There is little question that we live in a consumer-driven society. Most businesses pay careful attention to the desires and preferences of their customers, and try to mold their product line or services to meet these preferences. Sometimes companies ignore their constituents and make changes that are unpopular. In 1985 the Coca Cola Company changed the formula of its flagship product, and the result was disastrous. The uproar from customers was so fierce that within a few months the original formula was returned to production.
The power of consumer preferences has not been lost on the religious world. Beginning about twenty-five years ago the leadership of some churches began to modify their approach in order to appeal to what church-growth gurus call, “the unchurched”. As a result, preachers began to dress more casually, worship music became more like a rock concert, more and varied social programs were initiated, and the emphasis of preaching turned more to the person of Jesus, and less to doctrinal matters. It was believed that these changes would make the church more appealing to those who had never been to church.
Consumers are quick to pick up on such things, and thus more and more people now come to churches with a shopping list of amenities they expect those churches to offer. Visitors now ask, “What programs does your church offer?” They inquire about youth programs, singles ministries, divorce or drug recovery programs, day care, and other such things. If the church offers these amenities, they might consider joining it. If not, they take their list to the next church. Unfortunately, the primary concern of many church leaders is only on how to fill the church building. Therefore, the pressure to follow this trend is considerable.
When we open the pages of scriptures, however, the idea of a consumer-driven church is nowhere to be found. Neither Jesus, nor His apostles, put their finger to the wind to see what was popular among the people. Instead, they urged people to focus on the unimpeachable word of God, and to mold their desires in compliance with it. Paul notably told the elders of the church in Ephesus that he was innocent of the blood of all men because he had not failed to proclaim the whole counsel of God to them (Acts 20:26-27). In other words, he had told them everything they needed to know to please God. If they chose not to obey God, they would bear responsibility for that decision.
When God sent Ezekiel to the people of Judah to warn them of His impending judgment because of their sins, He told the prophet to proclaim His word to them, “whether they listen or not” (Ezk. 2:4-5). This theme is constant throughout the scriptures, even in the New Testament. The apostles called people to become what God wanted them to be. They never modified their message to fit the preferences of the people. They spoke the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), but the declared the whole truth without compromise.
If popular opinion determined our eternal destiny, then it might make sense to be a consumer-driven church. However, the Lord said that His word will judge us at the last day (Jn. 12:48). He also warned the seven churches of Asia that He would remove their lampstand if they did not obey Him (Rev. 2-3). From the beginning of His ministry the Lord made it clear that we must do things God’s way in order to enter heaven (Mt. 7:21-23). If we want a home in heaven, we must keep seeking the things above, rather than the things on earth (Col. 2:1-2). Christ purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28). Therefore, the church must be Christ-driven, not consumer-driven, in all it does.