We love to see you smile! Have it your way! These are just a couple of the popular catchphrases fast-food chains have used to attract customers. Fast food restaurants do not claim to use the best ingredients or to be healthy for us, but they do promise to be efficient and provide us some kind of sustenance to get us on our way. What’s more, is these chains often pander to parents with children: get your child a soy/beef burger, and we will throw in a toy; bring your child inside for a fun time in our play area. I struggle to remember a fast-food commercial that does NOT include a smiling child at some point in the commercial. Other fast-food chains have moved away from young families and began targeting young adults. These chains use the most attractive and fit actors/actresses they can find to feature in their commercials. Meet Veronica; Veronica loves eating at __________ (cue model taking a bite out of a 1lb burger). It would be more honest if they featured someone overweight with some sweat beads on their forehead rather than a Veronica; people who look like Veronica generally look that way (in-part) precisely because they do NOT eat at such establishments, but who would buy reality, right?
Many churches across America have followed the fast-food advertising models and replaced quality spiritual sustenance with fillers and entertainment. These churches have their own Veronicas, always attractive and smiling; everything always seems right in their world – this could be you if you came to our Church. The sinister, underlying problem, of course, is that Church was never about becoming like Veronica – it has always been about becoming like Christ! The Church was never about consuming; instead, it is about offering worship to our God; He is worthy to be worshipped. The Church was never supposed to be about what I can get but about what I can give! The Church is not about who can serve me, but who I can serve! Why did so many churches get away from these fundamental truths? Because truth doesn’t sell as well as fantasies do.
Churches across the country began promulgating the idea that Jesus Christ came so you could be happy, healthy, and wealthy! We offered the blessings God prescribed to His prophets while neglecting the burdens that came with them (e.g., Jeremiah 29:11…read the REST of the book!) We share only palatable parts of Christ’s character, leaving behind His justice and holiness, seeking grace without faith, mercy without repentance, and salvation without conversion. Then church leaders wonder why church attendance is at an all-time LOW in the nation (as of 2019)? Could it be because hurting people came to the Church expecting to find a hospital with a great physician rather than a happy meal with entertaining musicians? Imagine if your doctor knew you had a terminal disease, but knowing that such news would not make you happy (coupled with the fact that this doctor wants you to like him), he tells you that everything is right as rain. Imagine the betrayal you would feel on your deathbed, knowing that your condition had treatment options that could have bought you more time; you didn’t go to the doctor to be made happy; you went to be made well!
Naturally, 2020 has only seen a more significant decline of church attendance – but with COVID lying low in many states, church-attendance is lying even lower in those same regions. We cannot blame fear or precaution on this rapid decline; no, restaurants in these same regions are overflowing with people who genuinely missed frequenting their favorite eateries, so why aren’t they doing the same at the Church? Could it be because these patrons find what they are looking for when they go to their favorite restaurants, but they do NOT find what (who) they are looking for at the Church? Existential crises and suicides overwhelmed our nation this year; those individuals needed a doctor, not an entertainer – they need an antidote, not a happy meal. I wonder how many suicides attended Church within months of their demise? I wonder how many of them heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, un-adulterated by empty promises or fillers? If you go to a fast-food restaurant every day and expect to look like Veronica – you are going to be sorely disappointed…but you may keep going back for the convenience. If you go to Church every week expecting to have it all together like Veronica, you will probably conclude something must be wrong with you or Christianity – because your life looks nothing like a happy meal…it looks more like an ICU.
You may be thinking: Okay, I get it – many American churches have screwed up; what do we do to fix it? I’m glad you asked! It starts by getting back to the basics: what is the Church for? First and foremost, the Church is for worship! Next, the Church is for the Christian community and caring for those in need. What if we started training church leaders on how to make disciples rather than how to make goosebumps? What if, instead of tolerating sin on leadership teams, we created a culture of accountability? What if, instead of thinking of our new marketing strategies, we spend that time on our faces before God seeking HIS heart for HIS people? That’s right; the Church never has and will never belong to anyone other than Jesus Christ! If what we are offering is not what Jesus offers, we are not offering Church – we are offering a fast-food restaurant in the name of God – God, pity us. We have to strip away all of the frills and do away with these consumerist cultures – replacing the frills with biblical truth and the consumer-mentality with a servant-mentality. It starts with us (Pastors and Church leaders); we need not only teach this – but exemplify it in the way we lead and live! We should spend much more time in prayer than we do behind the pulpit each week. Rather than ripping sermons off from someone else who genuinely hears from God, we should wait to hear from God ourselves!
Discipleship should be what we advertise: where are we leading disciples? To Christ! Where does Christ lead us? To the cross! Christ does not ask us to accept ourselves, give Him our cross, and let Him follow us…no friend, He commands us to DENY ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him (see Luke 9:23). But that won’t make people feel good! Friends, that is not what the Church is for – it’s not about making people happy; it’s about making them well! It’s past time we started repenting for what we have made Christ’s house of prayer; we have turned it into a play-house! The Church was never supposed to be a stage for entertainers, but a platform for intercessors! The Church is not called to be a place full of perfect people, but a place full of sick people who are seeking salvation from a perfect GOD.
Maybe it’s not too late for us to start making these changes, but it starts with each one of us! How about it, friend? Are you ready to get serious about the things of God? Are you ready to dump fast food church despite its frills and convenience for a healthy diet of biblical truth and prayer? By His grace, May God help us see where we need to repent and lead us the way He wants us to go – and may WE respond in humility and obedience… because the Church should look more like a hospital than a fast food restaurant!
John Carosiello is a pastor, author, and speaker who graduated with honors from Liberty University with a Masters of Divinity. For more information, please visit: citg.org.