Here are the Two Things in Today's Post
1. Definitions (so we know what we are talking about)
2. Examples showing how we are "religious consumers and customers"
First the DEFINITIONS.
PRODUCT: Something produced or provided to others, either in the form of a:
GOOD: which is a tangible item of worth; or a
SERVICE: which is work which is provided to others (whether for free or for charge)
CUSTOMER: One that purchases or receives goods and services.
CONSUMERS: One that receives and uses goods and services provided.
Please note that all these words are neutral terms. They are not good or bad.
As I use them, I use their real meaning, but I will also use them a bit symbolically or metaphorically. If I go to a Christian bookstore and buy a Bible, I have purchased a product in the form of a good. If I go to a church coffee bar and enjoy the coffee, I am a consumer of that coffee (whether I drop any money in the donation basket or not). If I go to a Christian psychologist for counseling and I pay for their time, I am a customer paying for a service. All this is real and literal use of the words - products, good and services.
If I am sitting in one particular church (and not another) than I have made a consumer choice as to which church I want to attend. As I sit in the worship service, I will receive the services of all those who are working to provide worship, a sermon, testimonies, programming for my children and so on. I may be receiving and using their services (the definition of a consumer) for free, but I am still a consumer. I also think these are real services, but let's also realize we are talking a bit symbolically on some of this.
Second, some examples of you and I being consumers of spiritual services.
You the reader of this blog are a consumer and a customer. The very fact that you choose to read it means you have chosen this particular "product" and decided it was worth your time to do so.
When it comes to things spiritual, religious, of the church and faith - in those things too - you are always a consumer and a customer. Let me prove this to you.
John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, John MacArthur, Joyce Meyers, Joel Olsteen, Benny Hinn, Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Andy Stanley, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels - or add any other name you want.
Of all the names mentioned - whose theology (understanding of the Bible and the total Christian life) do you most like? Or what combination of theologies do you prefer? I am sure you have theological biases and preferences, like and dislikes and you make choices accordingly. Therefore, you are both customer and consumer of some and not others. You are favorable toward some and critical of others.
Evangelical, charismatic, contemplative, holiness, sacramental, or social justice.
Of the spiritual traditions and heritages just mentioned, which one(s) do you prefer? How do you practice your spiritual formation? What are the core ways of spiritual growth? And what don't you like and use? When it comes to spirituality - you are both customer and consumer (practitioner and devotee) of some and not of others.
Expository, doctrinal, thematic, narrative, practical, marketplace, seeker, pastoral, prophetic, biographical, evangelistic, revivalistic.
What style of preaching do you prefer? And what don't you like? I bet you have preferences and in most cases, I also bet you make choices about your church depending on the type of preaching. In other words - you are customer and consumer, preferring one way of preaching over the others, and possibly being critical of the other ways.
Should I ask you about worship? Traditional or contemporary? Hymns or choruses? Classical, pop, rock or alt rock worship? Choirs or worship teams? Organs or guitars? Or some blended version?
What do you prefer? You've heard of "worship wars?" These were and still are the incredible conflicts in church as consumers and customers grew irritated about the flavor and style of worship. Apparently they mattered a great deal to these consumer/disciples and they had strong preferences as to "how we were going to worship around here." And large shifts of attendance took place accordingly, as disgruntled customers went elsewhere, looking for a way of (a service) they preferred.
I think it is pretty obvious. You have desires, wants, needs and preferences on just about everything spiritual and having to do with church. Some of these you hold to very strongly, others are less intense. But if you wind up being unhappy on too many of these matters, there are three main choices you have (once again - back to you the customer).
ONE: You can speak to those in charge and tell them you are dissatisfied with their service and product and that you expect them to accommodate your needs and make the necessary changes. You may be gracious about this or hostile. You may vote right away with your checkbook and your presence. But, you the customer seek to change those in charge.
TWO: If that doesn't work, and it often doesn't, you are not going to remain as a consumer of that particular service or product. You are going to go elsewhere. And today, the options are more numerous than ever before. You take your business elsewhere. (Later I'll do a session on your church's "brand.")
THREE: You decide that the organization, the church is more important that your customer preferences and you adjust your expectations and stay with the brand, flavor, denomination. You may do this with great integrity or you may be half-hearted. But you adjust.
From day one of your existence growing up in late modernity (post 1960's) you have been raised in a Western culture that has become increasingly consumerist in nature. You breathe that air so naturally you don't even know it. You take your inalienable rights for customer satisfaction for granted.
And you are no different when it comes to the church and religion and faith.
That point isn't even worth debating.
It just is!
Now, should it be that way is another story?
And what can be done about it, if it should not be that way is still another.
The Next Post (in a few days) on this topic will be Our Gut Objection to This Language of Customers and Consumers.
Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International