I realize I posted about the first few days of the Emerging Churches class and then just stopped. The last six days went well. The class was really engaged with the material and was filled with discussions. We had several who were from Europe and others from Asia, so that added more perspective to our topics.
One of our best conversations was regarding church and consumer culture. Donald McGavran, the founder of our school, wrote that a person should not have to change cultures to find God. Each and every subculture ought to have a community that bears witness to God, within the world of that same subculture. This witness embraces those things in the culture that bring life and refuses those things that bring death.
This student said, "Fifteen years ago, I took a church growth class, and you said I needed to create a church that looks like the culture, and that culture was the shopping mall. Now you are saying we need to create churches that are unlike the shopping mall, as these are too consumeristic -- what gives?"
I don' t know how our answer came out, but it was something like this (or should have been!):
It was okay that your church looked like the mall in the 1990s -- mall-like consumers were the people who were part of your community, and that was their world, and they shouldn't have to cross cultures to find God. However (and here is the critique), the gospel is always 'gift' and operates in a different sort of economy. While the church 'mall' could be built, the 'stores' could not continue to operate within the producer-consumer dialectic. Unbridled consumerism, where artificial needs are repeatedly created and then satisfied in a process of self-interested exchange, with scant attention to gospel, violates the gift economy of the kingdom. In contrast to the anonymous meeting of spiritual needs, the benefits of the kingdom are freely given as they are shared in a Christ-following relational community.
The other thing that changed in the last fifteen years has been the growing understanding of the missional church. The church growth movement, as most other movements within Christendom, advocated an attractional (come-to-us) as opposed to a missional engagement with the culture (go-to-them). For that reason, in the 1990s, we said build the best mall you can...
Today, for missional reasons and for the critiques listed above, we no longer advocate mall-building. Unless, of course, it has a cine-plex :)