You’ve heard it before. Maybe you’ve said it yourself, “The problem with Christians today is that they’ve developed a ‘consumer-mentality.’ Church is all about them, what’s in it for them, does the church meet their needs? If they don’t like the ‘menu’ at one church they simply go down the street to the next church that will cater to them.”
There is a great deal of truth to that. On the other hand…I sometimes think that we use ‘consumer-mentality’ as a cop-out, a diversionary tactic to shift taking responsibility for our failures as a church and on to those Christians who leave us.
Not everyone who visits our church and decides not to come back is a Consumer Christian. Not all who have been with us but then leave are Consumer Christians. Many are, maybe most are…but not all of them. If we dismiss those who leave and those who don’t come back as Consumer Christians we will lose an opportunity to sincerely and objectively evaluate our ministry and make the adjustments necessary to reach and retain new people.
Ellen and I have only been ‘church-shoppers’ three times in our entire lives. Having pastored for twenty-eight years (that’s five churches, three of which we planted) we’ve always been the ones being shopped. But when we moved from San Jose California to southern Oregon eleven years ago we became church shoppers. We shopped and landed at a church in Medford. Then, seven years later, wishing to find a church closer to where we lived, we shopped and landed in a church about three minutes away from us in the little town of Rogue River. Now, three years later, having moved to Medford, we are shopping again. Here’s how we do it.
We begin by looking at websites. You can size a church up pretty quick if you know what to look for on a website. You see, we have about four or five things that are important to us in a church. We’ve come to realize that if you can find three out of five you are doing pretty good. I bet you’re wondering what those five essentials are. Sorry, but I’m not going to tell you.
Some churches we checked off really quick. They were not the type of church we would want to commit to. It’s not that they were bad churches, just that they wouldn’t a good fit for us. Keep in mind, we are not Consumer Christians. Next, we start visiting churches that are of interest to us. After a visit, some we check off our list. Again, they are not the type of church we would want to be part of. I’m sure they are good churches, obviously many people who go there think so, but they are not a good fit for us. And again, remember, we are not Consumer Christians. Currently, we have our eyes on a couple of churches. We will probably visit them again before making a decision. Oh, and I hate to feel I have to reassure you of this, but yes, we have been praying about this. We are looking for a good fit. Not a perfect fit, but a good one. Does this sound like Consumer Christianity? I hope not.
There will be people that will visit your church and not come back, not because they are Consumer Christians but because your church would not be a good fit for them. There will be people who have been with you for a long time and then will leave for someplace else, not because they are Consumer Christians but because something has changed and what was once a good fit is no longer a good fit. If we label them and dismiss them we are missing an opportunity to evaluate why some people stay and others don’t.
If we want to reach and retain new people, and, if those people are young families, we’d better learn what type of a church would be a good fit for them and make the necessary adjustments. You see, your church is ideally designed to reach the people you currently have. If you want to see something different you will probably need to do something different. Many Christians have become Consumer Christians…but not all. Don’t hide behind ‘Consumer Christian’ and fail to honestly and objectively evaluate who your church is reaching and retaining and why…and who your church needs to reach and retain and how.