“Sadly, many people really are satisfied living as consumers,
and they are just looking for a place to hold their beliefs together
and to provide a sense of belonging relationally.
In other words, all they want are some sermons and some friends.
They aren’t looking for transformation,
either for themselves or for the world.”
“It is tough to die for self and live for Christ.”
Bob Verhelle, Elder, Lenape Valley Presbyterian Church, New Britain, PA
Listen carefully and you will hear many church members express sadness that the church seems to be losing ground in North America, particularly with college and post-college age young adults. Membership is down, worship attendance is down and overall interest in church is down, with some exceptions of course. What is unfortunate, writes Hugh Halter and other cultural observers, is that many of the churches that are the exception are the exception precisely because they appeal to the “consumer denominator” of the culture. That is, they offer what the consumer wants, excellent worship, excellent need-meeting programs and excellent facilities.
Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with excellence. Every church should strive for excellence in ministry. Excellence is not the problem. Often the trouble for many churches which are large and apparently strong is that their ministry is only about the delivery of religious services in a consumer marketplace: making sure every need is met with excellence. Little attention is given to the question, “Are we building disciples whose concern is less with meeting personal needs and more concerned about advancing God’s kingdom?” Here is the test: How many times have you heard from someone that the reason they left a particular church is because “my needs” were not being met or “I” wasn’t being fed? Whoever told them that the church was “about them?”
Reggie McNeal, a leading thinker and writer about missional church and missional-driven ministry, writes that we have it all wrong when we say the church has a mission. That suggests that we are in charge, which again makes it about “us.” No, writes McNeal, the church doesn’t have a mission, the mission has the church. What is important is not “us” but “God” and “God’s mission” in the world. And the church’s primary purpose is not to meet our needs but to be an instrument in the hands of God for advancing “God’s mission.”
George Barna, another observer of cultural trends that influence the church, recently had his organization ask several thousand young adults why they weren’t interested in the Christian faith any longer. Their response was surprising. “You got it wrong. We are very interested in Jesus. It’s the church we have lost faith in because the church looks no different from the culture…the church seems to be about giving people what they want. We are tired of it being about ‘us’. We want to be about something bigger than us. When the church gives us that opportunity, we will return.”