You Better (Not) Shop Around

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

James Gilmore
March 16, 2009

Excellent commentary.

I think you could go even further, however; I'd disagree with Santella in suggesting that church shopping, instead of transferring power from the pulpit to the pews, does exactly the opposite. If the congregation votes with their feet rather than with their commitment, all the pastor has to do is tweak the message a little to put more and different butts in the pews (or, more appropriately for this model, install some movie theatre seats to make those butts a little more comfortable). Add some bells and whistles, maybe a pop culture song or two and a pretty PowerPoint presentation, and all those church shoppers come back to teh nice new show.

However, if the congregation is committed to the church, they're going to put a lot more pressure on the pastor--not to tailor his or her message to the congregation necessarily, but to engage in dialogue with the congregation. They're not going to be a bunch of replaceable names, faces, and Benjamins in the collection plate; they're going to be people the pastor knows are going to stick around regardless, and are going to hold his or her feet to the fire rather than just walking away. Excellent pastors will see this as a challenge and an opportunity, a chance to engage dialogically with the church and raise up lay leadership that will hold him or her to account more effectively.

March 16, 2009

I remember when my wife and I were looking for a church when we moved the the Chicago suberbs. We were looking for something that fit for us. I had a co-worker who would ask me every week how the search was going. I would tell him, "We haven't found anything we like." He'd just sort of nod his head until one day, in a rather strong voice, he said, "It's not about you!"

As much as I'd like to agree with the fact that it's not about me, it is a little. We found a church that had a great young couples ministry and strong biblical teaching, which was good for our spiritual growth. But as importantly, it's a church growing in passion about being missional and reaching out to the community. So we did pick a church partially on what it had for us but we know it had the "what can we put it" component as well.

March 16, 2009

yeah, when I was looking for churches in Athens I was similarly looking for a place I could serve but one that also had things I needed. And you need a church that meets your spiritual needs. So maybe it's only a little bit about you, and mostly about God's people.

I also think it sounds like you guys, like many of my friends who are invested in churches, had a realistic assumption that all churches will have things you don't like. When you have that assumption then you can believe that it's your job to love them anyway, and maybe try to make the church better through your involvement.

March 16, 2009

Although I disagree with Santella's point that shopping-based accountability is good for religion, I hadn't thought of church shopping as a check on the church's institutional power, which goes awry if unchecked (insert 300 examples here). I wonder if Tocqueville ever made this point? (http://tr.im/hqSw) Though I guess church shopping wasn't really around then; denominational/neighborhood loyalty was pretty ironclad up until a generation or two ago.

Also see Mary H's article on why you should go to a church 4 times when shopping: http://tr.im/hqSN

March 16, 2009

How do I say this but that yes it is the people in the pews who want the church to servive and grow, but a manipulative pastor, using church rules and not the bible can ruin a church real fast. When numbers and money are the main subject of the Pastor there is nothing else to talk about. The new people don't want to stay and the older people will never leave so you have a stigma that only gets more confusing as time passes. Find a church where the people are there for Christ Jesus and the bible is upmost, then you will fit right in. Don't stay at a church that when you step in, it makes you angry or uncomfortable. In God's Grace John

Dave Slager
March 16, 2009

Church marketing may make churchgoers uncomfortable, but it is reality. It is foolish to think that churches are not immune to the forces of demographics, economics, and "cultural" selection. If all parishioners grow old and do not win over enough recruits, that institution will eventually die. If a church fails to raise enough money to pay its expenses, it will not last. People have a finite amount of time, a finite amount of money, and a finite capacity for forming human relationships. Furthermore, the number of churchgoers is in decline in America. Churches therefore must compete with each other and with other institutions for members, time, and money. Churches that evolve attractive qualities will gain members and churches that fail to adapt will lose members. Megachurches represent successful evolvers. Religion is business and heavy marketing is the only way to survive a tough religious economy. This fact is so logically obvious and transparent that I believe it is a major reason why many choose not to attend church.

March 17, 2009

Sorry for sounding bombastic, but this is just a little bump in perspective.

Did anybody read the news lately that the evangelical church, the mainstream protestant denominations in America are in serious decline. The whole choir/pastor/preacher/sunday school/pew paradigm is in trouble. For too long America has been the protectorate of the professional clergy, the person known as the Pastor who preaches the sermons every sunday and wednesday and basically runs the church. It's what I've grown up in. What a terribly flawed idea. It leads to the culture of pew-sitting consumers who shop around looking for the funniest, most inspiring and comfortable professional. It leads to bored, unengaged teenagers. No wonders pastors burn out as well. Does anyone know how many times the word Pastor is used in the New Testament? ONCE in ephesians 4:11. And it doesn’t even mean the “head preacher who runs the church”. Does anyone know how many times the word prophet is used in the New Testament? 157 times.

What is Church to Paul? “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” 1st corinthians 14:26. Did you see Pastor/Preacher there? Did you see choir there and audience seats? Why are we so afraid of what has been termed “Charismatic”. This is the church expression or structure that has been exploding in Africa, South America and China. This is not the kind of theater that one passively shops for, this is the family one is born into and called into.

March 17, 2009

i think it all boils down of a christian's basic understanding of what a church is and what our role is as individuals. demographics, marketing, mission statements, focus etc... are i believe necessary tools but i think all of us have evolved in our understanding of what church is suppose to be and it has become complicated. mainly due to the fact that many of us have a wealth of too much knowledge in our hands. it has made the work of being a pastor or church worker very difficult and the congregations spiritually starved. i believe we need to get back to the Bible and pray for the Spirit to enlighten us, convict us even to get bank to being the body of Christ.

March 17, 2009

There's got to be some sort of a balance. In our church, there isn't much accountability. Criticism is frowned upon, and the only comments that are allowed are positive.
One of the pastors thinks his sermons are as good today as they were 10 years ago (they aren't). Sometimes the only way to make a point is to vote with your feet.

March 17, 2009

Along with everything said already -- and it is excellent perspective -- is an apparent failure by many (church leaders and church shoppers) to emphasize the biblical imperative of the church's mission, which involves more than sitting in a pew. I loved a t-shirt I saw a number of years ago: "Don't go to church. BE the church."

As an example, I'm involved in worship ministry, and one of the most frustrating things is the expectation that the person in the pew is to be "ministered to." The biblical injunctive is for us to worship God, then go minister to others.

As another example, I'm part of a relatively small church. I've lost track of the number of people who came for awhile, then left seeking another church with more youth programs, bigger worship ministry, etc. If all those people had stayed to help us build the ministry, we would have them all and more...

March 17, 2009

i like your t-shirt slogan and it can be used to further what church truly means... a community of the "called out ones". in this regard we should recall to mind the basic tasks of the church as reformers saw it...to worship the Lord, to nurture the saints, and to witness to the world. being a christian means being part of or rather being church. the number enemy of this is the attitude of wanting to be entertained or in christianspeak..."ministered to". so when a person feels not being "blessed" by the boring preacher or their favorite hymns is not on the playlist of the worship team, they immediately "vote with their feet". to balance this of course, the leaders and ministry heads also need to listen to their congregations needs, not their preferences and tastes but to their true spiritual needs that the Lord has given us to truly minister to. i guess those of us who serve as leaders need to really learn from Jesus the ultimate servant leader.

have a blessed day everyone and let's not allow these challenges to hinder us in the habit of meeting together...

March 18, 2009

Hi Dave, while I agree that competition of a "survival of the fittest" type is likely at work here, I disagree that that is ALL that is happening, or that growth should be the primary task of the church. Just because we live within capitalism does not mean that we are obligated to subscribe to its values.

March 18, 2009

I'm struck by the number of commenters who seem to think that the role of members of the congregation is to critique the minister/leadership team or support them, and not to become leaders in their own right. I realize that not everyone is gifted in music and worship leadership, and we cannot all be preachers, but there is more to a church than a worship service. and many churches are places you can vote with your hands - people are willing to see a change if you're willing to put the work in to make it happen. And it's my experience that when you're really invested in a community, with your own work guided by God, the occasional boring sermon or the scarcity of your favorite hymn seems less big of a deal.

Not that I think people should choose churches that they disagree with too much, or that exclude them or make them feel too uncomfortable, but I have limited patience for people who have a lot of criticism for churches but do not actually do something to help.

Lew Seattle
March 20, 2009

Well said Bethany! I'm deep-reading Dick Staub's "Culturally Savvy Christian" and am more aware than ever of our current American Christianity-Lite, as Staub puts it. I am also walking through Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life" with my eldest son.

Both Staub and Warren have very meaningful insights for us all. Staub deals with our consumerism in our faith life, and walks us toward positive change. He reminds us that American Christianity is, "3,000 miles wide and only two-inches deep." We're growing, but we're very shallow-rooted.

Warren lays out the vital need for our deep involvement of, as you've said, investing ourselves into the body of Christ. Both authors set Christ first and remind us, as self-centric Americans, that our salvation is a gift we can neither buy nor earn. We had better treasure it though, because it's the single most precious thing we have.

I'm certainly no better than anyone. I've "shopped". But what I was looking for, for myself and my family, was good solid truth regardless of the earring in the Pastor's ear. I can handle people's modest differences as long as Christ is truly present. Often that takes time to see.


Paul Pousson
April 1, 2009

We should not "shop" for a church. I have always looked for a church that follows the correct doctrine, what God's Word the Bible says about every aspect of your life. Thus I was raised Lutheran, switched to Church of Christ, and am now a Baptist. Not because of fellow members or how nice the church is or entertaining it is, but because I believe the Baptist follow the doctrine of the Word closer. It should all be about belief and trying to follow God's will as close as possible.

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