Thursday, November 22, 2007

Consumerism (continued)

This consumerist attractional model is what Hirsch says characterizes Christendom. Success is measured by numerical growth, better programs, and an increase in resources – all of which require an attractional model. The success of outreach services and evangelism programs are measured by how many new folks attend church.

The strategies of the attractional model are based on conventional church growth principles and include incorporating the following steps:
1. Expand the building for growth and redesign.
2. Ensure excellent preaching that is relevant.

3. Develop an inspiring worship service with a good band and positive leaders.

4. Provide good parking.

5. Ensure excellent programs for kids.

6. Develop cell groups rooted in a Christian educational model.

7. Make sure next week is better than last week.

However this type of strategy only entrenches the Christendom model and creates a church that has very little active participation of its members (usually only 10-20%). Church growth principles have not really contributed to a growth in the percentage of Christians or in the effective discipleship of Christians. It has however contributed to the consumer mentality of Christendom and has resulted in the ongoing “trading of sheep.”

Even a church that focuses on missions or on social action is not breaking out of the mold. Giving to outreach projects and going on missions trips can function as outlets that allow us to appease our conscience and still remain a safe distance from the poor, lost or needy of our world. It is much more comfortable to depersonalize the poor or the lost so we don’t feel responsible for the catastrophic human failure that results in third world poverty or someone sleeping on the street while people have spare bedrooms in their homes. Demonizing those we disagree with (liberals, abortionists, gays, Catholics, Moslems, etc.), or going on protest marches, or writing letters, also allows us to remain a safe distance from our “enemies.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity, or social action, or moral indignation but concrete acts of love (Matthew 25).

Shane Claiborne provides this example. “The social work model of church produces clients and providers … merely facilitating the exchange of goods and services, putting plenty of professionals in the middle to guarantee that the rich do not have to face the poor and power doesn’t shift. Rich and poor are kept in separate worlds and inequality is carefully managed … The Church becomes a distribution point where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied … but no one leaves transformed. No radical new community is formed”

We have developed programs to do everything in the church. Many programs can be helpful and useful because people do care and understand why they are doing what they do. But many times programs are implemented to provide a service – not to develop community, nor to act incarnationally. The examples are manifold. In ministries to the poor it is often quite obvious when people come just to provide a service or are doing something to ease their consciences. Inside the church we have ushers and greeters to welcome and seat people; visitors groups instead of personal interaction; advertising instead of personal invitation. We have discipleship courses instead of one-on-one mentoring. We do fellowship lunches instead of extending hospitality in our homes.

Each of these things not only serves a consumerist mentality, but it also removes much of the responsibility from individual Christians to develop relationships and engender community. Instead of connecting with someone that God brings across your path and walking with them for as long as it takes to see them mature in Christ, we give the task to the church “machine” and we become cogs in the machine – each doing our part (greeter, parking lot attendant, teacher, group helper, kitchen clean-up crew, etc., etc.) All of these tasks keep us busy with church work, and meetings with ourselves, but leave us with little time to interact with our neighbors, whom we are commanded to love.

“Believers are a dime a dozen … but lovers are hard to come by – people who are building deep genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way and who actually know the faces of the people behind the issues they are concerned about. So we need to put a face on war, on Moslems, on poverty, on the difficult situations of the world.”

Matt Casper, an atheist commissioned by Pastor Jim Henderson to visit churches to provide an outsider’s view of what we do in church, said this about the machine that church has become. If someone who had never attended church went to visit a number of churches … “if that’s where they started, they would have to conclude that Jesus’ number one priority was that Christians invest the very best of their energy and their money into putting on a huge church service – a killer show as it were … is this what Jesus told you guys to do?” Casper simply could not imagine Jesus telling his followers that the most important thing they should be doing is holding church services. And yet this was the only logical conclusion he was able to come to based upon what he observed.

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