Another Perspective on the Consumer Church

kinnon —  December 14, 2007 — 3 Comments

From his comment on my Fitch & McKnight post(two below this one), my good friend Ed Brenegar says,

A consumerist approach assumes that there are owners of the church and consumers of the church’s products and services.

One way to get at this is to ask about personal accountability and responsibility. This came to me the other day as I was having coffee with a guy who is a member of a Willow Creek style church here in town. His church is establishing satellite churches in the region. It hit me as he described the structure of this approach that the people who are part of a satellite church have no ultimate accountability for their congregation. It isn’t really their church. It belongs to the mother church.

What that structures says is that we want to meet your needs where you are. We’ll put a "pastor" in your community. We’ll feed "preaching" into your location and your needs will be met. But it won’t be your church. It is still ours.

I know traditional denominations – mine – that are trying the same thing because they have been influenced by Andy Stanley’s success. They see it as a solution to the problems of declining churches in small towns. I see it as simply a way to deny responsibility for their church by passing off the solution to someplace else.

For me the question is, are we willing to have less people in church, have fewer people who call themselves Christian, if it meant we were a church where each member accepted responsibility and accountability. I don’t know. The standards have been lowered so the numbers will increase. We are so far away from understanding what a transformed life is that I’m not sure anyone could spot one if they saw it.

Ed adds this in an email to me,

The problem with the consumerist model is not the recognition that people have needs. The problem is how those needs are to be addressed by God through the church. What I see in the consumerist model is an approach to Christian spirituality on the level of a low-carb diet or the sale of personal care products. It is all technique driven. Change your diet, lose a few pounds. Change your soap, smell better, look younger. Join our program, be a happier person.

At the heart of this approach to the church is a philosophy about human nature. A consumerist anthropology assumes that human identity is based on externals. In other words, the kind of clothes I wear, the car I drive, and the spiritual label that I wear.  Jesus’ anthropology is built on relationships. First, relationship with God, second with others, and thirdly with oneself, and in that order of importance. As a result, my life is to be oriented around my responsibility to my relationship to God, to others, to myself and in that order.

From what I see, this means that the strength of my life is in giving to God and to others as the order of my life. And it comes from being a person who has something to give, not primarily being a person who has needs. What I have to give is only that which God has given to me, and that is his love and grace for this day. That is all. And I am very, very happy with that arrangement.  Whatever needs I have are my responsibility to solve. If someone chose to reach out to me and give to me in a way that meets that need, then I am thankful to God for that gift. But the focus is not to live looking for someone else to meet my needs. It acts as a corrosive on the human spirit. We are only fully human when we are giving. And most fulfilled when what we give is the love of God that has been given to us. (All emphasis added.)



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

3 responses to Another Perspective on the Consumer Church

  1. Ed writes “Whatever needs I have are my responsibility to solve.”

    Hmmm … I really liked what Ed wrote about the church and consumerism … until I got to the above sentence. Then my train de-railed somewhat.

    If we’re in a community of faith (we could call it church) and that community is focussed on being the Body of Christ both in the world and for each other, then a person’s needs are not their own to solve. Within a church, a Body, there can be no “individual” needs, but only Body needs that are expressed as symptoms of illness within individuals.

    Retaining individual needs as “my own to solve,” is sort of the pinnacle of individualism within Western culture. We love to give, but not receive. Because in receiving we must first admit to poverty on one level or another.

  2. Will need to re-read this post again to make sure I didn’t just read into it what I wanted to be there…

    However, to Ed’s observation about satellite congregations, I would add this note: Have we ever Ever EVER really seen a “church-within-a-church” (CWAC) approach work? Or, if a particular such church did fail, did it flop from CWAC-internal reasons? Or because the external “mother/sponsor church” would not let it spin off to become its own autonomous (self-governing) entity? I don’t get out enough, but I would say that the examples of CWAC I have seen seem to indicate that the mother church wants to keep the umbilical cord plugged in …

    Methinks the church on CWAC is addicted to control plus consumerism. And, in such models of being/doing church, the mothers want to keep their umbilical cord of control linked into the daughter churches, and the babies want to keep the umbilical cord of consumption linked in so the need-based nutrients keep on a-comin’.

    As my college friend Linda always said, “Manipulators and martyrs go together in matched pairs.” What I perceive we’ve come to too often is a parasitic partnership (that’s the organic paradigm version of the older term “dysfunctional family”!). The insiduous and ironic reversal that I have witnessed a time or two is that the sponsor church staff burns out, and the hooked in people stay babies.

    Control and consumption bring decadence.

    Empowerment and exercise bring discipleship.

    And now, if you’ll excuse me, I needs be go to work and produce something!

    End of rant …

  3. He put things VERY well, here. Thanks for posting this. I’ll share it, in distilled form, with my radio listeners.


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