There’s a trend in modern American Christianity. Whether this trend is of our own doing, or is a product of our culture is a subject of debate. There’s a lot of social and historical reasons why we fall into these trends, and it would be great to explore them a little later on. What is this trend?
You could call it the commercialization of the church, and it’s all about running the church like it’s a corporation.
The Church is Not A Company
This is everywhere. Pastors are posting incessantly on their blogs about how to “grow your church” or “attract new followers” or “increase attendance”. Recently, there was a blog from one of these “church consultants” entitled 8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark. At the start of the article, the author states that there’s nothing wrong with small churches. He then proceeds to list 8 reasons why being a small church is a negative. The problem was that this list could have applied to a small business, not a church.
And therein lies the problem: too many people view the church as a corporation that has to turn a profit or meet quarterly goals or boost sales to appease shareholders. In the church-as-corporation world, if a church isn’t growing every week, then something must be wrong with it. Never mind the fact that the vast majority of American churches have less than 100 members in attendance. While we do have a responsibility to go out into our community and witness to others about the Gospel, we can’t force growth. It has to be blessed by God, and if we try and make our church more like a business in order to attract followers, we risk losing the Gospel in the process.
Pastors Are Caretakers, Not CEOs
In the list mentioned above, the number one reason the author says is wrong with small churches is that the pastor is the primary caregiver. It’s hard to read a Christian list that claims that the number one problem with church growth in America is actually the most important thing that pastors are supposed to do (1 Peter 5:2-3). As in, that’s literally the definition of pastor. If we didn’t have the mindset that the church is a business, we wouldn’t be listing Biblical commands as “problems”.
It’s can be a little sad when there’s a funeral or a wedding and the pastor officiating talks about the parties involved in an abstract kind of way because he doesn’t have a personal relationship with them. It’s valuable to have a pastor that can actually relate to the people involved because it’s been his job to shepherd them as part of his flock. We live in the age of the celebrity pastor, where it’s fashionable to strive to have the largest Twitter/Facebook/Blog following that you can have. It’s almost as if the success of ministry is measured by the number of Facebook likes. Is that the way Jesus wanted the church to be run?
The Purpose of the Church
The truth is that when the focus of a church becomes all about growth and achieving set goals and increasing membership, the ministry of the church gets lost. It’s ironic how we can be so focused on growing attendance that we offer nothing when the attendees arrive. Did Jesus want His church to be all about “acting like a big organization” and “increasing membership”? Sure, growth is a good thing, and we should be doing our job to try and grow. But ultimately, the Holy Spirit and the work of Jesus is what grows a church. When you start arbitrarily setting membership goals that you can only reach by God’s grace, the temptation is strong to start incorporating entertainment and gimmicks to gain membership.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
The foundation of growing a church is letting Jesus grow it, and making disciples of all nations and preaching the Gospel faithfully. The moment the mission of the Gospel is eclipsed by business-like goals, something has gone wrong. There is no point in asking sinners to fellowship with other sinners in the light of redemptive grace if our intent in leading them to worship is not so they can know Christ, but so that we can add a number to our count. We should pray that the Gospel comes first, and that any effort to grow the church is done in submission to Him. It’s His church, after all.
What do you think? Overreaction or spot on? Sound off in the comments about your thoughts on the commercialization of the church.