Consumerism as Religion


The Real Religion of Our Culture In my current research I am exploring if media consumer culture functions in a way analogous to a religion and religious reality, that there is a largely unconscious strategy and tactic with spiritual disciplines to this ‘religion’, and what are the implications of this for Christianity’s notion of conversion and formation, and the churches understanding of engagement with culture.

In other words most people aren't agnostics waiting for the church to bring relevant missional engagement to them, but are deeply religious, with spiritual formation practices, of a consumer religion, that in itself is capable of consuming and using the best missional efforts of the church.

Hatch Match and Dispatch For example, in the UK less than 7% of the population have a connection to a local church community, and that figure includes easter and christmas. In most towns and cities, the figure will be under 3% of people, and in many large urban areas is heading towards 1-2% of population (and for those of you from the USA, this decline is one of major differences from the UK)

But this isn't because people are becoming less religious and are longing to embrace new forms of spirituality outside the organised church (although I do think the church has a lot to answer for in this decline). Christians tired of church are embracing christianity outside the organised church, but are not seeing non christians come to faith in these new post-church contexts in significant numbers. I think because people are getting on with their real religion, and daily spiritual practices.

Against the decline in interest in Christianity, we see the increase in the UK in children being baptized, growing above 20% of the population. Whilst Marriage is in decline, the desire for marriage to take place at church is increasing, and the ultimate statistic is for funerals, with 97% of them taking place with Christian content and worship!

This might have be seen as civil religion, cultural markers for people who are irreligious, but I think something else is going on. The religion of consumer media culture is able to take the best the church offers, and consume it and still not engage in following Jesus, handing over our lives to His mission.

And we can consume church so expertly that we use it for showing off our children, partners and use it when we die. We have no interest in the church for it's mission, and beliefs, but consume it as insurance incase their is something religious.

If I wanted to market to this trend and make money, I would offer the ultimate Christening and Wedding and Funeral packages, and charge for it. Indeed some churches rely on most of the income from these events.

So my question for you today. Should we reject this consuming of church (if it is such), or embrace it as a place to connect.

1. Stand Against Religious Consumption For example in my 20 years as a christian I have had pastors as friends who advised me to not do weddings and funerals for non christians, that if they live a life away from God, why should the church offer them something that is for Christians those who follow christ.

I have some sympathy for this notion. If people spend a life given over to a life removed from Jesus and his Church, why support people's consumption of religion. Would it be a wake up call of all churches tomorrow said, enough! I'm sure what would happen is some one would step in with a marketing programme and offer christian funerals and christenings and make billions of pounds.

2. See it as Connection Or we make sure the church is still there, people deserve grace and the ministry of the church, and even if it is when they die, we are there to match, hatch and despatch and it is part of or mission to do so.

3. Transformation Or do we do something else? Do we challenge and engage. Do we use the desire for christenings and marriages and funerals, to step in and say we are here, but we need to talk about what this means. Can we use these times as missional doorways to engage deliberately with people. I don't mean in a heavy handed fire and brimstone gospel message at people's funerals (but maybe we do need more of that).

In our church I have married non christians, and got a reputation for 'doing a great funeral'. I worry that I might be being consumed, might be being complicit in the consumption of religion. Yet when I meet with families talk about loved ones, try to put memories and the narrative of people's lives in the context of God, and offer grace and pray with them, I have seen signs that hearts are opened, and people see that christianity is more than just something for that event and time. And if the church does not bring Jesus to those open doorways, what hope is their for mission at all?

What do you think?