There are numerous biblical images for the church: the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, the elect, the family of God, God’s temple, the flock of God, to name a few. An ancient, post-first century symbol that was used for the church was a boat (rooted in Mark 4:35-41; 1 Peter 3:20-21), and there are many others.
As a young Christian, I heard the image of “cafeteria” used numerous times to describe the way some people approach Christianity. The idea was, “I will take a little of this (grace, etc.) and some of that (love, etc.), but I do not want any of the other (obedience, etc.).” The lesson being that we can not pick and choose what Scriptures we decide to obey.
I recently read an article by Trevin Wax entitled, “The Church Is Not A Restaurant.” It is a well written and thought stimulating image. Wax deals with what is happening when a congregation does not stand out in a consumer-oriented society (people will naturally gravitate toward a view of the church that is influenced by a consumerist imagination). The article is about why one might attend a variety of churches without ever committing to any of them, and the reason is “when you see the church as a restaurant.” The following is from Wax’s article (with editing and addition material from MRJ).
What happens is that church members migrate from one congregation to another, enjoying for a season the preaching and music here, sometimes coming back to their go-to congregation when they’re in the mood for something more familiar, or heading over to a third church for a mission trip. The result is sporadic attendance at any particular congregation.
When leaders notice that their church members have been absent for a while and they check up on them, they’re puzzled to discover that there isn’t a particular reason why these members have been more absent than present. The attenders are not mad, and they’ve not had a bad experience; they just see church attendance much like someone might think of the choice between Texas Roadhouse or Red Lobster for lunch. It’s whatever they’re in the mood for that Sunday, or during that season of life.
The problem with viewing the church as a restaurant is that it amplifies the consumer mentality in that the service is all directed one-way. There’s not enough commitment for people to attend week after week; which makes it extremely difficult for the consumerist mindset to be challenged, discipled, or ministering to for the upbuilding of the church.
The church is not a restaurant; please do not treat it like one.