For anyone who spends any time online, yesterday was a big day...sort of. It was the long awaited sale by Wal-mart and Amazon Prime that promised Christmas in July/Black Friday savings. Now for the completely uninitiated, "Amazon Prime" is not the cousin of Optimus Prime, it is one of the largest retailers in the USA (if not the world) who transacts everything via internet and delivery services. Being such, when a large sale event comparable to Black Friday is announced, consumer expectations went through the roof. Only there was one problem...the sale was nothing like a Black Friday event. Rather, many took to social media to express their disappointment with the lack of deals that they were able to find on Amazon Prime.
What does this have to do with church? Am I suggesting that we need to deliver the Lord's Supper to people's doorsteps and charge a fee? No, although...just kidding! The truth that we can learn from this experience is that we need to consider what we are promising people who seek to "consume" God by visiting and/or joining our churches. Do we paint a picture of church involvement becoming another transaction in a long list of regular needs that families are scurrying about to fulfill or do we offer something more?
I would like to make five suggestions to avoid becoming an "Amazon Prime Church:"
1. Relationships- If we treat people like mindless consumers seeking the best deal, they will act accordingly. Engaging people in real, face to face relationships becomes that snap of the fingers that great hypnotists are known for that bring people out of their mundane trances. Is it perfect, easy, or mess free? No, but Jesus spent face time with people in addition to preaching and teaching to them.
2. Don't Sell Jesus- Churches today have tried every gimmick in the book when it comes to "selling Jesus" and appealing to the consumer mindset, but at the end of the day many people are waking up in a church wondering who will love them when they are broken, who will help them when they are financially destitute, and where are the throngs of people when life is messy. It's more than a good show on Sunday mornings in a designer suit.
3. Accept no substitutes- We live in a world of generics, copycats, and deals that seem great at the time, but eventually leave us longing for the real thing. Buying something that seems like a good deal at the time and then only having to buy the same item again within a matter of days is a waste of time, energy, and money. What are we trying to fill the God-shaped void in our lives with? Anything besides Jesus is a square peg in a cross shaped hole and it simply doesn't satisfy.
4. Be Authentic- If you are going to have a sale...have a sale. Don't promote a non-event for the sake of publicity. Such experiences erode trust and cause doubt to arise as to the motives of those in leadership. Churches today are getting better and better about aspects such as websites, flyers, and attractive promotional materials, but this does not need to be a facade. Behind all of these great opportunities, people need to see that there is a group of people who serve an amazing God. Don't let your hype serve as smoke and mirrors that only confuse people. Offer to take them to lunch, buy them coffee, have them over to your house. Do whatever it takes to dig beyond the surface of religion.
5. Make a beeline for the goal- This line was borrowed from Spurgeon (who said "cross" instead of "goal"), but the essence reminds us to remain centered on who we are. If a merchant is known to provide excellent services and amazing deals when they promote such, then people come to expect consistency. The church must strive for nothing less than our best for God. Does this mean that we wear fancy clothes to impress others, no. It means that we take whatever steps necessary to prepare for worship , we strive to communicate effectively in multiple ways to make sure that people get the message, and we demonstrate by our efforts that our goal is ultimately to give God the most glory humanly possible.
May our guests who walk through our doors or even visit our website find that the people of our church are the same in all walks of life as we seek to walk by faith and do life together.
Let me know what you think about my suggestions and make a few of your own in the comments below. And have a great day!