Is the Church Making Disciples of Jesus or Consumers of Ministry Services?

by B. Keith Haney , Christian Post Contributor |

I have to admit I have been one who has complained unconnected people only want to be entertained or view the church as a product and themselves as consumers. Often pondering the "what do members want from church discipleship or services question?"

Upon further review and distance, whose fault is that? Are churches sending the wrong message to Christ's followers and to those we are attracting? Do church leaders have a pathway to make disciples or a strategy to attract customers to improve the ministries bottom line? The answer is not an either/ or, but a both/and when times get tough and dollars tight you will drift toward survival. Survival mode leads to an overemphasis on transactional ministry model.

Transactional Ministry

When I graduated from the Seminary, our commencement speaker made a horrible analogy. He said, "When you get into the parish view your people as cows, not pigs. Cows you can milk for years. Pigs are only useful when they are killed for food." I was stunned and horrified by that example. This is my flock he is talking about. I am called to care for them provided them with ministry services not milk them and cast them aside. We are called to shepherd. A word of caution of we turn the church into an organization which only provides ministry services, i.e., Sunday school, Bible classes, various affinity groups we risk shifting our congregations into a transactional consumer driven destination.

"The Transactional Mindset is actually an old sales philosophy that has 4 main tenants:

  1. Value the transaction over relationship.
  2. Meet only their minimum expectations or whatever the customer will let you get away with
  3. Advertise and "market" to people constantly
  4. Use persuasion as a tool to get people to buy"[1]

Paul Hiebert makes this observation in his book, "Transforming Worldviews"about the church.

"Modern Christians tend to organize their churches the same way they organize corporate action in other areas of their lives. Consequently, many churches are religious clubs. They focus on a single interest (religious life), have voluntary membership, follow democratic procedures in organization, and have their own symbols, property, and patterns of behavior. There are attempts at building deeper fellowship through small groups and church dinners, but few members are willing to pay the price for real community: involvement in members' daily lives and willingness to bear one another's burdens through sharing and financial assistance. When a church organizes itself using the social principles of a club, it soon becomes a club, no matter what it preaches about community."

When our churches reduce ministry to service-rendered (transactional), budgets become inundated with programs, and we pray these programs are what our members (customers are seeking.) Are these programs changing lives? Do they help make disciples? To be fair some do, but that is not usually what the ministries are created to accomplish. Our focus is on attracting people to our church to get them to buy into joining and being a repeat customer. This must be balanced with creating a culture and space for relationships, or our ministry can become mainly services provided driven.

Transformation Mindset

I am aware the term "transformation" makes people nervous. Allow me to ease your minds, The Biblical concept of transformation flows from a personal relationship with God. It is a Romans 12 concept, "2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Breathe easy, I am not inviting you to go off the deep end spiritually, into some touchy-feeling time of internal soul-searching. A transformation ministry mindset is God working regeneration of our being, our thinking, and changing our families and communities. It God doing a work in the heart and soul of our church community and our church's community. It is reflected in how we witness and share the truth in the communities that called the church to serve with love and compassion.

I truly believe people want their lives to make a difference. People desire to live lives that are transformed by the power of the Gospel. These converted people ask different questions about their faith journey. It is not what can the church offer me (transactional) but what am I called to do for God (transformational). Imagine your church making this shift in the thinking of its members?

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