On the issue of consumerism:

A general definition of consumerism is “the belief that it is good for people to spend a lot of money on goods and services” or “the actions of people who spend a lot of money on goods and services”. [i] In most world phenomena, there are positive and negative sides of consumerism.

On the positive side:

  • It increases productivity and efficiency. Society can focus on what the market wants and needs. It minimizes the over-production of goods and services that are no longer relevant.
  • It encourages innovation and creativity. Since society is changing at a rapid pace, goods and service providers have to innovate in order to keep up with the demand. The society as a whole becomes more efficient.

On the negative side:

  • It is competitive. Since the consumer has the power to choose, those goods and services that are not chosen will eventually be deemed obsolete. It creates an accelerated “product cycle”. When the product cycle of the goods and services is near the end, a new cycle of goods and services must be created to facilitate the never-ending demand. Those providers who cannot innovate and satisfy the requirements of the new cycle will be eliminated.
  • It generates a never-ending desire and waste. The consumers are always looking for newer features. The existing goods may still be functional; they will be casted out as waste.
  • It minimizes commitment. Since the consumers are always looking for something better, they will abandon any providers without prior notice.

How does consumerism impact church leadership?

Consumerism is a phenomenon. It is neither good nor evil. Humankind has used consumerism to improve their livelihood. That is the reason we live in houses now instead of caves. We can even argue that it created the middle class and our motivation for advancement. These are some items of which we need to be aware.

  • There is no more brand loyalty. There no longer any “life long” Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Catholics… When one searches for any reason to stay or attend a church, denominational affiliation is not a major concern. Denomination, doctrine, and history of the church organization matter little on the checklist. The response of younger people is, “I am a Christian who happens to worship in XXXXX church.” He / she looks for the “services” the organization can provide. The major question one would ask? “Here are my needs. What can this organization provide to meet them?”
  • These are some possible items on the checklist:
    • Good youth, children’s program, child care
    • Good men’s, women’s or family programs.
    • Uplifting message
    • Life-cycle-relevant teachings and relationships
      • Stress management
      • Networking opportunities
      • Helping hand when needed
      • Exchange of ideas
  • Transparent and accountable leadership.  Can the leaders articulate logical, reasonable and legitimate reasons for their arguments and directions for their decisions? The arguments “God told me so” or “The Spirit told me to do it” will not hold water. ALL processes and decisions have to be fully communicated to the congregation.
  • For life-long denominationalists, stressing the brand name or tradition as Bible-believing Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican, etc. will be a turn-off rather than an advantage. Responsible leaders need to concentrate on the present needs of the congregation. Formal and informal surveys have to be taken at regular intervals using scientific quantitative statistical methods to reflect the real needs of the congregation.
  • The leadership has to ride on the crest of the trend. There is no lifetime commitment to an organization. The congregants are committed as long as their needs are satisfied.
  • Integrity and honesty of leadership is key. The doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture wears thin compared with any cover-up of scandals. Coming clean, genuine apologies, and transparent checks and balances are more important than good doctrine.  (i.e. “My life is too short to stay around and wait for you to clean up your act. There are plenty of other churches that hold similar views. I’m not going to waste my energy and time.”) They are not necessarily “non-committal”; they are committed to making sure their goals are achieved and needs are met. They will not waste time or energy on distractions such as financial irregularities, sexual scandals, doctrinal disputes, lack of meaningful service opportunities, etc. They will walk away from the organization.
  • Change is inevitable and swift and no one enjoys it. The only people who like change are babies with dirty diapers. Managing change takes courage and foresight.

– By James Lai, March 23, 2014


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