Sunday, January 15, 2023

Fast Food Style Church. . .

Though even orthodox and confessional folk would deny it, we are the victims of the success of the entrepreneur.  The franchise mentality and the lessons of business marketing and management are hard to ignore in churches facing decline.  So we try to maintain our identity while also borrowing from what the business world has shown us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  The first part may be unachievable without succumbing to the second.  At least that is the lesson of history.

Location was also big in business and it did not take the church long to figure out the same lesson.  Be where the people are and it is more likely they will notice you and walk through your doors.  So we built in the center of the city both for the theological statement that made and for the practical application of the real estate motto.  And it worked for as long as the city center was the center of most folks lives.  When the suburbs popped up, we followed them there and dotted the subdivisions with satellite operations of the mother church that became their own fully independent franchise locations of our brands.  Then, when the online business began to prosper and pandemic forced even the unwilling to join the fray, we took the church to where the people were -- into the living rooms and kitchen tables with digital content to substitute for in person assembly.  All along we counted statistics.  Membership, attendance, income, locations and their membership, attendance, income, and now likes, followers, and friends.  Somewhere along the way we knew it was not quite the same but we went with the flow.

Having it your way mattered to burgers so it mattered to the church.  Worship was defined less by content than by style, less by confessional identity than what worked, and less by what people did than what other people did for them.  The hymn became solo literature and music soon mirrored the beat, rhythm, and style of the playlist.  We had menus like the fast food giants and made the taste palatable to the masses, dropping things that were unpopular or bringing them back for a seasonal reprise like McRib.  It was hashed and mashed and formed together into something it wasn't but it sold.  Just as who knows what goes into chicken nuggets, who knows what goes into contemporary Christian music or the preaching of the mega preachers or the operations of the churches that have become brand names like Arby's?  We gave them what they wanted -- spiritual food that was fast, cheap, inoffensive, not unpleasant to the palate, without bother, meeting them in their preferred venue, for a no commitment and no obligation moment with God (or a reasonable facsimile of Him).  We try to reward them for frequent returns and even set up apps for them to check in but it is all good even when they have been visiting competitors.  We always have the light on.

Did we give them what they wanted or teach them to want what we gave them?  That question is hardly on the forefront of anyone's minds anymore.  We simply search for the next best thing, the latest trend, what it will be that will keep us relevant and busy.  We are not the enemies of God, not quite anyway, but we are surely the lukewarm who will be spewed out of the mouth of the Lord on the day of accountability.  We will surely insist that we did not bury the talent but made the Lord plenty in name recognition, book sales, financial houses of cards, and the momentary affection of the masses.  But I am more worried that modern Christianity will find the door locked and their voices unrecognized to the Lord.  We who do not want to be lumped into the same boat had better make sure we are not being slowly sucked into the same cycle of death.  He who has ears, let him hear.  The words of warning are not being heard and that is our problem today.  Even among the orthodox and confessional folk the enticements of marketing the Gospel and confusing busyness with faithfulness are hard to resist.

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