Being Church in a Consumer Culture?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : December 17, 2004

I’ve been toying with the idea of working with a few Minneapolis churches to put on a conference…(I know it is a bit of a longshot, but hey, it is fun to dream).  I’ve been pondering potential themese for a conference.  To me, a good conference ought to:

  1. Benefit churches (ie, be useful to them).
  2. Stimulate new thinking and new practices.
  3. Be something that responds to a neglected area. 

So, I am pondering putting together a conference on being the Church in a Consumer Culture.  This issue is very near and dear to my heart; too few churches are being prophetic in this area.  I am fairly confident that I could get a local church to host the conference.  If I could secure some basic funds from grants or donors, get at least one well-known speaker (like Marva Dawn, Rodney Clapp, etc.), then I would have a solid foundation for a good conference. 

I was thinking it would be a Thursday - Friday conference…with three plenary sessions, featuring one well-established speaker and two relatively well known authorities on consumerism and religion (like a Vincent Miller).  The rest of the sessions could be led by church practioners who have been attempting to navigate the church in a consumer culture. 

Here is my question: Is this worth doing?  Would you be interested in something like this?

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7 Responses to “Being Church in a Consumer Culture?”

  1. Lucy on December 17th, 2004 3:40 pm

    What is your approach? Is this about how to subvert consumerism in the church?

    Maybe subverting endless conferences in church would be cool too! :)

  2. Van S on December 17th, 2004 3:51 pm

    The approach would be to have people discuss how to be and do church in a faithful way in light of the problems of consumerism…so the focus could include both subverting consumerism in the church, as well as subverting consumerism outside of the church.

    I used to think lots of conferences were a waste of time–but they can be very helpful. Conferences provide an opportunity for people to learn from one another–a sort of continuing education for those who otherwise might not have opportunities to learn. Some conferences are a waste of time, for sure. Some conferences are overly focused on propogating a model (a la Willow Creek), others tend to neglect practical implications. My hope would be that a conference like the one I propose would allow for both thinking and praxis.

  3. Lucy on December 17th, 2004 4:22 pm

    It’s not so much that I think they are a waste of time,(although that may come into it) but rather that if one wants to teach people from a mission angle on whatever issue it may be, then the best way is to actually bring people into the mission field. Take people out onto the streets, into the culture, let them see the problems, and rely on God to teach them how to deal with it.

    One big problem with another conference is that it keeps mission inside the building, which completely goes against the point of it.

    Just my opinion:)

  4. Van S on December 17th, 2004 11:14 pm

    I guess I am working under the assumption that those who attend conferences like the one I am suggesting are already practioners. I agree that the best way to learn is to get out there and start doing. But it is also good to exchange notes along the way.

  5. jeremy on December 18th, 2004 12:08 pm

    This is a great idea. I would come, and I would try to bring other people as well. (Especially if Clapp were there.)

    Perhaps we could have a conference that included some corporate “practice” as well.

  6. Gregg on December 18th, 2004 3:28 pm

    How did conferences get to be the problem that needs to be subverted? The same could be said–and I hear it often–about Bible studies. We should stop reading about Christ and go be Christ to a dying world. Too much talk. Too much theory. “We need to subvert oesoteric Bible studies.”

    Is this really a fair dilemma? Theory-focused or Praxis-focused? Aren’t both involved no matter where our energy is expended? Show me a theoretician that devoid of application and I’ll show you a practitioner who’s devoid of theory. Can’t do it.

    As far as considering a conference, it seems to me that judgments about what is better or best should be suspended until we understand what prompts people/groups to have ‘em. What will help an alcoholic more–telling them it’s wrong/hurtful to drink or asking what happens in their life when they drink/how does it impact them? I wonder if, rather than saying we should do this or it’s better to do that, it might be more helpful to consider why we do the things we do? People conduct lots of conferences on a variety of subjects…what’s this about for THEM? What does this do for them? Intellectually, emotionally, relationally, etc. Once we have a better grasp of what dynamics occur to perpetuate these things (conferences, Bible studies, drinking) we’ll be at a more informed place to understand something. Maybe people deal with the insecurity of getting their feet wet by throwing a conference. OR, maybe some folks have gotten their feet wet and now want to shift focus to sharing what they’re learned (e.g. giving away a fish vs. teaching another how to fish…practice vs. theory). I don’t know, maybe conferences are simply a futile selfish act, but I think I could make that judgment better if I started asking “what” and “how” questions about the process.
    I wonder what writing this response does for me? Ultimately, I’m learning something about myself and I’m developing new opinions through this exercise of blogging.

  7. jeremy on December 19th, 2004 12:49 pm

    Um, yeah…I’m not sure how this became a discussion about the theological issues surrounding conferences, but I am sure of this: I was really happy to here someonw suggest that thoughtful Christians get together to think through a faithful response to consumerism in the US. So if anyone is interested in that, I’m down. Whether we call it a conference or not.

    (Btw, I think that our tradition has a lot of resources for addressing this question: tithing, fasting, radical generosity, communal living, etc. It’s simply a matter of contextualizing these resources as a response to our current situation and re-interpreting them accordingly.)

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