Tag Archives: Mission-Shaped Church

Consumerist Church Leaves People Behind

Reflections on Mission-Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004), p. 35-36

Consumerism appears to affect the church and society equally.

The author talks about the Church being made from an ‘impossible combination’ of varied styles and churchmanship, within which there are diverse personalities, cultures and interests. The argument is given that diversity and accessibility to this wide range of people cannot be sustained through one single style as modelled by a single minister, or congregation, or parish. Diversity within the Church and outside of the Church means that there is an infinite number of combinations – as many as there are people – and that therefore different churches can meet the needs of different people. Fresh Expressions of Church that locate themselves in networks of people are therefore well positioned to provide appropriate discipleship for ‘their’ people.

We are worried, though. It seems as though the state of affairs described above, inside the Church and outside of it, is well suited to a consumerist attitude of the Christian towards Church. By this we mean that the Christian can choose the church that suits, whether it be high, low, conservative or progressive. Similarly, church planters seek to create churches that are easily accessible to particular networks of people – as opposed to a geographically defined group of people – in society. For example, church for shoppers, pub or gym users, or even remote control enthusiasts (Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), pp. 42-43). In both cases, church risks losing its catholicity and we fear that this has unintended consequences.

As an illustration, consider this familiar and unpleasant scenario from most of our school days. It’s a P.E. lesson and the class is lined up in the gym. Two captains are elected by the teacher. One pupil at a time is chosen by the captains to form their team. We all know who gets chosen first. Unfortunately, we also know who would be chosen last, or, even worse, not chosen at all and by default left to make up the numbers on the other team.

A consumerist approach to church, whereby we choose the church that suits, or create churches that fit into self-selected networks of people, almost inevitably means that someone gets left behind.

In choosing our church we divide from others we don’t like. We see other Christians and churches as less than desirable. Rather than facing up to our differences and loving those who are different from us, consumerist church allows us to separate ourselves.

In creating churches based in self-selecting networks of people, we risk giving up on the call of God to identify with the ‘least’ of His children. We risk building churches with people who feel comfortable with one another, but which have nothing to do with those outside the network.

From NYNO’s perspective, there seemed to be little mission, few church plants that thought there was any hope for the Church to be found amongst older people. No one was ‘picking’ them; they were left behind. Once we started to think hard about what form of church was best suited to them, we quickly realised that a church for older people would just be compounding the problem. What this part of society needed was not their own church, but rather a church, diverse in age and experience, to embrace them as essential members of God’s society.

Julie and Matthew

Reflections on Mission-Shaped Church (1)

The following is the first of a series of posts, consisting of our thoughts and reflections as we read Mission-Shaped Church (Mission-Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004)). This isn’t an attempt to offer a thorough-going review, but rather a chance for us to order our own thoughts for NYNO.

A question about our changing society and culture (pp. 6-7)

The report suggests that our society has changed, so that whereas we formerly found our community within a geographically defined area, now we look for our community to a greater extent within ‘networks’ – relationships found with others who share aspects of our lifestyle (leisure, work, friendships). Is it possible that these networks have always to some extent existed? Is what we are experiencing not a transference of our community allegiance from the local to the lifestyle, but instead a reduction of it?

Further, are these networks the basis of lifelong commitments, or rather temporary arrangements? What happens if our we attempt to build churches in a community that is inherently unstable?

The report advocates that the church prioritise the poor (p. 7). The report also notes that the poor are more likely to retain relationships that are locally geographically bounded. This is because of the influence of tertiary education and the cost of transport (pp. 2-3). If so, is it the case the fresh-expressions based on ‘networks’ are predominantly middle-class. Further, is this a reason to question whether ‘networks’ are a good place to look to build church? The report advocates ‘engagement’ with networks as ‘a change in the structure of community’ (p. 7). Could this be just as ‘corrosive’ to the church as the lack of commitment in society that it also diagnoses?

In the questions for discussion, the report speaks about people being “‘consumers’ of faith and religion” and urges that the church challenge such attitudes. Is it not possible that churches built upon or within ‘network’ communities based on shared aspects of our lifestyles will be inherently consumerist?

Concluding Thought

Basing a church on any pre-existing community risks building on shifting sands. ‘Networks’ may be ephemeral, but local familial relationships do not necessarily provide a solid basis for a church community. Christ calls us to leave father and mother, and so the church will have to call people to – and falteringly be a model of – Christ’s commitment to us. This looks more incongruous in a community based essentially on the similar consumerist choices of its members, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as that commitment to Christ and each other transcends our ‘natural’ preferences.

Julie & Matthew