“By the time I arrived on the scene as a pastor, the American church had reinterpreted the worship of God as an activity for religious consumers. Entertainment, cheerleading, and manipulation were conspicuous in high places… Programs had developed into the dominant methodology of ‘doing church’… Church was understood not in terms of personal relationships and a personal God but in terms of ‘getting things done.’” -Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir
I believe that most of our churches face the same temptation – to become little more than a business with stained glass windows.
A business that markets spiritual commodities to people who are valued for little more than their ability to fill a sanctuary or an offering plate.
Not that every church falls to this temptation, but it is a constant threat in a culture steeped in rampant consumerism.
And to be honest, I can’t fault churches too much for being pulled towards this model. After all, what compelling alternative have they been given to the endless deluge of books and conferences promising that if a church only does X they will be successful?
It doesn’t really matter if X is integrated services, starting a youth program, becoming more missional, investing in a new building, or simply adding a drum set to the band – the goal is the same, success. That goal, of course, is the problem, because this success is measured by increasing attendance and bursting coffers.
Pastors have been sold this vision of success, and then are told that whether or not their church is successful in these terms is utterly dependent on them, and this ends up guiding the way they lead.
I’ve seen the result of that sort of thinking, and it isn’t pretty.
Churches become self-serving, people are used as assets and then left by the wayside when their usefulness comes to an end, ruffling feathers is strongly discouraged, and leaders become more concerned with the people who didn’t show up than those who did.
And, in the end, it accomplishes exactly the opposite of what was intended. Even if the church grows under such a model, it cannot be a successful church – because it is no longer a church but a business with stained glass windows.