For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. ~Mark 10:45
Everyone has their criteria. The charismatic preacher, the Hillsong-esque worship, the craft coffee, etc. When it’s time to find a new church community, they take their list from place to place, tallying their pros and cons. What can the church give me? How does it fit my needs? Can they pack it all in before the game?
A consumerist ethos has saturated the culture of finding a church community. This is no more obvious than in the language that we use to describe the process: church shopping. Shopping is all about the consumer and how a product fits their needs at their desired price. It’s about possession and self-gratification, and it’s destroying church communities.
Consumerism in Community
A consumerist approach to community puts the self at the center of the community. It asserts that a community’s worth depends solely on what it can offer the consumer. This kind of mindset is not only unhealthy for a community, but it is also detrimental to the life and faith of the individual.
Burnout in leadership, shortage of volunteers, and lack of financial giving are only a few of the problems that come from rampant consumerism in community.
When problems in community arise, consumers complain and abandon the community, rather than being a part of improving the community and helping to build the environment that they desire.
The one-directional nature of consumerism leads to unsustainable systems, where one group gives while another only takes or receives. Being on both ends of this transaction for extended periods of time is not beneficial for either group, nor does it reflect the kind of church community that Jesus desires for us. Even worse, this kind of culture only further encourages and validates the consumerist ethos.
The Church is meant to gather together in communion with Christ, not consume one another.
Most importantly, rampant consumption in community robs us of our joy in God and each other. Consumerism falsely claims that the best things in life come through self-gratification. The best things in life don’t come through consumption. The best things in life come through being in meaningful relationships where we can share in both our joys and sorrows. They come through loving others and being loved by them, and love is the opposite of consumption. In Jesus, we find the perfect embodiment of love. He lays his own life down on behalf of us, and he calls us to follow after him.
Transitioning from Consumerism to Community
Western individualism, paired with consumerism, has turned us into isolated hedonists. We’ve been trained to believe happiness is our goal and that it comes from the next promotion, the next gadget, or binge watching the next Netflix series. In the process, we’ve lost sight of what it means to be the body of Christ.
I’ve rarely come across a perennial church shopper who left a church community because they couldn’t find a place to serve or give.
They usually mention the worship, the preacher, the not-welcoming-enough community, or some other consumable good. What if we reshaped our criteria?
It’s certainly easier to shop around. You won’t get hurt if your church experience is limited to showing up for the entertainment on Sunday mornings and leaving at the first sign of trouble. But there isn’t any perfect community. Church communities are always comprised of imperfect people who will inevitably disillusion, disappoint, and betray.
So, what if we asked ourselves a different set of questions? Is there a place that I can serve? How can I invest my time, resources, and energy into this community? How can I build relationships and foster community? Our perspective on community radically shifts when we stop consuming, and start thinking about relationship and investment. While it may seem counter-intuitive in our consumerist culture, it’s when we transition away from consumerism that we can truly experience the best things in community and become the body that Christ has called us to be.