Holy Competition?

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Several years ago, I bought a Saturn sedan. The primary reason I bought it was because of Saturn’s “no-haggle” approach. GM’s tag line, “A different kind of company, a different kind of car,” worked. Having been duped at another time into an APR I really could not afford, Saturn’s non-threatening environment attracted me. I am still driving the SL2 and it has over 100,000 miles on it. Saturn has earned a plethora of awards for being “different” and in car sales, you have to be different or else you will not sell your product.

The “different is good” mentality has been adopted by churches so much so that churches champion their differences so as to attract “new customers.” However, by championing those differences, do we treat our sister fellowships as communities of Christ or as “holy competitors”?

At the pastors’ meeting two weeks ago, one of the brother pastors, as he was praying, made a statement in his prayer that has stuck with me since I heard it. What he said strikes at the core of what we determine true church growth to be. He prayed, “Lord, forgive us where we have looked at the church down the street or across the way as competition.”

A few sbc Impact! contributors and regular commenters have made successive points that our churches are marketing religious goods to be bought and sold. If the church you currently attend does not meet your needs, then by all means, find another church. Church marketing encourages this! Riding down the highway you will most certainly see a billboard proclaiming that some particular church is a different kind of church.

Have you been hurt by a church? There is a different kind of church out there. Are you tired of traditional church? There is a different kind of church out there. Are you uncomfortable in church? There is a different kind of church out there. Have you felt pressured or guilty at church? There is a different kind of church out there. The list can go on.

The simplest response to this is that we are marketing “our product” to Christians. If our target group is the “already convinced”, and if our growth is from transfers, new people in town, and our own children, then the ultimate need is to separate our product from the sister church’s product down the street. This really is not a new idea. A generation ago, people would go to a church based on a theology or adherence to or rejection of a particular doctrine (i.e., infant baptism, speaking in tongues). Now, we do it with our ethos—captured in a snappy catch-phrase.

“Fill-in-the-Blank Community Church is a different kind of church.”

Our ethos is then promoted by whatever it is that we see as different about our fellowship. We stand for families, we stand for the truth, we are young, we are traditional, we are accepting, we are open-minded and so on. These things are not necessarily bad but in the promotion of them, is a judgment not being made about the sister fellowship across the way? “Come to our church because that church is condescending and arrogant.”

Certainly I want the church I serve to be known as standing for families and that we are accepting. However, do I want to make that known at the detrimental expense of another community of faith? There is no need to smear the name of another local body of believers in order to attract more religious consumers. Kingdom churches will work together to advance the Gospel, not compete with others so as to win at the holy competition.