Many Christians don’t classify themselves as consumeristic Christians, meaning they don’t believe they treat the local church much the same way they do any other enterprise that exchanges goods and services, but the sad fact is they often do.
What’s a simple definition of consumerism? Well, consumers use something until they no longer have use for it. Then they simply discard it. That’s crass consumerism in our culture, which we don’t give much thought to, but that same attitude finds its way into the life of the local church.
Trevin Wax uses this analogy to explain the mindset of many consumeristic Christians:
“My church” isn’t determined by where I have my membership or where I most belong. My church just happens to be my favorite of many different experiences, much like going out to eat. Our family has a favorite restaurant that is our “default” whenever we’re going to eat out. But we have lots of other restaurants that we enjoy from time to time. Sometimes we’re in the mood for steak. Other times, for chicken, American cuisine, or a Mexican restaurant, or a local dive. Church is like that, too. “Our church” is the one we attend most often, but it’s not the only one we like.
So, here are some telltale signs that you might have a consumeristic Christian mindset.
1. Dissatisfied Customer
Let’s start with those who don’t consider themselves consumeristic Christians. “I don’t treat church like a restaurant.” These Christians don’t seem consumeristic because they are faithful—until they are not. And that is the key—they use and then discard. When they feel the need to leave their local church (and the average Christian changes churches every seven years, which in itself is consumerism) they find a reason to leave.
You can go to any church and find a reason to leave—“the sermons are too short, the sermons are too long, I don’t like the worship, the church is too big, the church is too small, we don’t feel fed, they're too inwardly focused, they're too outwardly focused, the pastor talks too much about politics, the pastor doesn’t talk enough about politics, they don’t have this ministry or that ministry, etc.” And then this reason for leaving is topped off with the standard subjective expression that no one can refute—“I prayed about it.”
In other words, this Christian leaves church because he or she is no longer satisfied with what he or she is consuming. It’s not about faithfulness in service to the local church, which is biblically defined as faithfulness and service to the Lord. It’s about what this Christian is getting out of it. Are they a satisfied customer? Customer equals consumer, but this Christian doesn’t think of it in those terms, because…well, she can find reasons to justify her departure.
2. Country Club Syndrome
One of the top signs of a consumeristic mindset is the country club syndrome. The country club syndrome is when a Christian is concerned about the bang he’s getting for his tithing buck.
Often, the Christian with the country club mindset feels entitled to certain programs. “Why doesn’t our church have…some particular program?” The giver feels entitled to have a say in how the funds are used, which shows the money was never really given freely or cheerfully as the Lord says it should be. That's not to say churches aren't accountable for their funds. They certainly are. The point here is that biblical giving doesn't come with strings attached—“as long as I feel it’s being used in the way I think it should be used, then I’ll continue to give.” This person gives to church in exchange for goods and services.
Any body of local believers who believe the Bible and sing the Bible and pray the Bible and obey the Bible are the program that God designed to impact the world. That’s not to say programs are wrong in and of themselves, but they can often be excuses for the lack of fruit in our own lives. Why? Because we expect the programs to do it.
God calls people, not programs.
3. Lack of Eternal Perspective
Here’s the reality about giving to church. Your giving allows other Christians who don’t give to continue to be shaped by the teaching of the Word of God. That’s another harsh reality of church life in a fallen world. It’s pretty standard that 20% of the people in the church support 80% of the budget. And 80% of the people only support about 20% of the church budget.
There are always people who partake of church life without giving. Should we resent them for that? This is about Christian maturity. We have to give people time to grow and finances are one of the last areas that people often come to terms with in their Christian walks. Sometimes your biggest and most vocal supporter is someone who doesn’t give a dime.
And consider for just a moment the local church’s online ministry. Most churches (including this one) reach more people online with their services throughout the week than they actually reach live on Sunday. Those services may be planting seeds in the lives of many people, which we should all be thankful for—but it takes continued financial support to do this. But it’s not seen by the local congregant who attends live services. It’s a hidden influence, because online services don't usually translate into people participating in the local body.
But when we have a biblical mindset about results (an eternal perspective) and not simply a worldly one, we understand that nothing we do for the Lord is in vain. (Eph. 6:8)
4. Consuming Teaching
Another mark of the consumeristic Christian is that this Christian consumes a lot of other preaching during the week. This Christian not only has a local pastor but she has her favorite radio pastor and favorite TV preacher and favorite Christian author, who (unbeknownst to the consuming Christian) are all often coming from a smorgasbord of differing theological perspectives. Listening to lots of preaching often seems very spiritual, but it does make it much more difficult for a local pastor to lead when his viewpoints don’t gel with someone’s favorite radio or TV preacher. People often leave churches when the pastor says something that conflicts with their favorite celebrity preacher.
Unfortunately, many churches play to this very mindset in the way they present themselves. When a church’s website says, “If you’re looking for a church that…” Well, who shops around for a church besides Christians? There are few (if any) unbelievers out there “shopping” for a church. And what’s really ironic is when people say, “We’re shopping for a church home.” The church is seen more as real estate to be used rather than a body to be nourished.
Are there no reasons to leave a church? There certainly are: false teaching and immorality in the leadership are two biblical reasons.
Because of the culture we live in, we all have to watch ourselves for these attitudes so that we might repent of them when recognized.