This Little Church Went to Market

The first of this duo, This Little Church Went to Market, is an easy read but extremely challenging and thought provoking, especially as it addresses some of the forces and ideologies that are changing the church today. Things such as: marketing, entertainment, and therapy (psychology). Gilley makes the point that is both interesting and telling that the three forces mentioned above are influencing the church in definite and intentional ways and none of the three are found in Scripture, at least as they relate to the church.

In the bookAn Essential Guide to Public Speaking in this review section, Schutlze talked about being a servant speaker and focusing on the neighbor audience with sensitivity to where they are and are coming from. Schultze is right for there are numerous scriptural references to show how people like Paul did just that, and while there are legitimate things that we can learn from the three forces, we cannot respond in a way that undermines the work and worship of the church. In a lecture by Ken Meyers of Mars Hill ministry, he said that the church hasn’t found a trend that it could use or incorporate in its ministry.

We do and must continue to live in a tension between how we do ministry in our churches. While we cannot play to audience, as though it is the centerpiece, we cannot simply assign the audience to some peripheral area either. We cannot hope to be successful in our mission if we simply do ministry as we have always done it for people living in a different time today than say fifty years ago, much less hundreds of years ago. While we cannot alter the truth, we must carefully, with much thought and prayer, research, study, and learn how to communicate the good news of the gospel to today’s world. Sadly, many who are attempting to do that, and while most are well meaning in their efforts, are actually changing the message, mostly by what they do or do not say, or how they communicate it. Though Marshall McLuhan was not writing in a Christian context, he was on target thirty years ago when he said that the medium can become the message. That’s what I call common grace truth. Maybe that’s why the church is actually loosing its effectiveness–because it has become so market-driven that its techniques and skills mimic those of the marketers in today’s world.

Gilley says, “if the church is the pillar and support of the truth and the children of God grow as the truth of God’s Word penetrates their hearts, what happens when the church no longer knows the truth? What happens if it has confused the infallible truth of God with philosophies and fads of the moment?” Those are legitimate questions that churches and church leaders must ask today. We are living in a biblically illiterate culture, and that includes both inside and outside the church. That’s the conclusion poll after poll, from Robert Wurthnow, to George Barna, to Christian Smith, to George Gallup, Jr.

I believe Gilley is correct when he writes that the church today has sold out to being market-driven, user-friendly, with a new paradigm. Then he asked, if that is true, then why have so many not recognized the transition? When people today talk about being into spirituality but not religion, most seem to say, good! The average churchgoer, much less the non-churchgoer, is not equipped to recognize the eastern influence on our western religious orientation. Putting the emphasis on “spirituality” or “religious experience” at the expense of knowing the truth and basing our experience on truth will take us in the wrong direction, and in fact, already is in many cases.

In and easy-to-read style, Gilley effectively communicates this concern. He demonstrates how the church may be building on the wrong foundation–a new paradigm that shifts the focus. When we take the marketing/consumer approach to church growth, we then have to be willing to change as the consumer changes and that produces serious consequences. How do we make our product appeal to the general populace? Some are saying we do it by not focusing on sin, hell, death, redemption, or even the atonement of Christ. They are not the essentials of the faith, so focus on the positives. But do we have that choice? Of course we do not make any one part of the whole counsel of God “the truth in isolation from the other parts,” but we can’t adopt the philosophy of one of America’s leading TV personalities who said that just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean that we have to preach and teach it.

Gilley understands what is happening and challenges us to think more seriously and biblically about the church. He challenges us not to be a church with the wrong message, building on the wrong foundation, focusing on the wrong needs, while misunderstanding worship. You will find some helpful evaluations of people such as Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven approach. This is an important, easy-read book.

The second title, This Little Church Stayed Home, is equally challenging and thought provoking. Here he gives an overview of the postmodern culture and its philosophy today and what it is doing to the church, outwardly and inwardly. He writes, “Yet despite all the claims of spiritual interest, despite the runaway numerical growth at the celebrated megachurches, despite frequent ‘sightings’ of revival and despite the rapid succession of fads (from Promise Keepers to the ‘Prayer of Jabez’ to ‘Forty Day of Purpose’ to ‘The Passion of Christ’) each promising to reform the church, the fact is that the church’s light is flickering.”

He quotes George Barna, whose book Revolution is evaluated by Gilley, stating that unchurched people are not just lazy or uniformed. They are wholly disinterested in the church. Therefore, many are saying, and Gilley deals insightfully and effectively with some of them in part four of this book on the emerging church, that we need a new church, not a reform of today’s church.

Barna is right in saying that the church cannot compete with the world’s system but it has been trying to do that for the past 50 or 60 years at least and moved into overdrive during the past 25 years. True says Gilley, we are living in changing times and postmodern philosophy has become that of today’s world, and the church is buying into more and more. The concern is not with absolute truth today, it is what’s good for me or us and what feels good for me. That’s what my spirituality is all about, me! The one place where people should expect to find the truth, after all the Bible calls it the ground and pillar of truth, the church, is not living up to its nature and purpose.

Gilley gives helpful analysis of the influence of what he calls postmodernity, or I would call postmodernism, on the church. This includes how more and more are buying into the postmodern philosophy as it’s related to truth and authority.

As I read this second book, I remember reading Os Guiness’s comments about our being so committed to making the church relevant that we are actually making it irrelevant because we are not emphasizing the things that make it relevant. I thought speaking the language of the age, which we must do to effectively communicate, can actually trivialize the truth we are trying to communicate if we are not careful in the process. There is that part of the Christian community today, a preferred term by the emerging church people over church, is that we are a movement in search of an experience but not the truth.

I challenge you pastors, church leaders and teachers, parents, and general membership of the church to read this book. Both are important but if you must choose between the two, read this book.

We are in a predicament today that we must recognize and respond to-that is, if we are in search of an experience or meaning to life and that experience is not based on our theology and if our theology is not based on Scripture and Scripture tells us about God, then how can we have a meaningful experience or find real meaning to life in a vacuum? That’s the kind of questions we need to deal with and Gilley will help us along in that process.

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Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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