Catering to Ministry Consumers
“What you win people with is what you win them to.”
This motto warns against seeker-sensitive church growth methods. “Try to get people in through what appeals to their wants (good music, lots of programs, relevant sermons), and then—once they’re in—give them what they need (deep discipleship, sound doctrine).”
The problem with this approach: if people come for catchy music or feel-good sermons, then that’s what they’ll expect to continue. And if you don’t supply it, they’ll likely be unhappy.
I imagine most pastors reading this article do not have an explicit philosophy of ministry that is seeker-sensitive. You’re not saying, “We are intentionally trying to appeal to the wants and desires of non-Christians or baby Christians so that they come to church to hear the gospel.”
However, it’s easy to cater to consumers in our ministries. Rather, we should shepherd consumers to develop spiritual tastebuds for the ordinary means of grace: the faithful preaching of the Word, the observing of the ordinances, meaningful membership, deep-discipleship, and the like.
KINDS OF CONSUMERS
Before you can shepherd a consumer, you need to know the kind of consumer you’re shepherding. There are various kinds. Let me name four.
1. The Event Consumer
The sum and substance of church life for this consumer is the Sunday worship gathering; and not just the gathering itself, but a good production that provides a moving experience. The “event consumer” tends to be passive in his church involvement outside of the Sunday service. He simply wants to show up on Sundays and be filled up for the week.
2. The Theology/Bible Consumer
Yes, such a person exists! This kind of consumer doesn’t care too much about relationships, discipleship, evangelism, or any other aspects of church life. They simply want more Bible!
Is that bad? Yes and no. Of course, we want people to want more Bible. But that’s all the “Bible consumer” wants. He’s not interested in helping others follow Christ. He just wants to fill his head with more Bible knowledge.
The “theology/Bible consumer” also tends to be overly critical about the church because he focuses all his attention on theological precision and consumption.
3. The Relationship Consumer
This is the kind of person who desires to experience community in the church. Again, that’s a good thing!
However, when that becomes the only thing we want from a church, it becomes a bad thing. The relational consumer tends to care too little about doctrine. They tend to be a relational taker, rather than a relational giver; meaning, there is little pouring into others through encouragement and service, yet there remains an expectation of being poured into by others.
4. The Ministry Consumer
The ministry consumer wants more trellises, more programs, more structures, more stuff to do. They love to serve the Lord. Amen! But the ministry consumer tends to be difficult to please. They often resist change in their most beloved ministries, yet find much area for improvement in others’ ministries.
At the bottom of all such ministry consumption can be self-focus. They can be sinfully discontent because they’re not having their desires met. They can be overly opinionated because they believe their opinion matters most. Those who are overly critical are so because they believe they have all the right answers.
There are other kinds of consumers in the church, but, in my experience, these tend to be the most common. And yet, of the four, the ministry consumer is perhaps the most common at least in the West. Because of that, we’ll focus our attention there.
THOU SHALT NOT CATER
It is very easy to fall into the trap of catering to ministry consumers. But pastors who do this risk burnout. They’re tossed to and fro by the whims of others’ wants, and pastors will never be able to satisfy them.
Moreover, as a pastor, if you try to cater to the wants of ministry consumers, you might fall into the trap of relying on methods and programs for spiritual transformation that the Bible simply does not prescribe.
CARING FOR CONSUMERS
If pastors shouldn’t cater to ministry consumers, what should they do? The answer is simple: they should do what God has called them to do: pastor them. Here are a few tips on pastoring the ministry consumer:
1. Connect them with someone to disciple them.
Perhaps you know of someone in your church who used to be a ministry consumer but is now convinced of pursuing the ordinary means of grace in the life of the church as the pathway to spiritual growth. Connect that person with the ministry consumer. Or simply ask if they would be open to meeting with a godly person on a regular basis to talk through these things and encourage them in Christ.
2. Celebrate the ordinary means of grace.
One vital way to help the ministry consumer move away from a consumeristic mindset is to celebrate the ordinary means of grace in the life of the church. Present before them a vision of just how glorious simple, ordinary church life is. Sunday worship brings together people from various kinds of ethnicities and cultures and ages and backgrounds and baggage into one unified gathering. Such different people then hear the power of the Word heralded, see a transformed life in baptism, partake of the family meal in the Lord’s Supper, sing together the glories of our God, and pray with one voice about this broken world.
Present also a vision of how beautiful a culture of discipleship is in the church. Talk to the church about the impact it has on a single mom when an empty nester, on her own initiative, reaches out to help bring the kids to church, babysit, or just to be someone to talk to and a shoulder to cry on. There’s great power in organic discipleship like this!
3. Be a steady presence.
Try not to get tossed to and fro by the varying desires of ministry consumers. They need a pastor who is steady in his conviction—not mean, uncaring, or deaf to their concerns, but nevertheless, steady and firm.
4. Encourage them to find a church that better fits their preferences.
This tip, of course, is the last resort. If someone simply remains unconvinced of a simple ministry schedule and unsatisfied with what is offered, it might be best to encourage them to find a church that better suits their preferences. They might better flourish in that context.
What you feed people with is what they’ll continue to hunger for. Pastors, strive to cultivate an appetite in the hearts of your people for the ordinary means of grace. Guard your heart against trying to please ministry consumers. Instead, rest in what God has prescribed in his Word, and pastor accordingly.