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3 Ways Church Planting Kills Consumerism

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Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

Consumerism is not a new phenomenon in the West. It’s so engrained in our lives that confronting it is like rejecting the air we breathe.

As a society, we don’t simply consume to live; we live to consume. There’s a collective void inside us that we attempt to fill with newer, better, more.

But here’s the thing: study after study reveals it’s not working. Most data, in fact, suggest the opposite. The more we consume, the less satisfied and fulfilled we feel.

Corporate Consumption

Sadly, it’s so easy for churches to fall into the trap of consumerism. We (the church) provide a good, on-demand product (God, music, message) for the customer (churchgoers).

Worldly metrics for success can make the church appear healthy when, in reality, it’s dying.

In this model, a senior pastor can unintentionally move from shepherd to CEO, managing people instead of lovingly leading them to Jesus. Elders become board members, overseeing corporate interests and making sure the necessary returns on investment are gained, rather than shepherding the flock of God among them (1 Pet. 5:2).

Further, staff become dispensable cogs, used only to implement vision and hit targets. Membership becomes a model for tracking how well we’ve sold the product. Even more glaring is that evangelism, service, and outreach become strategies to strengthen the brand and attract the “target” (often homogenous) audience.

When these things happen, the church shifts from a radically diverse family who follows Jesus together to a transactional corporation, largely filled with consumers. At this point, the church is scarcely different from corporations who have no concern for the glory of Christ or the transformation of sinners.

Worldly metrics for success can make the church appear healthy when, in reality, it’s dying.

Healthy Body

Jesus didn’t summon us to consume. He taught us to love God and neighbor, meet each other’s needs, enact justice and mercy, and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom.

This is made evident in the attitude of the early church. They didn’t ask, What am I getting out of this? or Am I being fed? but rather, What gifts and resources can I leverage for this family? and Am I counting my brothers and sisters as more significant than myself?

When you look at the early church, you see service, not consumption; you see a household, not a marketplace.

When you look at the early church, you see service, not consumption; you see a household, not a marketplace.

So how do we resist the pull toward becoming consumer churches? There are many ways, but one clear path is church planting. Church planting confronts consumerism in at least three ways.

1. Church planting helps reorient sending churches around the kingdom and mission of God.

Churches that give priority to planting new churches have to ask ask external, kingdom-focused questions: How can we hold loosely to people, money, and resources in order to facilitate and support new churches? How are we developing leaders who will eventually serve and bless a different church? What does partnership in the gospel look like for us?

Churches that give priority to planting new churches have to ask external, kingdom-focused questions.

Such questions shape a church’s mission, vision, and decisions. As a congregation works them out, they demonstrate—to visitors and members alike—that the church exists for the glory of God and the good of others. This undermines consumerism.

2. Church planting creates an environment where everyone can serve.

Church plants often start small, without defined ministries. This means a member is both free and forced to ask, How has God gifted me, and how do I leverage that gifting for this church?

I’ve seen this firsthand in our church. One member volunteers to lead worship regularly. When he first volunteered, he told me he’d always been passionate about music but never had a chance to exercise his gift in the church.

Our church meets in a broken, gentrifying city. Because we didn’t have a centralized justice and mercy ministry, members had to take the initiative to pursue it themselves. In doing this, they began to see that their serving was the church serving.

Our people grew in the gospel because they were forced to walk in it, not simply consume some spiritual service.

Our people grew in the gospel because they were forced to walk in it, not simply consume some spiritual service. They grew in the gospel precisely because we didn’t have established staff and ministries.

3. Church plants are difficult places to hide and avoid discomfort.

Our church is small. I still have this engrained notion that if more people aren’t coming, I’m doing something wrong. The Lord is working in me, though, and showing me ways that small churches can uniquely foster growth in his people.

It’s impossible to visit our congregation and go unnoticed. This is true even in church plants larger than ours.

Church-planting teams can often engage visitors in ways that larger, established churches can’t. In smaller churches, there’s simply less opportunity to come and leave unnoticed. You can’t just be a consumer. So you’re forced to engage, and that engagement leads to investment.

Church planting alone won’t solve the problem of consumerism in the church. Only a Spirit-led, gospel-shaped, radical reorienting of how we think about Christ’s bride will do that. Still, it’s a good start.

May God give us all grace to contribute more than we consume.

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