America has the greatest consumer society the world has ever seen. As a result, we find the local Walmart boring. We are so accustom to it we fail to realize that never before in history has so much been available at such affordable prices under one roof. The world marvels at Walmart. Americans yawn. It is what we expect. This is the great consumer society.
I want to suggest to you, it is hard for the church to be the church in a consumer society. Think about this with me.
In a consumer society as much of the world as possible is tailored to meet your needs and desires. Thus, we adopt a “me first” mentality. Madison Avenue and merchants want your business, so they tailor things toward you. In the cyber- economy it is even more focused. The data of everything you do on the internet is harvested and used to understand your shopping habits and interests so that the ads you see are designed for you. It is all about you.
Import that mindset into the church and an unhealthy reality emerges. Everyone in attendance is there to see what they can get, not what they can give. Ministers are seen as people who are paid to make you happy and meet your needs. Programs and activities at the church are to serve your needs and desires, and being ever thrift conscious, you try to get as much as you can for as little cost as possible.
Thus, that smaller church that makes it financial needs known monthly makes you feel guilty for not doing your part. However, that larger church across town will never notice the little you give and they always seem to have plenty of money. You get more bang for your dollar.
With a consumer mindset, people shop churches. Church is about you and your wants, not about Jesus and what He has done, or about the work of the Kingdom.
A few years ago I put out copies of I Am a Church Member by Tom Rainer, head of Lifeway Christian resources; enough for every active member of the church to have one – for free! Less than half were picked up. In that book Rainer says that many American churches have become weak because too many members no longer have a biblical understanding of the church.
“God did not give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks,” he writes. “He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give, and in some cases to die for the sake of the Gospel,” he adds.
This is radically different than the consumer mindset. Until we get this right we will continue to fall for the myth of the American Dream, which is about accumulating things. The Kingdom Dream is far greater. It is about serving a living God and finding the greater blessing that comes from giving.
The American Dream is about shopping for happiness. The Kingdom Dream is about experiencing joy in God.