“I don’t feel we’re being fed at this church,” Bill admitted. He’s thinking about switching to another church–where he can be “fed.”

What does Bill mean? It seems that Bill, and many others who express similar feelings, go to weekend services expecting to receive encouragement, solace or inspiration. Their expectations are often unmet.

These expectations now form what many consider to be the essence of a church’s mission or purpose. It’s to satisfy the appetite of the audience. A church elder in the documentary When God Left the Building, states his church’s mission this way: “I believe it’s to keep the membership up, keep it fortified, keep everyone feeling good about being there, keep people desiring to come there and want to be there.

Many church leaders advocate a similar consumer mindset for church involvement. They often say, “You need to go to a church where you’ll be fed.”

This whole image bothers me. There’s something very self-focused about it. I can’t help thinking of Audrey, the gluttonous flesh-eating plant in the show The Little Shop of Horrors, bellowing out, “Feed me!”

I’m all for spiritual nourishment. But I worry we’re producing a generation of pudgy pew sitters who desire nothing more than to gorge themselves on super-sized feasts of knowledge and anecdotes.  Many teachers and preachers believe it’s their job to satisfy this big appetite with ever-more-tempting platters of “deep” Bible details, soaring oratory, and five steps toward a happier life.

What’s the outcome? Are we producing healthy, productive disciples–or well-fed, complacent gluttons? We’re seeing some telling effects among the Dones, the mature Christians and life-long church members who are now leaving the institutional church. Sociologist Josh Packard reports in his upcoming book Church Refugees that these people are feeling over-stuffed. They’re tired of the same high-fat meal that’s dished out for them weekly. They want to actively exercise their faith.

A question of mission

Should people view their local church as a spiritual fast-food joint? Is the prime objective to make sure patrons amble out rubbing their stomachs, feeling well-fed? I think not. I don’t believe God intended the church to be a diner for self-absorption, even spiritual self-absorption. Rather, the church should strive to be the healthy Body of Christ, the community of believers coming together to experience and love God, and to love one another and the larger community.

For those ready for a healthier diet, some suggestions:

MEMBERS & ATTENDERS. Stop looking for a trough where you can be “fed.” Look for a Jesus-centered community where you can be the church, where you’re given full access to love one another, to experience God, and to exercise your faith.

CHURCH LEADERS. Don’t pander to those who wish to sit, gorge, and grow obese. Shift the primary focal point from a mere mass-feeding to a time for the Body to connect, love one another, experience God together, put their faith into action, and share stories with one another of God’s recent interactions.

Some churches today are doing it. They have chosen to intentionally step beyond the “feed me” mentality. One such congregation, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, even incorporated its bigger mission into its name–The Point Is to Serve. From the get-go, people understand the point is not merely to “be fed.” Instead, these Jesus-followers are known for how they feed others. Sometimes literally. Like the time they delivered 32,000 pounds of ham and bacon to the needy.

Pastor Allen Kjesbo said, “We believe service is a key (and often neglected) path of spiritual formation.” The church’s small groups, called LifeServe Groups, “not only study the Bible and pray together, they also serve together,” Kjesbo said.

This church isn’t striving to fill pews with satiated spectators. “We were challenged to consider how to measure success differently,” Kjesbo said. “It’s about transformation–not ‘nickels and noses.'”