Who Exactly is the Consumer?
Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless you and bring you to a place where you desire what He desires in His church. This week I will begin my series of articles on “Consumer Church.”
When the whole idea of “Consumer Church” came on the scene, it began with churches thinking it would be a good idea to begin polling people as to what they wanted in church. It was not long before churches were in surrounding neighborhoods going door to door asking people in their city what they wanted at church. Statistics were gathered from these polls and strategies were formed to “reach the unchurched.” Subsequently, a church program was developed that would minister to the felt needs that existed among the community. Over time the churches grew due to their ability to address the felt needs of their community. The unchurched were reached in large numbers – which eventually gave rise to the mega-churches of the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s. Success, right? Before we begin our celebration we might consider a fundamental problem that exists with this model of “doing church.”
There is a problem that is inherently part of the “Consumer Church” model. That problem is that the consumer changes over time. This is why companies like Apple constantly poll the consumer. They do so to stay ahead of their ever-changing desires. The consumer actually drives what is happening in “Consumer Church.” If his or her felt needs are not met, he or she will be looking for a church that will meet their needs. In the years that I have been a pastor I’ve watched the “Consumer Church” change numerous times. They had to revamp just about everything because they learned that the busters did not want the same things as the boomers. A couple of years later they found out that the Gen X crowd had different desires than the Gen-next group. Even preaching and worship styles changed every few years. They learned that certain words – and even the symbol of the cross was seen in a negative way – so they morphed to meet those desires of the consumer. In time some churches even set up different worship services for different age groups so they could continue meeting the felt needs of the last group they just reached.
This whole scenario begs for an answer to a very pressing question. Who are we supposed to be pleasing in the church? The “Consumer Church” model says that we are to be please the consumer. But what happens when the consumer wants something that God does not? What happens when the consumer’s desires reflect the very lost and sinful condition God wants addressed in the gospel? What happens when the consumer wants a less convicting atmosphere or preaching that acknowledges there is more than one way to get to heaven? What happens when society becomes more open toward sexual immorality and the consumer calls for a broader mindset toward alternate lifestyles? Is the consumer always right? Is the church always beholden to shift her views and stands accordingly?
The core problem with “Consumer Church” is that the consumer is treated as the supreme authority in how church is done – and often even in what the church preaches. Biblical church sees the revelation of God in Scripture as supreme. This is the radical difference between “Consumer Church” and “Christ-centered Church.” The “Christ-centered Church” believes that there is already an infallible rule for faith and for practice in God’s church. God did not set up His church to be a consumer driven endeavor. God calls His church to honor and glorify Him. He commands the church to seek His face and submit to what He desires. The way one does this is not by taking polls of the lost community. The way one does this is to read and study the Scriptures so that we know God – and in so doing – know what He wants in His church.
Please understand that God will not lead us to be rude or disparaging toward the “consumer” or better said, the lost person in our community. God calls us to serve and love them – to minister to them – and lay down our lives as we share the gospel with them. But that being said, the “Christ-centered Church” does not have the freedom to ignore God’s desires because they conflict with those of the lost, consumer in our area. Our first and greatest priority in the church is to glorify God and make much of Him in everything we do at church. To make more of our potential “consumer” than we make of God is idolatry – and in the end it will not bring blessing to the church. We have to remember that our target audience is just One person in the end – God Himself. What I find interesting is that God is referred to as a “consuming fire” by Scripture. So actually, we are conforming to the consumer. It is just that we are defining the consumer as THE Consumer. It is very appropriate to poll and consult THE Consumer. What we then learn of and from Him rules all decisions and reigns in the focus, direction, and program of His church. May God make us ever more sensitive to THE One and Only Consumer, making sure that whatever He wants is done in His church!