Did the Supermarket wreck the Church?

Post world war two the world began to change, according to a recent Freakonomics episode, when it came to how you purchase food.

Post-war marked the supermarket age. Northern hemisphere countries, inspired by the “innovations” in the U.S.A., began to have one-stop shops. Mass-produced products started to be in demand.

For this mass-produced revolution to happen, it meant that our food needed to change. For food to be efficiently produced, harvester machines had to collect tomatoes. That meant the tomato had to be genetically modified. They needed to be harder–more resilient. Chicken also began to be modified. Bigger breasted and lighter feathers. This meant more meat that looks better in a package.

These advancements were necessary to have lots of food for a little cost. More bang per buck. The problem is, food isn’t as nutritious as it once was, some have argued it’s even dangerous. However, it is a necessary evil if we want maximum food for a minimum price.

If you are a Gen X’er or Xennial like myself, it was our grandparents who built the modern world, hence their generational name “builder.” While they did an excellent job giving us infrastructure in a post-war world, the development of mass-produced houses, cars, and as we have spoken of, food has dramatically affected our lives.

I believe something happened similar to this with the church within the same period. This is not to say that our grandparents intentionally stripped the church of nutrition, not in the slightest. What I believe is that well-meaning Christians began to do work that had a tremendous impact, but the cumulative side effects (just as in the agricultural world) have been detrimental.

To become more productive (mass-producing Christians) and make the product cheaper (buy-in costs less), we have modified what it means to follow Jesus. Discipleship became a program. It is not that the big box megachurch is bad. It is that as anything thing becomes larger the small things that make it what it is, become increasingly more difficult to accomplish. After all, the kind of discipleship that Jesus and other followers modelled for us is not mass-producing, nor is it cheap. One might even call it inefficient.

With the industrialization of everything, the builders changed the world, not excluding the church. The neighbourhood church, like the mom and pop stores, faded away as society moved toward more efficient forms of church–the big box one-stop-shop church. After all, we can preach to more people, more revenue is pooled together, and it is cheaper.

What I mean by cheaper is that you can have all the amenities, maybe even more, with less buy-in. You can have the best speaking, music, and Sunday experience while giving less money and time. It becomes a lot easier to pull off “church” because more people giving less is more than fewer people giving more (time, money, and resources).

While this model has been successful at gathering crowds and more so introducing the character of Jesus, more often than not, it has offered light feathered, large breasted chickens, so to speak. It’s not intentional, but merely the design.

Is the solution to go back to the neighbourhood church? Maybe, but there’s a problem.

The problem lies in this, just as in our store analogy where the local shop begins to lose business and thus begins to copy the big box stores to sell the same product, they never can at the same price. The local store offers compromised food at a higher cost. The local church begins to make following Jesus into a Sunday experience while still demanding the in-depth relational collateral and workload of local church ministry. The price simply starts to surpass the return.

Neither of these speaks of the vocation in which Jesus has called us and the Holy Spirit has empowered us. The church, both large and small, has got into the business of running efficient service rather than the painstaking work of disciple-making.

In recent years there has been a push back in the food industry. People have been demanding free-range meat and non-GMO products. What is interesting is that people can taste the difference. If you’re really paying attention, you can even see the difference. To get this kind of food, it does cost more. Yet, those who have chased the products of how food should be, say they have discovered that it is worth the extra cost.

People are beginning to seek the same thing when it comes to a relationship with God and the church. As some Christians have sought and found the free-range non-GMO church, they have noticed that though it makes a greater demand on their life, it is genuinely better. There is a greater buy-in, the processes of making other disciples take a lot longer, yet the end product is much better (for lack of better language).

There is a contingent of churches and church leaders who are striving to usher a new healthier church back into the mainstream. They are trying to manifest what it looks like when Jesus said: “Go tell of the good news of God…baptize,… and teach them to obey…”

The fix isn’t the big box nor the local church. The repair is to reencounter the King of Kings, Jesus. It is His Spirit, the Holy Spirit the will reinvigorate all our churches. We need to hear his demand on our hearts again. As far as de-industrializing our churches, I honestly don’t know the solution. How do you produce quantity and quality?

Maybe you know. I hope you do.

We need to seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. Our big and small GMO churches have left people wanting more and allowed our culture to become morally bankrupt. We need a free-range church. We need to seek what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

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