Do you shop more on Amazon or locally?
I guess the answer depends, doesn’t it?
The behemoth Amazon is both a positive and a negative thing. If you cannot find something nearby or the price is too high, chances are good this logistical marvel of product delivery probably has the item.
On the other hand, unless you are careful and/or super savvy, you may wind up buying the wrong thing and having to try and return it. This can become a nightmare and many simply choose to place the item in a closet or at their next yard sale rather than wade through the red tape to right the ship.
If something is purchased locally, you can talk to real people about the product’s use, return it easily, and potentially get the job done right sooner. Again, though, it may cost you more.
Okay, so is there an analogy here that resonates for organized religion?
First, some churches have figured out how to “build” big enough to offer lots of religious products. There are programs for worship, for kids, for youth, for the poor, for outreach, for food banks, for single moms, for widows and orphans, for bowling leagues, for dartboard enthusiasts, for reflective knitting… for rock skipping… for spiritual shoe-tying… and on and on and on. They just seem to have it all and offer it all. And because of their “Amazon” size, they attract the largest audiences. Good for them; no malice intended here.
However, the average church will never be able to meet all the needs like the Amazon church. It will have a limited staff size, a lesser financial base, sparse programming, and a smaller volunteer pool.
As a church leader, it is sometimes difficult to tell a visitor that my church doesn’t offer such-and-such a program. It is simply not feasible and even if it were, we do not have the critical mass to carry it forward.
So, I used to think that I wanted to pastor a giant church because I believed that the big church has broader appeal and impact. To a certain extent, this remains true (the part about appeal and impact). But what I have learned, or at least I think is true, is that we may be better served in a smaller setting. But it will cost more. More of our time, talent, and treasures, and yes, offering less “products”.
Jesus said to Martha when she was rushing around to make dinner, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Mary was at Jesus’ feet listening to him intently.)
Perhaps it is worth rethinking the idea of keeping the main thing, the main thing. While it is certainly nice to have Amazon churches available for large programming, there is something to be said for, “Be still, and know that I am God.” In other words, do we really need every possible manifestation of spiritual programming available? Or is a simpler expression of faith perhaps a better “product” after all?
In short, what are you shopping for?
Kent Simmons is the pastor of Canyon Community Church in Kingman, AZ.