The first drive-thru restaurant was created in1947 by Sheldon “Red” Chaney, operator of Red’s Giant Hamburg in Springfield, Missouri. (1) That was almost 30 years before the now famous McDonalds opened its first drive-thru. Amongst other convenience-oriented innovations towards the end of the 20th century, the drive-thru changed our culture. Here is a quote from McDonald’s online news site, “Approximately 70 percent of McDonald’s’ U.S. sales now come from drive-thru windows. Today drive-thru windows and the Golden Arches are as much a part of the American way of eating as a fork and a knife.” (2)
Along with the integration of the TV and the microwave, the drive-thru changed mealtime in our country. Mealtime used to unite the family by slowing down the pace of life and prioritizing the home. Dinner used to be seen as a daily family event. Did you now that 60 years ago, the average dinnertime was 90 minutes, while today it is less than 12 minutes? (3) After researching multiple polls and surveys on the internet the consensus is that only around 30% of families eat dinner together 7 nights a week. The majority of families in the US are opting for quicker, easier, individual meals.
Likewise, the modern Christian is opting for quicker, easier, individual faith.
Many western culture Christians are treating church like a drive-thru. They are just passing through on their way to the next thing, which is usually some variety of Sunday sports. Their kids have practice or a tournament, while the adults can’t miss “the game”. Church services are getting shorter, more “entertaining”, and employing consumer-based strategies to attract people. Much like the fast-food industry evolved to make food more convenient for consumers, many churches are compromising to make Christianity more convenient for church-goers.
I must point out that we are speaking primarily about discipleship and not evangelism. By no means should we ever “make it hard” for anyone to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The gospel must remain pure, straightforward, and free for all who choose to believe. We are talking about those who profess to already be Christians. If churches were truly focused on evangelism they wouldn’t put so much money and effort into Sunday services. The most effective vehicle for evangelism will always be the incarnational approach that Jesus took. We can dig further into the Jesus-model for evangelism later but for now, let’s focus on the Jesus approach to discipleship.
Discipleship has been treated more like a program within our church. I have often heard the questions, “What is your Discipleship Program like? Making disciples – i.e. discipleship – is the mission(program) of the Church. Every other program lines up underneath “Disciple Making” on the church org chart. When our culture began to focus on convenience instead of community during dinner it shifted the family culture. When churches began to focus on consumer-based services for the sake of “attracting more people to Jesus” it shifted the faith culture.
The drive-thru convenience-based lifestyle permeates every area of our culture. The modern Christian wants options, convenience, and a money-back guarantee. Despite more entertaining services, better coffee, comedy based sermons, and VIP treatment at churches, nationwide attendance is still in decline. According to Thom Rainer, “About 20 years ago, a church member was considered active in the church if he or she attended three times a week. Today, a church member is considered active in the church if he or she attends three times a month.” Why are churches experiencing a downturn in faith participation? Here are 3 observations:
1 – We’ve treated Christianity as a Sunday-based religion. Faith has been compartmentalized along with every other area of life. Churches who focus primarily on Sunday feed into this theology of compartmentalization.
2 – We’ve opted for peddling an “easy-gospel”. Jesus offered himself freely but never downplayed the cost of discipleship. Salvation in Jesus is free – following Jesus will cost you everything. We have confused new-believers into thinking that following Jesus is a spectator sport. It leaves believers confused, ineffective, and often disappointed with God.
3 – We’d rather cohabitate with Jesus than marry him. Many Christians are treating their faith more like an optional relationship than a covenant one. “So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) We have lost the art of true discipleship and stopped short at merely adding converts.
Back to mealtime. “A stack of studies link regular family dinners with lowering a host of high-risk teenage behaviors parents fear: smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders and sexual activity. In one study of more than 5,000 Minnesota teens, researchers concluded that regular family dinners were associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. In a very recent study, kids who had been victims of cyberbullying bounced back more readily if they had regular family dinners.” (4) The research indicates that families who spend more time together are stronger and healthier. Likewise, a Christian who only attends “one dinner” with Jesus a week is more likely to struggle when difficulties arise.
One dinner a week with Jesus is not enough. The early church placed a high value on getting together daily in groups. Disciples of Jesus who spend time with him daily and meet 3-4 times a week with other believers in various ways are more likely to grow and multiply other disciples. For the Church to grow we need to repurpose the way we think about church. We need to take into account the social and cultural movements around us and learn from the data. We can’t just make shinier and “better” versions of Sunday and think that it’s going to carry on the mission Jesus gave us to go and make disciples.
So, let’s start with our family. How many times a week do you have dinner with your whole family? If we can’t do that well what makes us think we are going to be effective at making disciples?