March 3, 2015—Like it or not—and there are plenty of reasons not to—consumer culture shapes what people expect of church and how some churches approach ministry.

It’s tempting to think of church as one part of the “religious services industry”—the sector of the economy that provides spiritual goods and experiences to consumers. When leaders conceive of their faith community this way, even unconsciously, they see their difficulty appealing to Millennials as a failure to create brand loyalty—a failure whose solution is a better product and/or better marketing. To be successful in the industry, churches have to compete in a marketplace undergoing massive disruption as a generation of young consumers becomes ever more knowledgeable and selective about what they do and don’t want.

If the church were just another business seeking market share, this frame of mind would be harmless or even beneficial. But the church is not. And many of the very people churches are trying to reach—Millennials—are hyperaware and deeply suspicious of the intersection of church and consumer culture. This doesn’t mean they’re not avid consumers, for most certainly are. But many also have a sense that church should be different somehow, above or beyond the dirty business of sell, sell, sell.

So what do Millennials think of church? What pushes them away and what draws them in? And when they do visit a church, how are they hoping to be approached?

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