American Churches: The Evangelical Answer to Home Depot

This Little Church Went to Market  You’ve got to get this book: This Little Church Went to Market by Gary Gilley (Darlington: EP Books, 2010 [reprint]).  The subtitle is telling: “Is the Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling out?”  In this book, Gilley takes on the American church growth industry.  From Saddleback to Willow Creek to Lee Strobel to Bill Hybels, churches and church leaders are straight up adopting a business model of marketing a product and applying that model to the church.  Of course, Mike Horton, David Wells, Os Guinness, and many others have also written well on this subject, but Gilley’s book is a great addition to those other voices.

In This Little Church, Gilley discusses how our culture is entertainment driven, self-focused, consumer based, and swimming in self-help psychology.  He then documents how many American churches have adopted the business model of getting people in the doors by entertaining them, meeting their felt needs, and using Christianity as a resource to give lives a boost.  Preachers talk about fulfillment and say Jesus is a way to find fulfillment and that Christianity brings excitement and spontaneity into dull lives.  While some of these churches are might mean well, ultimately what happens is the whole message of salvation gets watered down to nothing, since neither repentance nor self-denial is demanded of people in the ‘audience.’  Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

“In order to market a church to the unsaved consumer, he must be given what he wants.  Since unsaved consumers do not desire God, or the things of God, they have to be enticed by something else.  Thus the temptation arises for a church to change, or at least hide, who they are so that they appeal to unchurched Harry.  Additionally, the church is tempted to alter its message to correspond with what Harry wants to hear and thinks he needs.  The end result is a felt-needs gospel that appeals to Harry’s fallen nature in an effort to entice him to come to Christ, the ultimate felt-need supplier, so that he is fulfilled and feels better about himself” (p. 44).

“In most arenas truth doesn’t stand a chance against success; this proved to be the case in the church growth wars” (p. 61).

“If Harry is drawn to church in order to get, in order to satisfy his flesh, he is not likely to stay around when and if he discovers that Christ calls for him to lose his life for Christ’s sake (Matt. 16:25).  The result is that churches which have been built on the quagmire of the superficial must remain superficial if they hope to retain their Harrys and Marys” (p. 65).

I’ll have to come back and blog on this book again later.  In case you’re interested, it isn’t long (around 130 pages) and it is easy to read.  Three truths from this book that I’ve really been thinking about since reading it are these: 1) a large church isn’t necessarily a successful one, 2) a small church isn’t necessarily an unsuccessful one, and 3) churches that refuse to cater to and entertain the consumer will ordinarily remain small (now read #2 again!).  We really need to beat our ecclesiastical heads against the wall until we no longer believe that ‘bigger is better’ and ‘fun is #1’ when it comes to the church. 

I really encourage our readers to get this book: This Little Church Went To Market by Gary Gilley.

shane lems

2 Replies to “American Churches: The Evangelical Answer to Home Depot”

  1. Shane, you are so right about the bigger isn’t better thing. I was once at a meeting where a guest speaker was introduces as pastoring “The fastest growing church in America.” I leaned over to my wife and said, “this, is not going to be good.” It wasn’t!

    Thanks for the book tip. It is now on my “must read” list


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