In his invaluable book The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani reproduces a conversation between economist James Gilmore (author of The Experience Economy) and Leadership Journal staffers Marshall Shelley (MS), Eric Reed (ER), and Kevin Miller (KM) that gets to the problematic heart of some evangelical churches' drive toward producing a "worship experience." I excerpted it in my current book project (on the attractional church model), and thought it might be of interest to blog readers:
MS: So how does all this "experience providing" apply to the church?
Gilmore: It doesn't. When the church gets into the business of staging experiences, that quickly becomes idolatry.
MS: I'm stunned. So you don't encourage churches to use your elements of marketable experiences to create attractive experiences for their attenders?
Gilmore: No. The organized church should never try to stage a God experience.
KM: When people come to church, don't they expect an experience of some kind? Consumers approach the worship service with the same mindset as they do a purchase.
Gilmore: Increasingly you find people talking about the worship experience rather than the worship service. That reflects what's happening in the outside world. I'm dismayed to see churches abandon the means of grace that God ordains simply to conform to the patterns of the world.
KM: So what happens in church? Are people getting a service, because they're helped to do something they couldn't do on their own, that is, get closer to God? Or are they getting an experience, the encounter with God through worship?
Gilmore: The word "getting" is, I think, the problem with contemporary Christianity. God is the audience of worship. What you get is, quite frankly, irrelevant as a starting point.
ER: But people, especially unchurched people, don't perceive it that way. They're expecting some return.
Gilmore: They come that way at first: "Give me, feed me, make me feel good." But they should be led to say, "Hey, this is not about me, God. Worship is to glorify you."
KM: But if my mission is to reach a consumerist culture—if I'm going to get a hearing for my message—then I'm going to have to provide something that the consumer considers of value.
Gilmore: That is the argument. But the only thing of value the church has to offer is the gospel. I believe that one result of the emerging Experience Economy will be a longing for authenticity. To the extent that the church stages worldly experiences, it will lose its effectiveness
—Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2009), 72-73.