HARTFORD – The church is changing. Instead of leading congregants to a higher moral ground, its become focused on pleasing church-goers, which Author G. Jeffrey MacDonald says is contrary to the church’s mission.
On Tuesday he’ll be speaking at Hartford Seminary about his new book, Thieves in the Temple, which addresses the issue.
MacDonald, an ordained United Church of Christ minister and a seasoned religion reporter, said he began studying the consumer mindset that consumes many churches when the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the U.S. Religion Landscape Survey in 2008. The report showed that 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations at least once. In 1955, only 4 percent of Americans had switched religions.
“What concerns me is that there’s a consumerist ethic that is really effecting institutions and shaping what they do and what they don’t do in such a way that the church isn’t shaping character very much anymore,” MacDonald said. “People are seeking religious experiences that are either entertaining in nature of therapeutic in nature.”
Because of this, he said, things like obesity, debt and divorce are climbing among Christians at an alarming rate, and more people are leaving the Christian church. He explains this idea thoroughly in his book.
“People are willing to become Buddhist if Christianity isn’t doing it for them. It’s a very competitive marketplace and pastors serve up theologies that people find palatable,” he said.
He said preaching a feel-good sermon each week may get more people in the pews, but said it’s a disservice to the churchgoer.
MacDonald added that another problem he sees in the church is a lack of diversity. He explained churches are creating niche churches, such as the Cowboy Church, which can lead to complacency.
“Churches are increasingly filled with people who are like one another … How do you come to love people who aren’t very much like you? If you’re not challenged to do it in the church, then where’s it going to happen?,” he said.
If the church is going to help Christians grow in their faith, then MacDonald said churches need to stop catering to individual preferences.
He says it’s time for clergy, lay people, churchgoers and spiritual seekers to take back the church and outlines ways to do that in his book.
MacDonald is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and attended school in Wallingford when he was growing up. He now resides near Boston. His presentation and book signing will be at 7 p.m. at Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman St. in Hartford.
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