Diagnosing Our Consumer Vs Covenant Church Quotient

“We must surrender the self-conception of the church as a voluntary association of individuals and live by the recognition that we are a communal body of Christ’s followers, mutually committed and responsible to one another and to the mission Jesus set us upon at his resurrection.” Darrell Guder in Missional Church: A Vision For the Sending of the Church in North America, 1998

Is it any wonder? Of course North American Christians bring their consumeristic perspective to their faith life. They (we) are conditioned by everything around us to view ourselves as consumers. Given this, we evaluate church through the lens of how well it meets our needs and wants. When it does, then we are all in. When it’s lacking, we can find a better one down the street. The result of organizing one’s faith life according to this consumeristic view is shallow relationships, low disciple development, and very tentative connections.

As disciples mature, they are able to recognize the covenantal nature of church. They begin saying things like, “I am the church,” rather than “We go to church.” They learn how to care for others when they are hurting, as well as receive care. They contribute to shared life experiences, both the pleasant and unpleasant, with a band of Christ-followers.

So how do we know which way our church tilts? Toward Consumer or Covenant cultures?

The fastest and most accurate way to diagnose a “congregational consumer vs. covenant quotient” is to listen to the questions which pastors and church staff ask one another, along with the lay leadership team. The following chart contrasts the kinds of questions Consumer and Covenant Churches ask.

Consumer Church
How happy are our members?
Are we doing what we can to keep our members happy?
How happy are our members with what this church is doing?
Is anyone upset, unsettled, or disgruntled?
Are there any problems we need to fix in order to restore peace?


Covenant Church
What is God’s calling for us as a church?
What is God’s calling for us as individuals?
How well are we contributing to the development of God’s disciples?
What is needed to advance God’s mission more fully; comfort or challenge?
What needs in this church are being met and what needs require attention?
What may be holding us back from developing disciples and joining God on mission?

As long as our goal is to be the most attractive church possible, then the focus of our activity is offering quality programs and interesting enticements to join us. As a result, we will be very careful with certain parts of the gospel (you know the parts I’m referring to). Our focus will be on keeping the people we have, making them as comfortable and satisfied as possible. When our focus shifts to our covenant with one another, our focus moves to supporting the disciple development and missional engagement of one another. In actuality, this latter kind of church experience is far more engaging and attractive than the former. When the church is being the church, we taste of the Lord, and find that the Lord is good.

(This article is an excerpt from the Shift Learning Experience. This workshop, retreat, or training experience involves learning the three major shifts the 21st Century Church must make. Watch for the Shift book by Mark Tidsworth and Pinnacle Leadership Press this Spring.)

Mark Tidsworth, PLA President