Sunday Morning Losing its Value? Moving the Church from Consumption to Creation

Ryan Egan —  August 31, 2011 — 16 Comments

Beautiful abstract painting

Someone that’s been intriguing me with some fascinating thoughts lately has been Vince Marotte, a pastor at Gateway Church in Texas and author of the book Context and Voice.

He’s observing that the Church (as a whole) has become a place of consumption for too long and that Sunday morning is losing its value.  People come to a building, sit in the seats, sing songs written by people outside of their own church, listen to a pastor, rinse and repeat week after week.  With the advancement in both content consumption tools and content creation tools in our culture it takes much less than driving to church to hear a good sermon. Vince writes:

“Users can watch video of the best bible teachers, preachers and expositors from all over the world when ever and where ever they like. If the experience is simply about consuming content then showing up to a certain place at a certain time is inefficient.”

Stating the Sunday is losing its value is a pretty radical concept, and I’m glad that he has a good balance of perspective by saying “We all know that the church experience is about so much more than simply consuming content but the truth is, there are a lot of people who don’t get much more out of their church experience than that.”

He goes on to say that “Gen X and Y/millennials are much more content in community in which they have a voice.”  While that might be true for many, is it true across the board?  Here’s what I observe from people in general, not necessarily in the context of the church:

  • People watch A LOT of TV (either in front of the actual television or on their laptops or devices)
  • People play A LOT of computer games (again, either in front of their console or on Facebook or on their devices)
  • People read A LOT of books (physical, Kindle, eBooks, whatever)
  • People seem to consume, consume, consume
The other thing that I’m observing is that when people do create, it’s not in the church.
  • My extended family is actively involved in theatre but don’t put nearly the effort into creating for the church that they do into their local theatre community
  • Many musicians I know attend church but invest much more time in playing and writing with their own musical community then investing time to write and produce music for their local church
  • Writers seem to write in many places but not for the church
  • Visual artists are painting and sculpting, but not for the church

While congregational content creation would definitely shift the church from consumption to ownership, the problem isn’t training the church to help its people have a voice, it’s getting its people to create anything for the church in the first place!

While it is good and necessary to encourage our people to continue to create content outside the church as both an application of the gifts that God has blessed them with and an opportunity to model the life of a Christ-follower outside of the church walls, how does the Church equip the balance of creating both out of and for the church?

How do we move people who always consume to any position of becoming a creator in the first place, and how do we move creators into the mindset of spending and investing time creating for the church?

I don’t have the answers and I’d love a place to start.  What do you think?

Photo by Sandy Lee

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Ryan Egan

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Ryan is a follower of Christ, husband, father, worship leader, & creative. He is heavily involved in the Association of Free Lutheran Churches and desires to teach others to live a life of worship in everything they do.
  • Jason Gudim

    The problem with participation in church, at least from my perspective as a pastor, is a lack of understanding of spiritual gifts.  And perhaps a fear to use them.  

    Based on this, I’m going to disagree with at least part of your premise.  The focus of a believer should not be “creating” something for their church, but rather letting God put them in a position where they can use their spiritual gift.  The idea of a spiritual gift is that it is something we give to those around us in the church.  1 Cor. 12:7 says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  The church is not complete if we are not participating in the local congregation.  Likewise, if I know someone who is not attending church, I am missing out on their gift(s).  

    The idea of attending a local congregation is not shopping around and deciding which church has the most to offer me to allow me to grow spiritually (the consumerism you correctly identified above).  The idea is that there is a specific (Bible-believing and preaching) church that is lacking in the area where I am gifted.  That body of believers will be lacking unless I am plugging myself into the ministry of that congregation and using my giftedness.  

    As believers, we each have a spiritual gift, and we each are called to use it for the “common good”.  That’s why I believe that the focus should not necessarily be on “creating”, but on identifying each of our gifts and letting God bless others through them.  That’s why Paul wrote in Rom. 12:6-8, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”  The words that follow in verse nine are tremendously important: “Let love be genuine.”

    That’s why, if our sole focus is on “creating” something for the church, some will feel out of place, and others will be forcing the issue, and others still will see “creating” as the greatest gift and in their efforts will not be genuine.  Even though a person may be a talented musician, actor, author, etc, their spiritual gift may be hospitality, or service, or teaching.  We have the freedom to invite them to use their talents for ministry, but we should first be making sure we help them identify their spiritual gifts and lead them to a point in the ministry of the congregation where that gift is being utilized.

    I know this ended up being quite a bit off topic, and it’s a rambling mess, but I thought it was important to point out the distinction.  

    Good post!

  • iamanoffering

    You make valid points. But can’t someone with the gift of hospitality “create” as well? They can create a welcoming environment for people who walk through the doors. One with the gift of service can create unique opportunities for people to serve each other.

    I don’t think the issue is necessarily being seen as a “great creator” but just as one who “has a voice” within the community of the church.

    To your point, how do we move people from using their gifts (for whatever reason) into using them within the church community?

  • Jason Gudim

    I agree that a gifted person can (and should create).  I was merely stating that the focus should be on the spiritual gift first, and creativity flows from that.

    To answer your question about how we move people from using their gifts into using them within the church community, it’s a matter of prayer, of proper teaching, and sometimes of trial and error.  Personally, I tried (and failed) several different roles in the church before I discovered and was certain that one of my spiritual gifts was teaching.  

    Often times, we need to take the time to build a solid relationship with someone, discover their passion(s) in life, and then attempt to plug them into similar opportunities within the church.  None of this is possible without prayer (on our part and theirs) and the proper teaching of law & gospel within the congregation.  Without those two, consumerism will win the day every single time.

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to piggyback off of what Jason is saying.  I’m not sure that the counter to consuming is creating so much as giving.  I do agree wholeheartedly that it would be great to see more people creating for the church – and creating excellence (as Schaeffer discusses in Addicted to Mediocrity), which is another topic – but I think the creating must flow from selflessness and generosity, and I think that’s what’s lacking.

    Worship is defined Biblically as a life lived in sacrifice (Romans 12), and that means giving of oneself to God and to others (which is, as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 25, still giving to God).  I think that creation needs to be an act of sacrifice and generosity, but not all acts of sacrifice and generosity are acts of creation. 

    But again, like you, I’m very tired of the consumerist mentality in the church, and I’m tired of working for a church that sometimes caters to that mentality.  We need to move away from that, and church staffs need to be ready for the people who will leave the church when we do.

  • iamanoffering

    Very well-said Chris. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

  • Vince

    The thing that everyone should have a hand in creating is: Culture. Everyone has a role to play in creating culture, spiritual gifts are a part of it. 

  • Vince Marotte

    Yes, we would have a problem if the only type of creating we had in a church community was teaching, worship and things related to that.

    The thing that everyone in a community of Christ followers should be a part of creating is culture…spiritual gifts are a big part of that.

  • Jason Gudim

    You will have to define for me what exactly “creating culture” means.  That seems to be a pretty vague statement.  Not to sound short, but I don’t recall any Bible verses off hand tell us to focus on “creating culture”.

    On the other hand, we have verses like Acts 2:42, where the local church “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  It seems like they were incredibly focused on teaching, worship, prayer, and the administration of sacraments.

    It seems to me that a growing church is just the type of church that is teaching, worshiping together, and “things related to that.”  You’ll have to explain to me how that would be a problem.

  • iamanoffering

    Jason, you’re right that Vince’s comment is a little vague here.  I’d recommend checking out his book and blog to see more of where he’s coming from.  Also remember that He’s regularly “in the trenches” so to speak (finding ways to bring Christianity into our culture and not just wait for people to come to church).

    To expand on what you’re both saying, you need more context into Acts 2.  If you keep going after verse 42 you’ll find the “culture” of the early Christian church that was definitely created by the early believers (completely counter-cultural to the current culture they were in at the time). 

    “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

    That brand new culture was a radical shift and along with the Apostles’ teaching must be seen as part of why “the Lord added to their number day by day.”

    Current church culture, even if it’s a Bible-believing church, is still full of consumerism, driven by a handful of leaders “to” the church.  What is unbiblical about helping the “entire” church be a part of creating and embracing the church “culture”?

    I’m not saying Vince is completely right, but I’m not discounting him either.  Some sort of counter-culture needs to happen, or the selfish, consumer mindset of our culture is going to continue to see a dying church.

  • Jason Gudim

    I’m going to disagree with one thing you said, Ryan, and I think it helps illustrate the other points I’ve been trying to make.  

    You said, “That brand new culture was a radical shift and along with the Apostles’ teaching must be seen as part of why ‘the Lord added to their number day by day.’”

    I believe that the “brand new culture” had absolutely NOTHING (not really shouting this, but capitalizing because I’m not sure how to italicize for emphasis in the comments) with why “the Lord added to their number day by day.”

    The Lord was adding to the number day by day because the Gospel was being preached.  This is what Peter did in Acts 2 when he preached his sermon, and this was the focus of the “apostles teaching” in Acts 2:42.  Rom. 1:16 says that the Gospel is the power for salvation, not the culture, not the way we present church to society.  

    I believe you rightly directed us to Acts 2:43-47, but I disagree with your interpretation.  I don’t think that passage is a picture of the apostles and early believers intentionally creating a counter-culture to Roman and Jewish society.  I believe that the passage is illustrating what happens in a congregation (or community, or church, or whatever else you want to call it) when the focus is on “the apostles teaching, and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  Verses 43-47 flow from verse 42 (much like good works flow from salvation) and are not something in ADDITION (again, read italics, not shout) to verse 42.

    To sum up (hopefully), I don’t think it’s the culture we have to change in the church.  To be honest, and to respectfully disagree with Vince’s word usage, culture is something a corporation creates, or a baseball team, or a social club.  What the church needs is to change the MESSAGE (again, italics).  We need to get back to the language of the Gospel, of redemption in Jesus Christ.  That’s where the power is, and that is absolutely what people need, both as members of the church and as outsiders.

  • iamanoffering

    Hmm…regardless of the organization there will always be (intentionally or unintentionally) a created culture. It’s just the way anthropology works.

    For instance, the majority of my congregation is caucasian, mid-to-upper class people. In no way at all being racist I can safely say that the socio-economic makeup of our congregation automatically creates a certain culture that would look vastly different if we were a church primarily made up of any other ethnic group. Now, we have a choice as a church. We can intentionally seek to reach out to other ethnic groups and social classes in order to foster a more diverse and rich body of believers, or we can intentionally choose to maintain our current culture. The culture that was automatically created by our current attenders can be changed if we would make the effort to intentionally include other ethnic groups. By adding other ethnic groups, the riches of their culture now becomes mixed with ours and if we would be unwise to not allow their cultural uniqueness (as long as it doesn’t compromise God’s Word) to be a part of the church.

    I’m in absolutely no way suggesting that Biblical teaching should be thrown out the window – you know me better than that! :-) I think you can have both. You can have strong Biblical teaching that is an accurate representation of God’s Word – the Gospel, redemption in Jesus Christ – which you definitely identified AND you can do your best to intentionally foster a culture that is collaborative.

    As far as my interpretation, what you’re saying makes sense except for one thing – why wouldn’t Luke have written vs. 47 right after 42 if that was a direct result of only the Apostles’ teaching? It seems like 42-47 actually all flow out of vs. 41 as the sum of a whole. “So those who received his word were baptized and there were added that day about three thousand souls” “and…” “and…” “and…” “and…”

    There are churches who are rightly preaching God’s Word accurately who are not seeing new converts or a strong sense of community within their congregation. I believe we need to have both accurate Biblical teaching and a collaborative culture as keys to a strong and healthy church body.

  • Vince Marotte

    Creating culture is my way of saying we need a holistic approach to evangelism. (which may be where you and I differ; when I’m backed into the corner I’m going to focus on those outside the church in an effort to win them; not to take away from the importance of the inside church community…it’s just how i’m gifted and wired).

    Teaching and musical worship is important but it has become the only thing that most churches and Christ followers know how to create…so far as those outside the church can see.

    A human being is wired to experience life in five ways: Physically, Emotionally, Cognitively, Socially and Spiritually.

    The Church largely focuses on the spiritual and  cognitive in terms of what we create. This flies in the face of culture at large that is more balanced in those five areas…obvious failings in spiritual go without saying.

    That is to say; someone on a healthy human journey and one that is predisposed to create a culture that is welcoming to those they do not know would be well balanced Physically, Emotionally, Socially, Cognitively and Spiritually.

  • Chris Gambill

    Ryan, some great discussion that’s started here. I appreciated reading the different thoughts. 

    The thing that really popped into my mind as I was reading was the issue of discipleship. Perhaps we focus too much on getting people to make a decision, and then assume everything will fall into place after that “magic moment.” When instead, we should be more intentionally leading people into discipleship. I believe that people will be more likely to engage in serving, creating, engaging, etc, as they mature in Christ and recognize they are a integral part of the body. I’ve rarely seen success (long-term anyway) in extrinsic motivation methods to get people to serve/create.

    As to which church to attend? It would be great if everyone viewed choosing a church as a spiritual decision and not a benefits decisions. As a pastor, when I’ve considered an offer from a church to come and be part of a staff, it’s also come down to sensing the leading of God. It’s not been about what they offer me. I think that should be something every Christian should be seeking to discern.

    Thanks for initiating the conversation.

  • iamanoffering

    Thanks so much for offering value to the conversation! You’re so right that discipleship should be a key part of the vision of the church. Invested disciples will naturally invest back into the church. Good stuff.

  • iamanoffering

    Vince, thanks so much for the helpful clarification and follow-up.  Great things to take into consideration and thanks for offering your voice to this conversation.

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