Monday, February 07, 2011

Can I get fries with that?

Drane, John. After McDonaldization: Mission, Ministry, and Christian Discipleship in an Age of Uncertainty. Baker Academic, 2008, 166 pages.

Drane’s basic thesis in his McDonaldization books, as far as I can follow it, is that the church has adopted “rationalized structures” comparable to the larger “rationalized” culture, and this is what he calls, in his previously published work, The McDonaldization of the Church. The concept is not original to Drane, the sociologist George Reitzer having first coined the term. Both writers use the term to “describe a certain form of over-rationalized life.”[1] The reason why the church is declining in this McDonaldized/rationalized age is because we are less and less tolerant of such structures, “at least in those areas of life where we can exercise our own free choice.”[2] Apparently such rationalization still thrives in the commercial world (McDonalds is doing fine right now, after all), but the church is another story altogether.
Rationalized structures are rational in a variety of ways. First, they are ration-ed, pre-packaged. So, the church offers services (chaplaincy and activities executed) or experiences (styles of worship), but is not generally in the game of life transformation. The church is pragmatic, and hits problems head on in a very rational way, but is less often genuinely creative or generative. Rationalism is also a philosophy of sorts, operating with the assumption that the church can provide a specific worldview (modernist) that means something to seekers and church-goers, when in fact the post-modern situation is that we are a people who think we have a coherent worldview, when in fact we lack the very thing we think we have. This is, as has been described in various other contexts in commentary on post-modernism, the collapse of meta-narratives.
Furthermore, the problem with a McDonaldized church is that it appeals to just a narrow band of the faithful, leaving many other types of persons marginalized. I will come back to his description of these types of persons in a bit, but the point itself is worth taking in and pondering. Perhaps churches are shrinking because we have such a narrowly defined sense of what church is that it appeals to only one sub-group of the population, and expends huge amounts of resources to connect with (or shift around) that demographic. A more robust approach would be for the church to be in the life transformation business, to not be so afraid of dying that it cannot creatively figure out a way to minister with and to people who are actually more afraid of living than dying.

The seven people groups Drane “intuits” as a helpful framework to think about mission are (mostly I borrow or adapt his language in what follows):

1. The desperate poor- those who are homeless, or nearly so.

2. Hedonists- people who deal with the discontinuities and pressures of life by partying at every possible opportunity.

3. Traditionalists- People who, it might appear, time has passed by (the church sometimes does a good job of reaching this group, but not often transforming them)
4. Spiritual searchers- People who, for a variety of reasons, believe there is some kind of resolution that lies beyond the everyday, and that the establishment of a ‘spiritual’ connection will be central to that (sometimes churches pay lip service to reaching this group)

5. Corporate achievers- People focused on making it to the top as high-flyers in whatever professional sphere they operate in (note that many of these people don’t make it to the top, but they aspire to the top, and so failure is a significant part of their experience)

6. Secularists- Those who profess no faith, or are even against traditional faith.

7. The apathetic- Christians by default because they are too apathetic to take initiatives to reflect on anything to do with faith.

It is important to hear closely Drane’s significant caveat after listing these people groups: “I spent a lot of time reflecting on the usefulness, or otherwise, of this particular taxonomy… the reason for my prevarication was that, unlike everything else in the book [on the McDonaldization of the church], I was conscious of the fact that there was absolutely no empirical evidence to support the existence of these groups as discrete entities, still less my notion that they might offer a useful lens through which to reflect on the task of the Chruch today.”[3] He intuits them, and has used the taxonomy fruitfully in group presentations and classrooms, but does not want readers to think they are somehow empirically valid or universally applicable. He is writing from intuited (hopefully inspired) experience.
I find two things very helpful about his taxonomy and caveat. First, we should always be suspicious of taxonomies. They too easily box people into rationalized categories that are easily digestible, served in a box with a toy. But second, they actually do draw attention to people groups that much of the church gives scant attention to. When your church (my church) has developed energy around mission develop, how often has it said, “Let’s reach the hedonists and meet them where they’re at!” How often have we simply neglected the desperately poor? How equipped are we to engage the secularists in transformative conversations? Even if we go with a different taxonomy than the one Drane develops, nevertheless if we are going to be in mission, we are going to have to intuit and bravely step out to connect with the people who are so disconnected from the church that the gospel is not reaching them, or the way we are proclaiming the gospel is precluding them from ever hearing it clearly and lovingly.
Drane himself offers a few prescriptions on how to address these diverse people groups, including analysis of some frameworks for church styles and spiritual nurture. On the spiritual spectrum, for example, he believes the desperate poor, hedonists, corporate achievers, spiritual searchers, and secularists are all primarily focused on lifestyle and quality of life spirituality, a spirituality of everyday living; the traditionalists and apathetic will find a focus on disciple (like traditional devotions) most applicable and appealing; and spiritual searchers will look for enthusiastic high energy experiences. Notice how much energy most churches give to the aspects of spirituality that apply only to the traditionalists, apathetic, and spiritual searchers.[4]
Drane offers a wide range of options to address this malaise and over-focus of energy on a narrow band of people groups. He does not offer a system, but rather a variety of thoughts for reflection. He believes that “we have utilized a limited tool-kit in the past that prioritized cognitive reflection over against creativity, imagination, the arts, and affective spirituality. It is not that the one is right and the other wrong, rather that different circumstances call forth different needs and opportunities.”[5]
Furthermore, and this is a spiritual practice worth calling out for the whole church to hear loudly and clearly, “One conclusion would certainly be that we should be more generous about church styles that are not our own preferred forms.”[6] Indeed.
Finally, I was fascinated by a passing comment Drane makes in the book but does not follow up on. He writes, “The re-imagination of a relevant biblical eschatology should be a top priority for today’s Christians… hope is at the heart of the Gospel, and yet no Christian tradition seems to have any sort of serviceable eschatology for the twenty-first-century world in which we live.”[7] He thinks it is hope that is transformative, and hope that is needed in our gospel message to the people groups currently not being reached by a McDonaldized church. I don’t have empirical evidence to back up his assertion, but I intuit that he is correct. The thing about stepping out in faith on behalf of eschatology is that you have to wait and see what comes to you from the future. Living proleptically is always an act of faith.

[1] 1.
[2] 6.
[3] 65
[4] See chart on page 80.
[6] 87.
[7] 16, 27.

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