Is the problem that people in the pews keep upping the ante on their
demands, or is it that church leaders don’t comprehend the real source
of their discontent? Is it that people want too much, or that they just
don’t want what the church is currently selling?
He goes on to say that most churches are selling is the Sunday morning service, where a teaching in a building at one location is the main "product". While this made sense in ages past, it doesn’t anymore, because good teaching is available everywhere. You can download sermons from really good preachers any time you like, so many people feel that the church’s primary "product" (the Sunday morning teaching) doesn’t really make sense for them to "consume", because it doesn’t fit their lifestyle. If the product is a teaching, why come to a to a certain building at a certain location to hear it when you can download it later that week and listen to it when it’s convenient?
Burke seems to be suggesting that the church is perhaps not consumer-oriented enough, as opposed to too consumer-oriented. I can see his point, actually. If "consumer-oriented" simply means attempting to meet the real needs of the community, then we should by all means do that. And perhaps in our electronically-connected world, the church does need to re-evaluate the "services" it provides, and whether or not people are best served by what it is doing. A hilarious illustration of this can be seen by watching this clip from the TV show King of the Hill. All the churches Hank and Peggy visit seem to be totally ignorant of their actual needs. Except the new mega-church, where the giant high-def video screens attract Hank and Bobby’s attention (mostly because they watch the Cowboys game on the screens after church).
I think this is where we need to peel back some of the layers of tradition and custom and attempt to get back to the foundational reasons we engage in the activities we do. If our goal is to "present everyone mature in Christ" (1 Cor 1:28) or "equip the saints for the work of ministry" (Eph 4:12), then we need to examine what ways this is best accomplished in our culture. Where does teaching fit into the maturing process? How does Sunday morning fit into equipping the saints? Are there things we need to lay down, because of their irrelevance or ineffectiveness? Are there new activities we need to take up? Are there activities we do now that we need to continue to do, but for different reasons? And if our reasons for doing things change, we should probably allow the new reasons to transform the activity in new ways. There is also the question of what kinds of changes are wise and helpful in the context of an established church, and what kinds of changes might be better reserved for new, emerging churches. And can the established and the emerging work together in the kingdom of God, each honoring the gifts and calling of the other? That’s the kind of unity and diversity I am praying and hoping for.