Brilliant post by Matt Viney.
Reprint this everywhere, I say.
Have a read and then pop over and tell Matt you liked it.
The Great Omission: ‘church shopping’ in Australia
PERSON (A): “Hi everyone. I have a friend who is moving to xxxxx. Can you recommend a good church for them to go to? Thanks.”
PERSON (B): “Yes. I know of a good church. It’s a xxxxx church. They have a good vibe. Great music.”
PERSON (C): “They could also check out xxxxx church. The teaching’s top class, and the music is also pretty good.”
PERSON (A): “Thanks guys. I’ll let them know.”
This little conversation is a modified version of an online exchange I was privy to recently. On the face of it, there’s nothing intrinsically worrying about what was said. It was simply people trying to find a person a nice church to join. Nothing wrong with that. Right? Over the years I have seen many people trying to find the “right church for them”. It never used to bother me, but lately I’ve been a bit disturbed by the way that Christians ‘shop’ for churches. Here’s my beef, straight up: all too often, the Christian’s choice of church is inherently self-focused and consumerist.
Here’s a list of the sorts of things people look for in a church. I’m not saying these are bad. And I’m not saying every single person wants every single one of these. But in my experience they are fairly indicative of what most protestant ‘church shoppers’ are seeking:
“I want a church that has . . .”
1. Great music
2. A happy, vibrant ‘vibe’
3. A warm welcome, but not too warm
4. Good teaching
5. A contemporary and relaxed service
6. Nice facilities – nothing too daggy
7. A great range of age-specific ministries, especially for school-aged children
8. Dynamic and engaging Bible teaching
9. Good coffee and morning tea/supper supplied
11. A cool website
12. Comfortable seating
13. A particular doctrinal standpoint
I completely understand people having many, if not most of the above criteria. After all, no one wants to go to a church where the seating is uncomfortable and the music is amateurish. Let alone if the teaching is poor and the overall vibe of the church is clicky and cold. I get it. However, as time goes by I have noticed it’s very rare that you see a ‘church shopper’ with a list like this:
“I want a church that has . . .”
1. People I can encourage and serve
2. A shortage of people on rosters
3. A struggling financial position that I can assist with
4. An ailing morale that I can inject some enthusiasm into
5. A small children’s ministry that I can bring my family to
6. A music ministry that I could assist with
Interesting isn’t it? The New Testament unanimously promotes the Christian life as one of self-sacrifice, thinking of others first, serving, generosity, and a desire to glorify God over self. But all too often, that’s not reflected in our choice of church.
Providing the teaching isn’t unbiblical, the focus should be more on what an individual could bring to the table. Not what they can ‘gain’, or ‘feel good’ about. From my experience, too many church shoppers have a long, unknowingly self-focused list of comforts and conveniences they require before they’ll commit. And not just that – the church they choose had better keep them happy, otherwise they’ll take their business elsewhere. Where is the sense of spiritual discipline? Where is the long-suffering patience of God reflected in our choices? Where is the commitment to love others unconditionally, warts and all (sometimes, literally warts and all)?
I am not trying to be ‘holier-than-thou’. I know all about this because I used to have my own arm-long list of criteria. In a world of iTunes, smartphones and opinion polls, it’s easy to think it’s all about us.
So here’s a message to all church shoppers: look at the cross before you write your list. Please stop importing self-focused consumerism into the church. I think we all need a regular reminder that “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Those who take up the name of Christ on their lips should also take up the cross upon their backs, and seek to make their local church a better place. In doing that, they’ll find a sense of joy and peace they couldn’t get with just ticking some boxes on their shopping list.