Can Churches Sell the Sizzle Without Selling Out the Steak?

In the last few posts we’ve been discussing the impact of consumerism on the Christian church in America.  Many churches these days are trying to appeal to people by highlighting what God can do for them.  They do sermon series on things like:

  • How to have a fulfilling marriage.
  • How to raise good kids.
  • How to achieve financial stability.
  • How to have a good sex life.
  • How to overcome anxiety and find peace.

Here’s the thing that has me conflicted…

On the one hand these are all good, God-honoring things.  God cared enough about these things to talk about them extensively in the Bible.  God loves us and wants to give us these blessings.

On the other hand, God wants us to love him for who he is and not just for what he gives us.  He does not want us to think of him as an all-powerful fairy godmother available to grant our wishes for comfort and fulfillment.

Is it possible to tell people what God can do for them without making it all about them?

I honestly don’t know.

I believe every blessing God bestows upon us is a gift we’ve been given for a reason.  God doesn’t give two people a fulfilling marriage just for its own sake but rather so those 2 people can work together to accomplish things for God that they couldn’t accomplish on their own.  God doesn’t provide for us financially just so we can blow it on entertainment or hoard it to eliminate risk but rather so we can express love to others through giving.

The problem is that it’s so easy to focus on the how of God’s blessings instead of the why.

There have been a lot of sermons preached with titles like “5 steps to overcome anxiety” or “7 steps to financial freedom” that perpetuation the myth of God as fairy godmother.  And even when the pastor “gets it right” and focuses his message on the why, many of the people listening just ignore that and just focus on what they want – tips on how to get what they want.

I do think there’s an alternative, though.

What if instead of trying to sell people on what God can do for them, we showed people who God is?

We all know about the human desires for comfort, security, pleasure, and so forth.  But God has created each of us with several soul needs as well – a need for a relationship with Him, a need to be in authentic community with other people, and a need to live for something bigger than ourselves.

What if we invited people to our churches by appealing to their deep, soul desires?

  • Come to our church, let us introduce you to the amazing, loving God you’ve been longing for.
  • Come to our church, we will love you no matter how screwed up your life is.
  • Come to our church, let us show you how to live a meaningful life by introducing others to God, combating poverty, overcoming discrimination, being a friend to the lonely, righting wrongs, and helping those in need.

What do you think?

That’s where I’m going to end this series of posts on consumerism and the American Christian church.  Some churches try to bring people in by appealing to their selfish desires, others expect people to “come and die” for a God they don’t even know, but maybe there’s a third way.  Maybe it’s as simple as telling people who God is instead of what he can do for them, loving people no matter how screwed up they are and how inconvenient it is for us, and offering them the opportunity to live a meaningful life in service of God and others.  Though, I suppose that’s a lot easier said than done.

9 Responses to “Can Churches Sell the Sizzle Without Selling Out the Steak?”

  1. Faith, Hope, and Love. We actually stole/borrowed Mosaics tag lines. To live by faith, a voice of hope, Known by Love.

    We use the Upward towards God [faith], Inwards towards community [love], Outwards towards others [hope] model. I would like to say I thought it up, but its really just a holistic church living in the tension of being who God called us to be.

    not everyone will get it, many are still looking for the church that fixes everything, but its who we are and we are comfortable in it.

  2. btw- that stake looks awesome….

  3. Hey Rusty, thanks for your comment. Sounds like a good tag line. My church is in the process of “rebranding” itself using a faith, hope, and love theme as well.

    How does the tag line translate into the way your church engages and reaches out to people in the community?

  4. We we began 4 years ago our main focus was to reach our community with the Hope of Jesus. Growing up in a traditional church that was very inward focused I wanted to make sure we didn’t fall into that same trap. We engaged our community at every level, and we did it very well. Our church was even chosen as non-profit of the year in our city 2 years ago. But our focus was only on reaching out. It felt to me that we were so focused on moving outward, that we missed teaching our folks about worship, and most of them didn’t know each other very well. The last year we have tried to keep our church moving the in the tension of all three areas. I used to use the word balance, but I think tension is a better word. I also think living in the tension of moving inward, upward, and outward, is where we should live. We can’t get lost in one area to long or we get comfortable.

    If you don’t already read him, check out Lon at http://www.solarcrash.com
    He has some great stuff about this model. I chat with him occasionally via email.

  5. Rusty, sounds like your church is doing some great stuff. I like the way you explained living in the tension, though I imagine it’s challenging to create a culture where “tension” is viewed as a good thing. Thanks also for the link to Lon’s blog, I’ll check it out.

  6. Yes it took me awhile to get my own arms around the tension angle. But the more I wrestled with it, the more it seemed to fit my own theology. If we aren’t wrestling with God I’m not sure we are pressing into Him adequately. If we aren’t living in tension we are not stretching the rubber band so to speak to live the abundant life Jesus came to give us.

    Obviously the opposite of tension is slack, and I don’t want to live the life of a slacker:)

  7. Wow, that’s good stuff. I’m in the middle of reading Don Miller’s latest book and one if his main points is that to live a good story/life we need to embrace conflict. So, now in one week I find 2 things I should embrace that I’ve spent my entire life trying to avoid. 🙂

  8. I have Millers book in the que to read, just picked it up. I am just about done with Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. If you haven’t read it, its a must for anyone that thinks they might be a runner. Good stuff about running barefoot, and ultra marathons. Crazy people..

    It seems that we have been led astray in our faith by those that were trying to protect it, and us? Seems to me that Jesus might have dealt with just a bit of conflict and tension? “in this world you will have trouble” He promised us to expect the same if we are living His way.

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