While enjoying our drinks of choice, Greg and Margaret proceeded to explain why they were leaving our church to attend another congregation in a nearby town. The new church, they said, had multiple services on Saturday and Sunday so they could choose to worship at a time that fit their busy schedules. (Our church had only three services -- all on Sunday morning.) The youth group had multiple worship teams for their daughter to serve on. (Our student ministry had only one worship team.) And, because it was "way bigger" than our church, it had more to offer Greg and Margaret too. They could find a class or small group that perfectly fit their needs. Despite making a public commitment as members a few years earlier, Greg and Margaret's commitment to our church had ended. A more comfortable ship had sailed into port -- one that offered more choices.
A core characteristic of consumerism is freedom of choice. Customization, creating a product that conforms to my particular desires, has driven businesses to offer an ever-increasing number of choices to consumers. Nothing represents this trend better than the iPod. No longer must a listener commit to buy an entire album to enjoy one song. She now has instant access to millions of songs, and may choose to download them individually to create a personalized playlist. The consumer chooses precisely what she likes, and dismisses what she doesn't . . .
As we've seen repeatedly, the values of consumerism always leak into the church . . . Worshipers no longer have to tolerate music, prayers, or people they don't like . . .
Greg and Margaret were relatively comfortable at my church. They connected with the people -- mostly. And they like the music -- usually. But when a larger church presented more options to satisfy the diverse interests of their family, and the possibility of choosing a community group that would more perfectly fit their individual identities, they jumped ship. Whatever diversity they had experienced in our community was abandoned for the chance to have a more homogenous and customized spiritual experience. Choice trumped commitment. Comfort trumped community.
Churches capitulating to and operating by consumerist values are abundant, especially here in the Bible Belt.