Consumerism and the Church

It has been said that we live in the age of consumption and excess. This consumption goes far beyond simple materialism. It reaches into the very fabric of our culture and society as a way of life. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard once said that in our days “consumption is a system of meaning.” In other words, you are what you consume. According to Baudrillard, the quality of the cars, clothes and gadgets we own ultimately define who we are in our society today.

Baudrillard is right. Consumerism has become our very culture, the thing that gives us identity, meaning and value. As consumerism molds our culture, the consumer mentality becomes the force that drives our behavior as we interact with the world around us. One of the traits of the consumerist mentality is an intense pragmatism. This is where the consumer is always looking to extract the most value for the least amount of effort- in other words, the most bang for the buck.Given that religion is nothing but a sub-culture in our days, it is the tendency for us to adapt a consumer behavior whenever dealing with the church. A lot of us look to the church today as another service provider in the marketplace of faith and experiences. In contrast, in order to attract the most attendance, churches have adjusted themselves to the culture, seeking to provide the best services and experiences to their visitors.

However, it is in the marketplace that businesses compete to offer the best products and services, thus grasping the attention of the consumers. Such is also true with the religious marketplace. Consumerism in our culture has caused churches to compete with one another, and so we now find churches who are characterized by the programs they offer, whether it be for kids, teens or adults. Along with programs, churches have also adopted an entertainment approach. These churches tend to focus highly on music, lighting and different types of visual arts, seeking to provide high entertaining services and gatherings.

Consumer driven churches are as pragmatic as the individuals who attend them. By conforming rather than transforming the culture around them, these churches usually have high turn-over rates and need to keep reinventing themselves. With this current trend, they become void of commitment, strong biblical teaching, service to the community and an overall growth in the knowledge of God, which happen to be the same virtues that marked the Early Church as we read in Acts 4:32.

The Christian individual with a consumer mentality is the one who will seek a church that has a message, music and people that pleases him/her. That same individual will gauge his/her experience based on the least amount of effort spent for the maximum “feel-good” result, turning the church into “an experience provider”, much like sports events, music concerts and any other entertainment experience.

The solution for the current state of the church is to transform rather than conform. There needs to be a shift in our mentality from “what can I get out of this” to “what can I do for this.” The church is a place for the hurt, the needy and the destitute. It is also a place that promotes redemption and reconciliation, and is not just the provider of a “feel good” experience. Ultimately, we must remember that we are called to be active producers of service, not just passive consumers of the latest product of our faith.