In the great sitcom The Office, Ryan the temp has a moment where he blurts out, “America is one big mall!” In essence, he’s right. Everywhere we look we have choices from where we want to live, to where we want to work, to where we want to attend school. Instead of just turning on the TV, now we must choose which of the many streaming services we want to commit to, if any, and within that, we are bombarded by thousands of options for our entertainment. I could write an entire piece highlighting the variety of options we have for the simplest and trivial things, but you get the point. Consumerism is the lifeblood of America. We are all customers, and we live by the creed “the customer is always right.”
Just like many other facets of life, the church isn’t immune to the mall that is America. The church has its own floor in the mall with wide-ranging options. So, people peruse the many options they have and begin their church shopping excursion. Some are short, others last an absurdly long time, all of them spent looking for the perfect church for them. The options are endless. To begin with, there are denominations to consider, theological traditions that form the foundation. Then there are different styles of worship, from smells and bells to a rock show. There are a variety of buildings from house church, historic church, Kmart church, and everywhere in between. Then, of course, some are “affirming” (accepting of sin) and those that hold true to God’s Word. Of course, there are more important things to consider, like the number of programs and if they have a personal barista versus self-serve Folgers out of a percolator. These are only a few of the different things people are faced to consider when they are wandering the mall church shopping. I can imagine it is overwhelming, frustrating, and even makes it difficult to ever settle on a church when there is always one next door that is doing something better than the other.
There are a few issues with church shopping. The first is that this practice turns the focus on the consumer. The question, “what can you offer me?” becomes the driving force of finding a church. This breeds superficiality within the body of Christ, turning the church into a local country club that is filled with the right kind of people who look, live, and act like me. The church becomes one more place that offers programs, goods, and services for the individual to consume. This is not how the church is meant to function. No, the church is not meant to be the perfect social club.
Instead, I have a suggestion for the weary church shopper, and someone searching for that perfect fit. Wherever you are, if you’re looking for a church, find the nearest faithful LC-MS congregation and join. Don’t make them wine and dine you. Don’t compare them to every other church in town. Become a part of that Christian community there. Those are the people who live in your community. Those are your neighbors, friends, and maybe even your enemies. But those are your brothers and sisters in Christ. That is the church God planted and set in that place for the people in that place, and those are your people. Whether you like them or not, you are stuck with them and they are stuck with you. This is the beauty of the Church. It transcends all ages, cultures, skin tones, economic classes, education levels, and physical appearances. These are your brothers and sisters. So join that church. For it isn’t about what you want, but about what God has to give you. What God gives is far greater than your wants and desires, because what God gives is what you need. So drink the crappy cup of coffee, eat the baked goods, sit in the old church building and sing the old songs out of worn-out hymnals. Join in your church that God set in that place for you and receive the gifts of grace with people from all walks of life, the people that are yours, the people that you belong to, and who belong to God.