The modern generation, we are told, looks at church through consumer eyes. They are spiritual shoppers, going from one congregation to another, inspecting the “merchandise” for quality, comparing elements of convenience, service and cost. Churches that wish to grow (or even to survive) are expected to be customer-oriented, ever-happy providers dispensing whatever satisfies the public and makes the shoppers content.
It is certainly biblical and desirable to care about people and to serve others joyfully in the name of Christ. It is also wise to try to learn the language of those with whom we wish to speak. But the whole concept described above, I suggest, tragically bypasses the gospel and distorts the New Testament picture of church as God intends it. Consumer Christianity caters to selfishness and, by rewarding it, fosters more of the same. It ignores Jesus’ call to repentance, dispenses with commitment and thwarts discipleship. It forgets the primary agenda of the church, which is announcing the gospel and making imitators of Christ. Jesus does not invite us to buy a ticket and demand good service. He calls us to deny self, to put others ahead of self, to serve rather than to be served.
The church is not benefitted, long-term, by dumbing-down its teaching, trashing its heritage of hymns and freewheeling its prayers — all in hopes of attracting someone who might otherwise encounter something he or she does not understand. Growth that counts, and endures, comes when hearts are convicted of sin, turn to Christ for forgiveness, and answer God’s call to serious discipleship within the loving faith-family of mutual responsibility, mutual service and mutual support.
So long as we imagine that the church’s job is making people happy, that its mission is accomplished primarily on the premises, or that its work can be carried out by paid ministry and staff, we are doomed to unending frustration, worn-out workers and complaining customers. The solution is ancient and costly: “Repent and believe the gospel.” “Take up your cross and follow Me.” “Each one should use whatever spiritual gift he has received to serve others . . . with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” As we do that, God in his sovereignty will see to needed growth.