Is It Better than Amazon?

My mother asked recently if they sell a certain something on Amazon. I chuckled and then informed her, “Short of a live elephant, I think you can buy just about anything on Amazon.” And it’s true. Yesterday, I bought an air-powered stapler locally, but I just checked and found the same exact model–two dollars cheaper–on Amazon. The staples for that tool are available in just about length and quantity. Obscure books, pointless Valentine’s gifts, and whatever this is are similarly available.

Amazon is amazing. They have everything. You don’t have to worry about some part being in the wrong bin or the price being mis-marked. With free shipping, it’s just about perfect. No wonder bricks-and-mortar stores are suffering so much.

There are, of course, some reasons why I might go to my local big-box store rather than scrolling through Amazon’s offerings. Let’s consider some of these.

  • I can actually see, feel, try on, or otherwise experience the item before I buy it.
  • I can talk to somebody about the item before I buy it.
  • I can get the item right now rather than a day or two from now.
  • I’m lonely and I just want to get out of the house.
  • I can do the right thing by supporting local business.

I mention this because I’ve been thinking about my church in relation to Amazon. Why should a “customer” come to my church rather than experiencing church online? I can watch Joel Osteen on TV. Better yet (for several reasons), I can stream Steven Furtick on my computer. Why wouldn’t I opt for this instead of going to the trouble of heading to a bricks-and-mortar church?

And it can be trouble. You don’t have to find parking at the Amazon church. Your kids won’t embarrass you there. There’s nobody with too much cologne or not enough deodorant sitting near you there. You don’t have to pretend to like people. No one will judge your clothes, your hair, your family situation, your lifestyle, or anything else. These are real obstacles.

Of course, I know the various reasons why I shouldn’t opt for the Amazon-era church. There’s Hebrews 10:25 and all that, but they didn’t have broadcast capabilities in the first century. How can I convince a potential church “customer” that my church is better than the one they can see comfortably and readily on a screen. And that question is only relevant if I can convince someone of the need to “shop” for some sort of church experience at all.

For the bricks-and-mortar church to thrive today, it needs to be better than Amazon. We, as dedicated church people shouldn’t be surprised when others don’t find our church body compelling if it does not offer something like what’s listed in the bullet points above.

We are not the Amazon church. We shouldn’t aspire to being the Amazon church. But in an age when Amazon is carving a path through retailing, we need to see them as a cautionary tale. If retailers don’t offer something that Amazon can’t, they’ll go the way of K-Mart. If the church doesn’t offer something that the Amazon church can’t, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see our attendance, our budget, our effectiveness, and our witness declining in the culture.

We Gather Together–Mark 1:21

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. –Mark 1:21

“I don’t need to go to church to be a good Christian. I can worship just as easily in the great outdoors as I can inside the church.” Have you ever heard that sort of a statement? Have you ever noticed that those members of the Church of the Great Outdoors rarely seem to spend Sunday in their self-selected sanctuary unless they’re chasing largemouth bass or lying in wait for deer.

“I don’t need to go to Arrowhead Stadium to be a good Chiefs fan.”  (Talk about an act of faith this season!) This is true. I can follow my favorite football team on the TV or the radio. I can read about them online or in the paper and still be a genuine fan. And since parking at the stadium now costs enough to put a person through college, I have no great desire to brave the elements and shed my cash in order to “worship” in that great red church.

But honestly, I have to admit that if I were a Chiefs season ticket holder, I might feel more strongly about the team. I’d probably know player names and numbers. I’d be inclined to talk about their ups and plentiful downs. Maybe I’d even be one of those who would pay big bucks to fly a banner around the stadium demanding the firing of the Goat du jour. As a non-attendee, I find it abundantly simple to ignore the Chiefs.

When Christians cease to spend time together for the purposes of worship, it’s increasingly easy for them to simply ignore the demands and blessings of the Christian life. As well-intentioned as they might be, those who spend Sunday morning in the “Great Outdoors” typically find matters of God fleeing from their minds.

Where did Jesus go on the Sabbath? Obviously he didn’t darken the door of Capernaum Community Church, since the church had not yet been created. But he went to the synagogue. Was that synagogue full of hypocrites? Probably, but Jesus went there. Did they sing the sort of songs that he liked? We don’t know, but I can’t see him staying away because of that. Could Jesus have worshiped just as well in the great outdoors? What a silly question. Jesus was God. Wherever he went, worship took place.

If Jesus saw fit not only to attend that fallible synagogue in Capernaum but to serve them by teaching, how much more should the common Christian do that? The great outdoors is terrific, but the church needs to be together to be the church.

Consumption vs. Creation

A recent post at the Art of Manliness blog, which I discovered courtesy of the king of Whizbangery, Herrick Kimble, suggests that the significant difference between mature and immature men (and people in general, I’d suggest) is whether they spend their time and find their identity through creation or consumption. They state the matter much better than I have:

Boys are consumers. When they’re young, their parents set up their experiences for them; their only job is to sit back and enjoy it. They live in their parents’ house, eat their parents’ food, and use their parents’ stuff. Their free time in used in amusement. They consume their parents’ resources and are passive and taken care of. They make little to no impact on the world and have little ownership of their lives. They are dependent.

The problem is that men aren’t outgrowing this passive role. Instead of creating, they go on consuming. They may not depend on Mom and Dad anymore (although sadly, they often do), but they’re still dependent on stuff for their happiness. Consuming clothes, movies, video games, cars, parties, fast food, and even travel to make them happy. They live only for their own pleasures and amusements.

The great thing about an overarching theory like this one–that men create while boys consume–is that it can be applied to other areas. If it’s true, then it ought to hold true when applied in those areas. That’s why I got to thinking about church.

Recently, I read the gospel of Matthew. As I neared the end of the book, I read the familiar words of Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission: “Go and find a church that meets your needs, partaking of its programs when they help you feel better about yourself.” Isn’t that how the verse goes?

Today’s church endures far too many church consumers, spiritual children who have no interest in building anything. These people worry a good deal about musical styles and how the church programs fit into their lifestyles. When the pastor’s sermons cut a bit too close their own compromises, when the Bible study class spends too much time studying and not enough socializing, when the student ministry doesn’t click perfectly with their perfect students, these people flit to the next church. They’ll never manage to build anything in their church du jour.

Jesus didn’t call us to consume the church any more than he called us to watch all the latest things on HBO or eat at the best restaurants. Happily, we get to enjoy TV shows, good food, and the benefits of church life, but that’s not our purpose.

Jesus called us to create disciples, to build something. We are to build the church as a self-replicating entity, to be builders of builders.