A McDonaldized Christianity

My doctoral dissertation addressed the sobering and declining state of Western Christianity. It explored how to motivate churchgoers to ‘get off their butts’ and become the disciples and disciple-makers they are to be. The journey led me to some interesting places, ideologically speaking. I discovered and wrote this about the consumeristic nature of much of the Church in the West: “The packaging of goods and spiritualities meant to appeal to consumers of religious experiences has been compared to McDonald’s processes. The product is a Happy Meal spirituality.” Churches can become “just one more dispenser of Happy Meals.” Now, this may not necessarily apply to your church, but I encourage you to read on and reflect.

According to author John Drane, the McDonaldized experience and church produce nominal believers. The format is appealing but empty, entertaining and spiritually tasty, but non-nutritious. John MacArthur says this about a possible contributor to the religious consumerism of faux Christians: “Provide non-Christians with an agreeable, inoffensive environment. Give them freedom, tolerance, and anonymity. Always be positive and benevolent. If you must have a sermon, keep it brief and amusing. Don’t be preachy or authoritative. Above all, keep everyone entertained.” Spiritual laziness is undoubtedly one side effect of this tendency.

A pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all McDonaldized approach to Christianity enables passivity. A person or team entertains a passive audience. Perhaps another person preaches at the same spectators. And the anonymity of which John MacArthur wrote, something of a Happy Meal toy, allows people to ‘slip out the back’ or avoid being held accountable for the lack of discipleship and spiritual growth. There’s another serious flaw in the McDonaldization process where it occurs in our Christianity: the loss of spiritual diversity and maturity.

Communities are born of shared values and traditions, and they are meant to meet the needs of their members. Christian communities were (and are) no exception—especially in the early days after Jesus’ ascension. Each person was required to help meet the physical needs of the Christian group (in other words, work!). They were also expected to contribute to spiritual formation, unity, and maturity based on God-given spiritual gifts and disciple-making abilities (Ephesians 4:11-16). But this kind of collective behavior must be tailored to the group’s specific needs; a pre-packaged McDonaldized Christianity that focuses on format over content and context just won’t do! It leaves little room for spiritual formation, active participation (versus passive observation), or movement by God’s Spirit.

Perhaps it’s time for a different kind of Christian diet—one that tastes good but is also spiritually nutritious. Maybe then we’ll get our butts out of the pews and behave like people who know about God AND who God knows (1Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4:8-9). What’s next? Let’s uncover some of Jesus’ most excellent and applicable sayings in “Jesus Said What??” in next week’s article.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

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