Your Church Is Not a Restaurant

The attender pays with time or money and expects a religious service. This is consumerist, not missional.

What happens here is that church members migrate from one congregation to another, enjoying for a season the preaching and music here, sometimes coming back to their go-to congregation when they’re in the mood for something more familiar, or heading over to a third church for a mission trip. The result is sporadic attendance at any particular congregation.


In recent columns, we’ve explored how the church can be faithful in a world of “expressive individualism.” But what happens when the church doesn’t stand out?

In a consumer-oriented society, the default orientation for church attenders is to see their local congregation as a dispenser of religious goods and services. I say “default” not because it’s inevitable that everyone who goes to church perceives their congregation this way, but because without serious and sustained effort to have a more biblical approach people will naturally gravitate toward a view of the church that is influenced by a consumerist imagination.

In Gaining by LosingJ. D. Greear uses three metaphors to help us understand these different conceptions of the church.

The Church as Cruise Liner

Some Christians see church as a cruise liner, offering Christian luxuries for the whole family, such as sports, entertainment, childcare services, and business networking. They show up at church asking only, “Can this church improve my religious quality of life? Does it have good family ministry facilities? Does the pastor preach funny, time-conscious messages that meet my felt needs? Do I like the music?”

The Church as Battleship

Other Christians believe their church is more like a battleship. The church is made for mission, and its success should be seen in how loudly and dramatically it fights the mission. This is certainly better than the “cruise liner”; however, it implies that it is the church institution that does most of the fighting.

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