Consumerism and the Death of the American Church

Greed envy-m

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We spend a lot of money on silly things in the church today.

Check out the Prices for:

A decent concert smoke machine:  $1,799

A below average lighting system: $699

Good quality soundboard: $1,699

Quality Office Desk: $266

And yet,

There are 2.2 billion children in the world; 1 billion of them live in poverty.

In just one day, over 26,000 children under five die one every three seconds. In a year, that equals over 10 million children.

One of every 12 children dies before celebrating his/her fifth birthday.

Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, 75 million children cannot attend school; nearly 50% of them are in Africa.

For the 1.9 billion children from the developing world, there are:

  • 640 million without adequate shelter (1 in 3)
  • 400 million with no access to safe water (1 in 5)
  • 270 million with no access to health services (1 in 7)

GENERAL

In 2005, 1.4 billion people lived on less than US $1.25 per day.

More than 850 million people suffer from chronic hunger or malnutrition.

Over 1 billion people around the world lack clean water; 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

Over 3 billion people live on less than US $2 per day.

The poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for 5% of global income. The richest 20% accounts for three quarters of world income.

The three richest people in the world control more wealth than all 600 million people living in the world’s poorest countries.

Income per person in the poorest countries in Africa has fallen by a quarter in the last 20 years.

Women produce half of the world’s food, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, earn only 10 percent of the world’s income, and own less than 1 percent of the world’s property.

More than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.

Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.

(http://www.hopeinternational.org/site/PageServer?pagename=hms_poverty_statistics)

Now let’s compare these statistics.  We’re in one of the wealthiest countries in the world at this point.  We honestly believe in America that building up resources and impressive worship services will “win the world” for the Lord.  But look at the above statistics!  Does it bother you that almost HALF of the children of the world live in poverty?  Does it bother you that 1.4 billion people lived on less than $1.25 per day in 2005?  And yet we, the church in America, seem to be more involved with trying to keep our nominal attendees from complaining by building them a massive consumer experience!  And oddly enough, they just complain more.  It’s almost as if they treat church like Starbucks.  “Make it right for me, and I’ll come back.  But if you tell me something I don’t want to hear, or I don’t like the preacher’s personality, or I don’t like the style of worship, I’m leaving.”  I love what our dear brother Francis Chan wrote about this in his blog when visiting church leaders in China.  Check this out:

“Speaking to underground church leaders in China was equally enlightening.  Most surprising to me was their response when I told them about “church” in America.  I did not expect the response I got when I explained how common it is for people to switch churches if they find another with better child-care, better music, or a more gifted speaker.  They laughed really hard.  It was weird.  It was like they thought I was joking.  It opened my eyes to the uniqueness of our situation.  Remember that India and China combined represent almost 40% of the world’s population.  The U.S. represents about 4%.  Too often I have looked at other cultures as being strange.  I forget that we are the minority.” (http://www.francischan.org/#/updates)

We may be the minority, but still, Americans are never satisfied.  We live in living spaces more than four times the average size of others in the world.  We are saturated with constant options for food, clothing, and coffee at every turn.  We need to be constantly entertained.  We need the nicest TV’s with the best cable.  We need the nicest cars with the best perks and gas mileage.  We want the most expensive toys.  Yet depression runs rampant in our society.  Misery is common.  People are told their whole lives that they need to make as much money as possible to have success.  So they get jobs they hate, and end up living in a routine monotony.  Now our economy is even in a downturn, and we don’t know what to do.

Yet in the world, there are so many who are suffering from poverty and have no resources.  And somehow we think we can buy happiness.

The church somehow thinks they can buy members and converts in America.  If we feed into the consumerism of our age, we think, maybe people will follow Jesus.

But my generation is cynical towards this.  And though we may not all be aware that He’s the Son of God, we’re aware that Jesus was homeless.  So we look at the opulence of the current church and see a total disconnect.  We’re all asking the question, “Why don’t followers of Jesus seem to live like Him?”

I think we ought to radicalize the church.  Imagine if those of us following Jesus just decided to give possessions and resources away to the third world, and not just giving a little off the top, but being generous.  What if Christians decided to drive cheap, old used cars?  What if Christians decided to get the absolute cheapest, most minimal housing they needed?  What if Christians decided to give their surplus clothes away and only keep the ones they really need?  What if Christians really decided to invest in one community and bike or walk more?  What if Christians decided to set a standard of living, say $35,000 a year for a single family, and just budgeted to give the rest away to missions organizations and hurting people in the third world?  What would those outside the church think of us then?

But for now, we’re deceived into thinking we can bow with our neighbors at the idol of consumption and greed, and tell them “brother, we understand you and your way of life, come and bow at the altar of Jesus with us.”  And then we end up with an entire culture of “Christians” who look like the Rich Young Ruler.  They may have even “obeyed every commandment since their youth”, but they lack one thing, that they wouldn’t give away everything they had for their Savior.  Okay, maybe “hypothetically” they say they would.  But even if someone forced them they probably wouldn’t give up their wealth.

It’s no wonder that every day, 10 churches close their doors for good in America.  I’m not saying this is the only reason.  There are many more things that destroy churches, like legalism, condemnation, rampant misbehavior, sexual promiscuity amongst leaders, minimization of believing 100% of scripture and following it, and more.  But could it be that our idolatry of materialism in the church of the 21st Century will play a huge part in its downfall?

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2 thoughts on “Consumerism and the Death of the American Church

  1. Ben, Ben, Ben –

    Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂 … this is provocative. Consumerism and sacrifice are diametrically opposed. To serve Him is to follow Him is to obey Him is to love Him … “to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” Several great songs have been written about aquiring stuff which is the result of a consumer mentality … “Things” by Scott Wesley Brown, “Things We Leave Behind” by Michael Card and “Give It Away” by Bill Gaither.

    I will ponder your thoughts and press on in light of His call.

    • Thanks Dan- you’re always a wonderful encouragement, and I know you well enough to know that you care far more about making disciples than building a business. And that’s the Lord’s business brother! Nothing but Kingdom fruit can come from efforts like that.

      I’ll check out those tunes.

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