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The Table Video

Ruth Haley Barton

Shopping for Church Like It's a Car

The consumeristic approach to spirituality is dangerous. Ruth Haley Barton confronts the “church shopping” culture, calling for a more authentic and committed approach to Christian spirituality.


Consumeristic virtuality means that I’m out to get what I want. As it relates to spiritual life, I just want to get as many spiritual experiences as I can and I wanna have it feel really good. I just want to consume spiritual experiences and I expect it to be pleasurable even, in some way. So a spirituality that doesn’t always feel pleasurable is gonna go against my consumerism. Also I think people relate in a consumeristic fashion to the church.

That we’ve now got the smorgasbord approach to church and if I don’t like this church then I’ll go to the church down the corner. If they don’t have the youth group that my kid wants then I’m gonna go to another church that has the youth group that I want my kid to have. And so those things become things that we just choose, rather than staying faithful to any community at all. We shop for a church like we shop for a car and in different seasons of our life, we choose a different church.

And I think that is one of the really unique challenges that we face today is that it used to be that there was some loyalty to the church that you grew up in, the people that loved you along the way. Or there would be loyalty to your denomination perhaps or loyalty to a local church that was more like a parish existence where it’s with your neighbors.

But I think the consumeristic approach is very dangerous and it’s also, I think, seriously exhausting to the pastors who are trying to lead those churches, knowing that people are coming in and viewing them in a very consumeristic way. [calming music]