Here's a re-post just to remind myself.
Not only will 11.7 million people visit a Starbucks and ask for something extraordinarily specific like a “non-fat soy sugar-free caramel macchiato with a shot of espresso,” but a whole lot of us will shop for churches with the same self-absorbed specificity.
“I’m looking for a youthful, semi-charismatic service with a hint of reformed theology and a Donald Miller vibe.”
“Can you help me find a progressive Presbyterian congregation for my mother—one that has a robed choir, snacks between services, and a penchant for homeless missions?
“We’re visiting a new church today. It’s slightly Willow Creek with a touch of old-school Calvary Chapel. It caters to single parents, disenfranchised boomers, and men who don’t want to hold hands. And you gotta love the stadium seating.”
In the “long tail” world of marketing, many churches are chasing the individualized, niche-driven business model, and it might be working.
I say it’s rather a shame.
My mother recently observed that long ago during church services, everyone shared in the universal sermon, a prix fixe menu where you got what you got. You didn’t love every sermon—sometimes you couldn’t relate, or you left feeling flat and uninspired—but you were part of a community which, like a family, sat down at the table and simply asked “what’s for dinner?” If you were really mature, you realized that maybe it was someone else’s turn today. And if your congregation was your spiritual family who could study, laugh, and grieve together, then the smaller requirements really didn’t matter that much anyway.
The reasons behind seeking out a new congregation are complex, and many of them quite legitimate, not the least of which is doctrinal drift or geographical relocation. However, many of us who claim that “God is calling me somewhere else” don’t have a clue what that means. Instead, we have catered to our acquired tastes by seeking out churches that, quite frankly, make us feel good, forgetting that God sometimes uses conflict and discomfort and sacrifice to shape us.
But dating a church is so much more interesting than marrying one. That way, when the love fades, we can move on without breaking any covenants.
As I’m writing this, I’ve thought of about twenty things that I wish I could change about my local church which is one of the healthiest, doctrinally sound, and loving communities I could wish to be a part of. Yet something in my nature demands that it bend toward my individual needs, and for that, I’m embarrassed. The phrase “it’s not about you” doesn’t play well for American audiences. It doesn’t play well for me either who, on my worst days, is a self-absorbed whiner just like everyone else.
I still have my wish list, don’t get me wrong. I still like my sermons black and my music with whipped cream. But when I realize that the global church, in the face of persecution and limitations, is thriving on the spare luxuries of Jesus Christ and biblical grace, my cater-to-me attitudes begin to dissolve. I stop whining about feeling under appreciated. I accept the emotionally damaged, untidy folks. I realize my local church is not merely a Sunday service for my own inspiration, but the inspiration for my life’s service. And that takes place far away from the really nice building my church spent millions for.
I’m asking God to change me, to get rid of the endless menu options in my head, to rid me of my right to customize. Who am I to demand a list of add-ons when I’ve already been given eternal life?
I’ll drink that cup of coffee black today and shut up about the soy.