service-oriented church

talking with some church ministry leaders and hearing their frustration of how many people are consumeristic, seeing churches as a vendor of spiritual services and products, go church-hopping / church-shopping and show a lack of commitment to a church for a longer length of time, and I had this epiphany, with a small E, that maybe what churches (and church leaders) need to rethink this.. after all, where did churchgoers get the idea to be consumeristic, aside from the market-driven society? Perhaps it also comes from the church itself? Could it be that churches that see their members as volunteers who can run their programs + attend their events + give their offerings, and reinforce the mindset of consuming THEM? Are churches consuming their members, putting them into service and defining their “ministry”, burning them out (a common problem among committed church goers), leave them be, drop them, and go on to recruit new and fresh volunteers, in turn consuming them? Shouldn’t the church be a place a person can go to both give and to get, rather than only a place to give & to serve?!

what if churches were to learn from the shrewder market-economy, from their good side, that the customer is always right, (ok, maybe adapt it as the customer is right most of the time; and even so, this can simply be the priesthood of believers)… and the church can go beyond “seeker-sensitive” or “seeker-friendly” (replace “seeker” with “customer”, for those of you not familiar with Christianese), and become a service-oriented church that actually serves its people and its community, without the overt agenda.. and by actually becoming a serving organization, perhaps that’ll develop genuinely serving people, who don’t burn out and get consumed.. rather than challenging (boy, I am so tired of that word! so overused! so overbearing!) people to rise to the occasion, to give more, to sacrifice more, ad nausuem rah rah rah, how about serving the people better and lavishly and generously, members and non-members alike..

elsewhere, I like Jen’s comment about emotional honesty that we adults can learn from children::
Sometimes I wish we as adults were able to express our emotions as intensely as children. Wail when our feelings are hurt, shout when we are angry, and whimper when we fall down. Maybe then we wouldn?t push that lump down in our throat when someone hurts our feelings, use weapons instead of words or even act brave when we really just want to fall apart.

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  1. Elijah says:

    Good thoughts DJ, I’ve been thinking that the church should focus on God’s Kingdom, and that typically means going outside of the church to “spread light”. Some churches that I’ve been to are more focused on spreading light inside of the church, but that just makes the church like a black hole, sucking in and not giving out. 🙂

  2. B. Imei Hsu says:

    Ok, let me be the temporary heretic and trouble maker.

    “Right on, DJ.” While church leaders can whine that there is no commitment, church goers shouldn’t commit to some place that does not provide the “amenities” that they need (for the moment, we won’t speak to the “wants vs. needs” argument). In terms of comsumerism, none of us have a problem with advising a friend to switch doctors if the doctor gave poor service. Would any of us blink an eye if that same doctor asked you to swab your own throat, draw and spin down your own blood, and read your own urine dip stick? You bet! Eyes would be blinking in incredulity faster than an epileptic in a grand mal seizure!

    Yet, some churches have been duped into the idea that church goers are new recruits who are ready and willing to serve after they have been given their welcome packet and complimentary coffee mug. Those churches who take the time to listen to what people are saying will realize that some of these people are so hungry for feeding, yet they have been asked to feed others in a “soup line” while starving themselves. It simply does not make sense.

    I’ve been to some very scary places in the past. These are places that have had too much connection within an insular world (also another overused word!), so my reputation preceeded me. If I told them I wasn’t interested in serving “just yet”, I would get that look from people — the one that says, “I know what you are doing; you’re checking us out and shopping. Now gimme that free pen back”. Ironically, all I had to do was get divorced, and now no one bothers me much about serving anymore. Gee, if I knew it were that easy… 😉 What if churches became more sympathetic, and not classify all church shopping people into freeloaders and non-committed people?

    People return to places where they have been loved, fed and cared for, and have had their lives changed, just like seekers and non-religious people return to certain places to volunteer their time. They go back to places that have a high degree of return to themselves (satisfaction, fun, impact, etc) as well as a high degree of change for others. That’s service orientation, isn’t it? Everybody wins.

  3. bill says:

    You’re inviting people out of the virtual woodwork with this topic.

    As a former leader in a consumer/consumption driven church I must agree with you. The leadership is culpable. They(we)enable the consumption. It’s actually a great deal for everyone except that tiny core of people who actually do all the work. That core of people are on the receiving end of misguided exploitation. We convinced them that is was their duty, the way to spiritual maturity and the least they could do.

    Wow. I could go on about this all day. Wouldn’t be prudent. A fundamental problem to me is seeing the church in the abstract, in the third person as opposed to we and us. It’s the way we look at government entities. I’m afraid it doesn’t go far enough to see it as service oriented.

  4. jen says:

    Wow, DJ! I think you are hitting it right on–especially when you say the church is consuming its members. That is so, so powerful and so true. It’s one of the things that keeps me with my arms out in front whenever I walk in the door. I just don’t want to participate if my volunteerism is ultimately about you as staff member feeling stoked that by getting me “involved” you’ve facilitated my spiritual growth. Volunteerism and spiritual growth are by no means synonymous. Volunteerism and poor boundaries might be. Keep preachin’ it, bro.

  5. Jared says:

    This is a fascinating discussion. My wife and I (relatively) recently left a church like the one you’ve described, and the whole process has gotten me thinking about the overwhelming trend toward “seeker-friendly” churches. a la the Rick Warren school of thought, and Saddleback, etc. Now, this may be an irrelevant tangent, but I think that, in order to address this issue of “service-oriented” churches, and the phenomenon of church-hopping, we, as a church, need to start with the basic ideas behind seeker-friendly churches. Obviously, the church is ultimately responsible to reach out to a fallen world, and to draw people in. However, am I alone in thinking that, at least in some cases, this obsession with becoming non-threatening/intimidating tends to lead to non-insignificant compromises on the part of the church? In many ways, church services now seem designed to replace much of the wonder and reverence that has traditionally been associated with worship, with familiarity and a focus on the casual. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to think that such developments, while helpful in some ways (bringing “seekers” to the church), might very well act as barriers to committment. After all, if a relationship with God (vis-a-vis the church) takes the form of a comfortable visit with a friend, rather than that of a decision with eternal implications, why not hop around for the place where you feel most comfortable?

    Dunno. Just a thought. Thanks for the great discussion thread!

  6. Mark says:

    Hi DJ,
    My family has just moved to the Chicago area and therefore we are “church shopping” again. My desperation in this search has caused me to look up your website again to see if I could find any insight. This comment especially hit me. Being in the Navy, I have lived in quite a few locations, usually staying there about 3 years. Because of this, I have always been compelled to find a church home quickly after transferring and then get involved in a ministry as soon as possible. Most of the time, I have been welcomed with open arms. Some churches asked what I had done before and plugged me in as soon as possible where I was most needed and supposedly gifted. I’m sure that a lot of the reason behind this was that I chose churches that had a lot of needs. As a result, at the end of the third year I was usually burned out and looking forward to moving and finding a new church. This has kept me pretty much unfed for the last ten or so years except for my personal devotions, Christian radio, good books and an occasional conference. However, my pattern needs to change now. I am living in the home that I could be in for quite a while after I retire. I am looking for a church that will offer me a chance at encouraging relationships and the opportunity to be discipled and to disciple. I hope that I can find a place where my family and I will be served, not just serving. Thanks for keeping up this website. It is a great resource and resting place.