I’d rather be shopping

The Wall Street Journal published an article on October 10th about secret shoppers– for churches– entitled “The Mystery Worshipper.”  Metzger is quoted in the article, and it’s a sobering account of how churches are rated for quality and comfort through the lens of a church shopper.  Check it out here.  What is your reaction to this article? Some questions to consider:  

  • What message do you think the secret shopper model communicates about the ultimate goal and purpose of the church?  
  • Is this message biblical? 
  • Do you think church-goers should be approached as religious consumers in order to grow congregations? 
  • Can the two concerns of consumer comfort and preaching the gospel co-exist, or will one ultimately drive out the other? 
  • Do you think approaching the church as a provider of religious commodities proves to confuse the message of Christ rather than clarify it? 

Please share your thoughts.   Below are some links to other blogs that have also covered this article:

7 Responses to “I’d rather be shopping”

  1. Rachel O'Brien Says:

    “My competition is Cracker Barrel restaurant down the street” is an amazingly profound statement actually. Firstly this pastor see’s the “competition” is with himself. I am guilty of this, I press my church, to compete with other churches who all as a group compete with Cracker Barrel. Instead of viewing it as His Body, we view the church as our family and a poorly behaved one at that, whose every move is rather unattracitve to those around it. Having been to Cracker Barrel with New Wine I know how it could be rather competative. The food might kill you, the people are sticky sweet and every one seems to have all the hospitality in the world. The quicker, cheaper, shallow food will always be trying to convice us that the real fresh bread isn’t as good. But is that what we need, do we need (or rather are we supposed to be) a picture of quick food, smooth service and toothy grins? Maybe the reason that Cracker Barrel is successful is because it might only cost you twenty bucks instead of your entire life? Let us not confuse the cost, Cracker Barrel is cheaper, the spirituality that we shop our way through is cheaper. But when we look into one anothers’ lives, their joy, friendship, pain and laughter is exceedingly expensive. Proximity with others the way the gospel sets it forth, the way the Body is intended to behave, is expensive. Time equals money and proximity equals expense, the closer the more costly. You’ll know the difference. The shallow quick plate of greens can’t and ultumately won’t match the heavy filling truth of fellowship the Body is designed to create.

  2. Ronaldo A. Sison Says:

    So, while Rome is burning, Nero is fiddling in his palace.
    I am both appalled and sobered by this report of ‘secret shoppers’ for churches and megachurches in the States, perhaps another indication that just like ancient Rome, Pax Americana is continually sliding into an irreversible (?) path of decadence and bread-and-circuses gladiatorial show.
    It is appalling that while indigenous missionaries and pastors all over in the world in both persecuted and comfortable Christendom are sweating tears, blood and sweat to win souls for Christ, some American churches spend thousands of money to be told that people are not coming into their congregations because there is a stain in the ceiling, there is a broken light bulb in the bathroom, there is grass in the concrete parking lot, and the toothy-grinned greeter failed to ask their name or invite them to come back next Sunday. It is very shocking that while pastors, preachers and even lay leaders are imprisoned, getting killed, abducted, tortured hacked by machetes and generally made to suffer because “the world was not worthy of them”, some American pastors are making it their life missions to make their congregations a little bit more seeker-friendly, a little less Bible-thumping fundamentalist. And i thought that the Capstone of the Church, the Stone the builder rejected preached the Gospel wearing only one coat and a sandal with “no stone to lay His head on”, dying on a Cross and being laid down on a borrowed tomb through the pity of a friend.
    Wake up, American Christian churches! It is still the Message! It is still the Message! We can do all we can to make our churches seeker-friendly but the Message is still a message that is ironically, extreme, uncomfortable and gory (as in a bleeding, almost naked man with thorns on His head nailed on a Roman cross). But a Message that is redemptive in its discomfort and extremism.
    For if we continue to stop to smell the roses, the stones will start shouting. And “out of these stones, God can create children for Abraham.”
    The Message is Peace, Hope and Love- hanging on a Roman Cross and risen on the Third Day. The Message is Christ. Whether it be at night. Or in a Samaritan well. Or on a tree. Or in a 100,000 searing mega church in Texas or California.
    And probably because ‘East is east and west is west, and ne’er the twain shall meet” (Kipling), these American churches are so far removed from the pressing needs and the imperatives of faith in the Third World. Countries in Asia, South America and Africa are growing very rapidly not because their church buildings and their congregations are made Madison Avenue-type seeker-friendly but because people see, feel, experience and witness the consuming love of Jesus and because leaders and lay people alike are generally consumed by the love of the Triune God. God is very much alive there and there, faith is still an empty hand and there is nothing that is added to grace.
    Dr. Metzger’s prophetic voice is a resonant voice in the concrete jungles of America calling us to the loving gaze of Jesus when he told Martha, “You are so concerned with so many things… but Mary has chosen the better one”, to sit at His feet and gaze at His loveliness. I pray and hope that his admonition would not be a lonely voice in the wilderness but that we will shout the Word to wake these churches, Christ’s church, my church, “from their centuried sleep, shake off the lethargy that has bound its limbs and start moving where destiny awaits”!
    Woe unto us, for we are indeed, a people of unclean lips and we dwell amongst people with unclean lips… and we have seen the glory of the Lord!

  3. Bryan Dormaier Says:

    I for one am not surprised, or sobered by this article, but I guess I have been involved with the folks who process this stuff for a while.

    There are two ways that I think people justify this sort of thing. One is that if people can get more into the church, there’s a greater chance of multiplying the ministry that church can do because there’s people to support the ministry, and hopefully some of those people become deeper Christ followers. This seeker mentality has been shown to not develop deeply devoted Christians, we end up with a river that is a mile wide and an inch deep.

    The second justification is a slightly better version of the first one. It states that the church is a subversive institute, so it offers people what it wants, but subtly undercuts these values to call people to something greater. I do find some value in this argument, because it fits with the discussion on believers and love of self and love of God by Bernard. Namely that we go from love of self for sake of self to love of God for sake of self to love of God for sake of God to love of self for sake of God(if this is even possible). However, I think it is at fault because once again the mindset is that we need to get people inside a gathering to have them connect with Jesus.

    Not only is it important that we emphasize to the church that we are not providers of religious goods and services, but that that is the exact opposite of the identity of the church, as a sent people: that just as the Father sends the Son and the Spirit as His two hands in creation, that Father, Son and Spirit send the church to people to bear witness to the good news.

    For me this means not just decrying consumerism, but regaining a view of church as sent ones rather than as just a gathering of like minded people.

  4. Mike James Says:

    There are two arguments that we can discuss here. The first is that if you look at the market that these people are aiming at, it should not surprise you. They are looking at the nouveau riche of America, the ones that would care about this kind of thing.

    I should know, because I came out of such a church in California. They had just undertaken a $10 million dollar building project which included buying up several houses and townhomes. Why? you may ask. It was so that they could build more parking spaces! (There were other reasons, but this was primary). They figured that more parking spaces in the parking lot meant more cars in the parking lot, which meant more rear ends in the seats, which ment more members on the roll… you get the idea.

    I felt very uncomfortable with this and challenged it. I was told that a big parking lot would mean more people in the pews, etc. And if I didn’t like it, I could leave and find a storefront to go to and sit in folding metal chairs, etc. I took it to prayer, and asked God to give the pastors and staff the courage (each of them a pet project included in the original plan0 to back down from their original plans and to seek God for His REAL Will for the church. I knew that God would have to move on a lot of hearts to do it, who had no interest in turning their church (which already had an attendance of 600-700 on a weekend) back from being a cozy comfy coffee klatsch, where all of the ladies chatted gaily and gossiped merrily as they drank from lipstick-stained coffee cups and then went in to the sanctuary to be led in worship by a 5-star worship team and complete the rest of a 5-star worship experience.

    The second thought is that to do what Dr. Metzger and Dr. Perkins are proposing is risky. I went back to California and back to this church in June of last year and talked to some of the members about the things outlined in Consuming Jesus. The members of the church began to look at me as though I was from Mars. They began to feel very uncomfortable. They too wanted a desegregated church, but on their terms and in their way. They did not want to go to the poor black or Hispanic neighborhoods to meet the people where the lived, rather, they wqanted them to come to them, so that they would not have to leave their cozy, comfy little coffee chatch…

    The Nouveau Riche church in America must wake up. There is a severe trial of faith coming upon this nation, and if we do not wake up, stand together now and repent of our selfish, people-pleasing ways (which more than one church in Portland likes to support selfish, people-pleasing ways), we will be in a lot of trouble.

    There is another church in California that has an opportunity to put the principles in Consuming Jesus to work. The question is, are they willing to say goodbye to a lot of their nouveau riche members that travel up to twenty miles in each direction to attend this church, which is in the middle of a mixed-race lower middle-class neighborhood in the name of risking having to offend them by having them sit next to unattractive blacks, Hispanics and what we at home would call “rednecks” and “trailer trash” to worship side-by-side with them, ans risk losing their financial backing?

    They have Consuming Jesus, and it will be interesting to see what happens. Only time will tell.

  5. christinawchan Says:

    I would like this to be more loving than it sounds, but ugh! Is this for real? It is bad enough many of us do this “mystery shopping (worshipping seems a bit of stretch)” in the privacy of our own pews, but to make it a profession- that is a red flag waving Dysfunction. I wonder what grade would be given to the Lord’s manger….

    Ladies, can you imagine if your worth as a bride was determined by how well you exfoliate or which earrings you wear (or don’t)? It’s like a bridegroom reciting to his bride: I love you because your teeth are shiny (there’s Dysfunction the red flag again with an awkward turtle). And so there is a fixation of dressing up the Bride, while ignoring who and whose She truly is.

    But. What if grace and truth were cultivated in the church, radiating through words, deeds, and lives? Isn’t the beauty of love, joy, peace…undeniably attractive to the world; should that- transformed lives, the Gospel- not be the “marketing strategy”? Isn’t that, after all, what marketeers are trying to fabricate/sell anyway?

    May we stop cheapening the Bride. May we not cheapen our union. May it be preached from the pulpits and etched in our souls that being saved is a gift, though walking daily with that gift is a costly- and incomparable- investment.

  6. Jenni Burke Says:

    It is sad to see how our consumer mentality has driven church leaders to compete for church “shoppers” like this. And it’s easy to rail about how ridiculous this practice is (for obvious reasons). But don’t we each also need to look at our own life and ask ourselves, How have I personally contributed to or bought in to this mentality? Am I a church shopper? Or am I plugged in and committed to a local body of believers–regardless of how good the coffee, worship band, special effects, etc–for better or for worse? I just think it’s easy to rail against “the American church” without realizing that we are–I am–likely part of the problem.

    The article highlights a movement away from “brand loyalty” and that’s something I’ve been observing most of my life. How many churches have you “gone to” (a strange and very consumeristic phrase to describe the body of believers you are dependent on and ministering to and interconnected with at a very deep level) in your Christian lifetime? My parents are awesome people who legitimately love the Lord and serve, but when I was a kid, we attended 6 different churches over the course of 20 years…all within the same town! And I don’t think that’s very unusual. My husband Seth and I now are plugged in to the community church in our home town and plan to stay here. But it will be interesting as time goes by… Will we someday begin to feel that “the church just isnt meeting ‘our needs'” and then mysteriously feel “led by God” to find a better church? We’ve all heard that line and maybe said it, too. If this brand no longer meets my needs, I’ll go find one that will. How will we respond when we start to feel that pull?

    On another note…church building projects. That is something that can get me fired up quick. Working in Christian publishing, it’s been interesting to hear various church leaders proudly mention their $5-$10-$20 million building campaigns. I have actually felt ill in these conversations at times. Now I understand that in certain areas, real estate is just super expensive to build, so I understand that those numbers are somewhat relative. But when you think about the fact that 40% percent of God’s children in the world live on less than $2 a day, and in America we’re spending untold millions of dollars so we can have state of the art facilities in which to worship the uncontainable God…you’ve got to wonder if that makes His heart sick. Seth and I were visiting our sister church in Kapchorwa, Uganda in December and the heartfelt worship that took place in that chapel made the sunlight streaming through the cracks between wood slats a thing of beauty, not shame.

    So what if more churches chose to direct their resources to those who need them, instead of lavishing it all on ourselves? One of our authors, Francis Chan, is the pastor of Cornerstone in Simi Valley, CA. In spite of continually sending their congregants as missionaries across the valley or across the States or across the world to plant new churches, they’ve outgrown their building. The normal thing to do is build bigger and they would have to spend $20 million for a facility to accomodate their growing church. But that concept made Francis sick and so instead they are working on plans to build an outdoor amphitheatre and create a multi-use park that can be enjoyed by their community and serve as their meeting place. That will save millions of dollars, which will instead be used to actually further God’s kingdom. His congregants may have to sit outside in crummy weather occasionally on a Sunday morning. That may hinder attendance numbers. But I don’t think that’s what Francis cares about.

    And I don’t think Jesus made Himself “seeker friendly” in the current sense. He certainly was inclusive in saying all are welcome to come to Him, but He warned them, the Son of Man doesn’t even have a place to lay His head. Following Him is not meant to be comfortable.

  7. Kelsi Johns Says:

    Christina, you bring up a good point. What a shallow, superficial way of interacting with the church! If she were only a little thinner or blonder, then I’m sure the attendance would go through the roof. But who or what exactly would these “shoppers” be buying into? An “empty calorie” gospel of donuts and coffee, resulting in a malnurished body and empty soul? Seriously, the analogies are endless. It is not to say that the church should seek pain or discomfort in and of itself to look holy (like the Pharisees) but we are to seek after the grit, the grime of the gospel, because that’s where Christ is found–not in the squeaky clean pews and sugar-coated theology. That is a portrayal of being a slave to consumerism, not Jesus Christ. In my opinion, there is no justification for that. I would never want to “trick” someone into a “comfortable Christianity” only to see them crash and burn because there was no real nutritional value in all those alluring donuts. But Jenni has a point. I’m guilty of the consumerism mentality, and it takes an intentional decision to fight and live against this message, rather than fall into it and find myself “looking for a different church” that has better donuts–err I mean, theology…

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