The laws of economics, some believe, are as fixed as the laws that govern logic and the laws that determine morality. The laws of economics determine the value of goods and services, and in the end, no amount of government influence and no lack consumer demand can crash or save an economy. The laws of economics will always prove true, because they are rooted in more than mere prices, wages and currencies. The government can impede to be sure, but left to its own devices, the laws of economics outlast every law of government, for they are rooted in the intrinsic value of goods and services based on the organic supply and demand of those goods and services.
One of the foundational laws of economics is the law of supply and demand. In sum, this law states that as supply increases, demand decreases, resulting in lower costs of the goods in high supply. As supply decreases, demand increases, resulting in higher costs of the goods in low supply. This is why oil is $30/barrel: because the supply is so high, reducing the demand and the value. Supply-side and demand-side economic theories are both attempts to manipulate supply or demand (usually through taxation, incentives and regulation) to benefit various agents in the economy. The competing theories of supply-side and demand-side economics are largely a dividing line between the two political parties in America.
Just as the laws of economics are fixed and operate organically in a society, the same is true for the people of God. Churches, ministries and houses of worship are built because the people of God demand them and seek to be fed through their work. As God calls his people, and as the people respond with a desire to worship Him, ministries are begun or continued, pastors are trained and called, properties are built and maintained, and the demand is met. Likewise, when the demand drops, for reasons that only God knows, ministries are contracted, seminaries merge or disappear, fewer pastors enter the proverbial vineyard, and properties are sold or fall into disrepair. But at the heart of it all is the organic demand (or lack thereof) among God’s people to worship Him.
In truth, on the whole, this demand has decreased in recent years…at least in America. Our congregation is a great example. Our current campus was built in 1927, and judging by the pictures, about 1,000 members (250 of them children) filled every square inch. Now, we have more property than people, as do many urban churches in America. We are faced, as are many churches in our situation, with how to respond to a decrease in demand.
The Church in America, at large, has not quietly accepted this decrease in demand, and has instead adopted techniques to boost supply. Pastors are trained to think entrepreneurially, and marketing campaigns fill mailboxes to entice new parishioners. Billboards, which place churches in direct competition with one another, attempt to lure ecclesiastical customers to their campuses. Church visitors are treated more like consumers than as God’s called people. There are hundreds – if not thousands – of books about ways to attract and retain the un-churched, some with incredibly detailed advice on how to create the perfect attendance card, the best days of the week to follow up with an email, and more. That’s all in addition to the changes in worship and preaching designed to reach those who are un-churched and de-churched. It should be noted that Paul specifically teaches against such practices. See 2 Corinthians 4.
Not all of these are necessarily bad ideas or thoughts. Some are basic and good hospitality. But sometimes it seems like striving to create an audience in the same way that authors, filmmakers, and musicians try to create audiences. Evangelism starts to look like mere techniques to attract consumers rather than a proclamation to which we trust God’s called people will respond.
What needs to change is how we view others. I was convicted by how drawn up I had become in this consumerist mindset when I realized I viewed people more as potential members than brothers and sisters in Christ. “What can we do to attract more people?” is the question I ask myself. In essence, I am asking how I can manipulate a system to increase supply, instead of waiting for the demand to justify our existence. If we’re asking how to get our name in front of people, that’s all fine and good. But if we are asking what we can do to be more attractive to others, well, that’s something else entirely.
I just don’t see how a consumerist mindset is biblical. Instead of a consumerist mentality that seeks to increase supply, we should be fervently praying for an increase in demand, a demand that only God can bring about. And not just at First, but throughout the land. And when the demand increases, we will be here, ready and able to serve God’s people, having survived many lean years by learning to trust in God’s provision.