Book Review: This Little Church Went to Market

This Little Church Went to Market

by Gary Gilley

Victor recommended reading this book to me and I’m very thankful for it. Everyone working in a church should read this book! It opens with the sad state of twenty-first century western people who are ultimately swayed by skilled marketing pulling at their identity and emotions. Rather than, like two and three hundred years ago, when people were swayed by logic and information. People who read and could think. When the climax of education was to change a person improving their character, rather than being able to recite facts.

for the people, having now been trained to be consumers, have also been taught that the ultimate sin is to be bored. Hence the birth of the market-driven church that caters to the insatiable appetite for amusement in society in general. pg 29

This “market-driven church” occupies most of the rest of the short book. He goes on to show all the holes, misdirection, and pop-psychology involved with this marketing approach to church – personfied in Rick Warren, and the Purpose-Driven series.

Warren would be hard-pressed to find biblical backing for this presentation of the gospel. We find nothing here about sin, grace, repentance, the Person of Christ, Calvary, faith, judgment, or the resurrection. This is ultimate in a mutilated, seeker-sensitive gospel; the seeker comes to Christ in order to find his purpose in life, not to receive forgiveness from sin and the righteousness of God. Then, to pronounce someone a full-fledged member of the family of God because he has prayed such a prayer (based on minimal, if any, understanding of the person and work of Christ), is beyond tragic pg 106

… the New Testament never tells us to learn to love and trust Christ in order to be saved. We are told to repent (Acts 17:30) and place our faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9) not ‘learn to love and trust’. ibid

In a biblically illiterate post-Christian era, it cannot be assumed that the unbeliever has any concept of any of these things pg 107

That is a scathing rebuke, and very true. But the scariest part is yet to come:

Warren is not so much an initiator as he is a product of his time. I believe he has caught the wave of what was already happening in evangelicalism. What he has done successfully is connect the dots – develop methods, programs and a message that seems to work. Pragmatism has become the final arbitrator in our society and increasingly in our churches pg 112

There is hope however!

I have found an amazing thing – when people are fed a steady diet of biblical truth they have little craving for cotton-candy fads. Why would anyone trade in the fountain of life for cisterns that can hold no water (Jer 2:13) ? Of course many have and do, but the solution is not to crawl into the cistern, it is to showcase the fountain. pg 114

Gilley has a whole appendix set aside for the topic of repentance as well. One thing that was particularly eye-opening to me was seeing the frequency in which “turn” is used instead of “repent”. They mean the same thing in the Gospel context. To repent is to turn from sin to God. Repentance is more than stopping sin, but doing righteous works as well. There are two choices of where you are going to build your house, sand or rock. The sand means sin, the rock means the words of Christ – specifically the sermon on the mount in that context. Which contains all the right things we are supposed to be doing

Only one thing about this book made me sad, Gilley doesn’t have the kingdom


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Steve on May 20, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    Last Saturday’s “Sydney Morning Herald” reported on the latest National Church Life Survey (a survey of about 6000 congregations and 400,000 people from 22 denominations).

    Among the interesting findings of the survey are these:

    1. Australian churches are attracting new blood, and up to one-third of all churchgoers are recent recruits (i.e they have have been in their church for five years or less)

    2. New Christians are demanding more than passive Sunday worship -they are hungry for a hands-on way of living out their faith

    3. Pentecostal churches, which have grown 30 per cent in the past 10 years or so, were ranked highest by their own congregants on their ability to inspire, nurture faith and readiness to try innovations

    4. The trend over the past decade or so is towards a far more positive, faith-affirming spiritual life where the focus is not just on the afterlife but on individual transformation and the ability to change the world for the better

    I just thought you might find this interesting. While expressions like “faith-affirming spiritual life” could mean almost anything (and may indeed mean “religion which makes me feel good about myself”) it’s interesting to see that many people are looking to their church on guidance about how to make a difference and make a positive contribution to the world. “Individual transformation” is also vague, but may be another way of saying “repentance”. It seems to me that people are looking for “a hands-on way of living out their faith” which includes, for some at least, a desire to know what God wants of them and some guidance on how to live out the teachings of Jesus.

    I’m all for repentance, and it’s important that we teach it as a core part of Jesus’ gospel. However, we also need to clearly explain what it means to repent. To some people it conjurs up thoughts about legalistic ritual observances and religiosity, but not “turning to” God in an attitude of reliance and trust. Perhaps they’ve been turned off a traditional concept of repentance by the self-righteous and hypoctrical who have given it a bad connotation. When Jesus taught the sermon on the mount He was teaching the gospel of the Kingdom and showing what it means in daily life to turn to God. I think that’s what people are looking for, and what we are called to do.


  2. “Warren would be hard-pressed to find biblical backing for this presentation of the gospel.” from page 106.

    This is an amazing statement considering how many people have gotten their Christianity from this line of thinking as well as how many churches there are that use the purpose-driven model.

    I have experienced the result of not allowing the gospel to draw people out of the world and into the church and it is quite a challenging – its nice to have the people in the seats filling the church – but what ends up happening is the church becomes full or or intermingled with those who haven’t heard the gospel or repented.

    This places a burden on the preacher to communicate the gospel and basic Christian principles each week and leave the mature and elders without food. Do we expect our congregations to preach the gospel to the new people who walk into the church doors if they perhaps don’t know it themselves?

    I spoke to man last week who said he had been a Christian for over 15years. We ended up having a heart-to-heart conversation about many things and I was amazed that when asked the question “have you been forgiven of your sins?” he hesitantly replied “I think so.” He then couldn’t clearly point to the time this happened or when he became a Christian either (conversion) yet he has been a member of his church and even taught in small groups! The basics of Christianity which are communicated through the gospel of the Kingdom alone had been neglected and there he sat with a wonderful attendance record at church but perhaps does not yet have his name written in the book of life.

    The power and importance of the gospel message, unadulterated or watered down has never been clearer.


  3. Posted by JohnO on May 21, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Yes, the New Testament clearly shows that the Church (body of Christ) is full of repentant, committed people. So why should our church buildings be any different? Those new that show up are delivered the Gospel, and they either choose to repent, or choose not to repent.


  4. Even before that though I think is the critical time – we draw people to the church WITH the gospel – this is the Biblical model.

    And the critical piece – use love always.


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