gospel is, in light of the aforementioned, too often sold as a seeming therapeutic fix to felt needs, needs that can often be met at places other than the foot of the Cross.

    Reducing the Gospel to ‘the best deal going’ sales pitch does not seem to reflect the impact or gravitas of the Gospel to a heart broken and repentant over sin by the convicting power of the Spirit, a place where one finally realizes that one has absolutely no hope but the sovereign grace of the Gospel. To my ears, “Best deal going’ sounds more like a cheesy sales pitch for an all expense paid vacation to Six Flags Over Heaven Land.

    Could pontificate for hours, but enough for now.

  29. Brandon Giromini Oct 6, 2009 11:25 pm

    I found this following quote on a political website recently and I think it is relevant to this discussion. This comment seems to be coming from a non-believer:

    This isn’t unique. I live on a [godless!] college campus. Christians are always coming up with some lame scheme to hide their true motives. They advertise rock concerts or magic shows or international dance nights or some other event that they perceive to be “cool” and “relevant,” hiding the fact that their true intention is to spread their doctrine.

    I mean, I can sort of appreciate their efforts to keep folks from burning in eternal fire. But it just seems like that if they really had the message, spirit and power of almighty GOD that they wouldn’t need to resort to such underhanded and patronizing tactics.

    (Emphasis mine)

  30. Josh Oct 7, 2009 12:15 am


    What do you mean, Jesus as the “easy button” to salvation. Do you think it’s hard? I’m always intrigued when someone dismisses salvation by faith in Christ alone as too easy. What do you think a person must do to be saved?

    Everyone else,

    It seems to me that there is a continuum with “No promotional efforts at all” at one end and “Any conceivable marketing effort” at the other. Every church I know that has a building also has some sort of sign. This is very low level marketing. The bible doesn’t say churches are supposed to have signs, and there is no reason why people couldn’t learn the location of the church by word of mouth alone. No one accuses a church of being a circus simply because it has a sign, and probably everyone on here agrees there is nothing wrong with that kind of “marketing.” At the same time, even PN does not support the strawman taking a flailing here, that is, that anything goes when it comes to marketing. I’m fairly certain PN would draw the line at “sin,” the specifics of which we could argue as well.

    I fall between the two extremes. I do think the gospel is worth promoting, and to use a cliche, I do think it’s worth thinking “outside the box” to do so. My problem with NS and other churches is that the marketing seems much more focused on getting people to fill a seat than it is about getting people saved. (As I’ve said before, being born again and being a Christ-follower aren’t the same thing.) The real issue is where we should draw the line, not whether or not promotion is proper for a church.

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