From time to time I have lamented the consumer mentality with which many people approach the church. This is the attitude that a spiritual service or product can be obtained from a pastor or church without having to actually connect with that church or its ministry. Families drop by the church for a baptism, confirmation, wedding or funeral, but do not engage beyond that event or milestone. I use the supermarket analogy, where savvy shoppers stop by for spiritual supplies as needed. If there is a sale or special at another church, they will not hesitate to switch.
Today I read a short but insightful article by Bobby Gruenewald in the May/June 2013 issue of Outreach Magazine about “Pastoring the Community.” He says that “The church has become a consumer good — something people shop for and evaluate based on what they and their family get out of it.” But then he adds this true and convicting observation: “In well-intentioned efforts to attract and reach people, churches start viewing people as customers. We wonder what we can teach that will resonate with them. What programs can we offer to keep them coming back?” (p. 26)
I believe it’s an accurate observation. We enable their behavior. And there’s a price to pay for that. We bring out that attitude as our sinful nature makes it all about us rather than about God or our neighbor.
It is very challenging to maintain an outward focus. We so quickly and easily slip into the “how can we grow” mode of thinking rather than a “how can we serve” approach. We want what we do to benefit us in some way, whether it’s increased membership, participation or contribution. But is that what following Christ looks like? Is that where the Gospel leads us?
How do we shift from serving ourselves to really serving those outside the church, those who need hope, light and grace?