Consumerism is defined as: "the promotion of the consumer's interests".
You and I being the "consumers".
So if I understand this correctly, the grievances expressed over consumerism relates to the idea that the church has become to closely aligned with a capitalistic and consumeristic society in the way it "markets" itself to society. The other wrench in the wheel is the idea that the church has somehow become nothing more than just another distribution center of goods and services that self seeking people use for their own gain and advantage.
While I don't deny that there are some truths to these thoughts and that some of the church marketing that is going on today seems a bit extreme and that there are people who aren't truly interested in giving their lives in service to God but would rather just keep taking and getting from God and the local church, I think some of the ills toward "consumerism" is too extreme as well.
I like what Mark Batterson says, "The Church has the greatest story ever told and the greatest story deserves the greatest marketing." I agree with that.
Here is what many churches advertise....
Some churches advertise relevant preaching/teaching, exciting contemporary worship/traditional worship, youth and children's ministries and the list goes on. What's wrong with this? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
One of the greatest agents of advertisement was John the Baptist. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
When John Baptized Jesus in the Jordon River another great advertisement took place, this is what happened.
Mat 17:5 "While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." Talk about advertisement overkill! That was some kind of "display" just to say, "Hey! This is my son, I'm happy with him and you should hear what he has to say!"
Wow, did God strike a deal with Hollywood to pull off this huge theatrical display? I'm afraid that many today would minimize this event as just another advertising campaign to cater to a consumeristic society. They would be wrong or would they be right?
Why did Jesus come to this big ball we call earth anyway? Well, if I believe the Scripture, it was to "seek and to save that which was lost". To identify with them the realities of who God is, to make known to the average person the person of God. If this is his prime objective, should ours be any different? Of course not. I think we can all agree on that. How does this objective get carried out and what does it look like is the real question at hand. I think the honest answer is, it looks different to many people depending upon where you are, geographically and demographically.
A Jesus Follower in China has to "advertise" or promote the gospel in a manner that is different than I would do here in South Texas. A little closer to home, Pastor Phil, Pastor of The Gathering posted on his blog "One Big Sorry Church". During the week of Halloween events, they made signs and posted them, advertising a "confessional booth", this wasn't an ordinary confessional booth like you might think. No, it was a booth where you would go in and not confess, but be confessed to. Apologies were made to those who came in for the many failings of the people who misrepresented God and His church. It was creative advertisement and a well thought out marketing plan that really got the point across. But, given the difference in his demographics and mine, and the meaning behind the "confessional booth", it fits much better there than it would here. People here would simply miss the point of it.
My point is, consumerism has to take place where ever we represent God and His church. Remembering that consumerism means: "the promotion of the consumer's interests".
If you have an interest in Big Macs, then McDonalds is going to advertise and market to that interest and promote the product that you are interested in. If you are interested in a new Ford Pick-up truck, then Ford Motor Company is going to advertise and market to that interest. If you have an interest in God, then the local church is going to advertise and market to that interest. There is nothing wrong with this and it's quite acceptable in fact.
Jesus was in such demand that he often sought secret places and quite times where he could withdraw from the crowds who were so interested in what He was advertising. Jesus was advertising a new way to look at God, a new way to approach God and a new way to touch God. He presented God as approachable, touchable and vulnerable. This was a new marketing plan that the religious didn't understand and quite frankly fought against. Jesus said things like, "Come and dine, Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." Jesus offered peace, hope, love, forgiveness, healing, deliverance, food, sight, hearing, friendship and a host of other things to those who came to him seeking something they so desperately needed.
It would appear that Jesus was the most used, taken advantage of, under appreciated person that ever lived. Very few came to Jesus and offered Him anything. By far and large, they came to Him expecting to receive from him. The thing that is astonishing to me is that Jesus never complained about it. He never says, "Why can't you people leave me alone? You're all like a bunch of leeches that suck the life out of me! You're interest in me is based solely on what I can do for you or give you!" Those are things I would likely have said though :)
Why didn't Jesus say things like this? Because that is the reason He came....He came to give, give to whomever would be willing to receive. Churches and those people in churches should be the same. Give and be willing to give every time someone is in need. And churches should and must market and advertise their church/ministry so that those interested can readily identify with them and benefit from what is being "advertised".
Just my humble thoughts on it.