Shopping for God
I originally composed this piece back in the early 1990s. Little did I know that in 2020 it just might become a reality!
In its never-ending quest for the variety of religious experiences within contemporary Christendom, Give Us This Day has discovered what it believes may be the secret to church growth in the 21st Century.
It’s called “Shopping for God” or, more formally, “Designer Liturgy”.
“Designer Liturgy,” explains Dr. Harry Tick of the Neo-Gnostic School of Theology, “represents the single greatest innovation in liturgy since the advent of the pew.”
But what is Shopping for God, and why is it taking the church by liturgical storm? To answer these questions and others, we interviewed A.J. Barnyard, nondenominational pastor and self-proclaimed founder of the Shopping for God concept.
Give Us This Day: We understand, sir, that you are the inventor of the Shopping for God idea. We’d like to hear how this idea was first revealed to you.
Barnyard: Wull, I was driving past the McDonald’s one Sunday afternoon, and I began to notice how busy they were. And I looked at myself, and me and Betty Lou, the church secretary was the only ones at church, and I got to thinking. Now how come the Ronald McDonald House is always full and the house of the Lord is only half full and for only one hour a week?
And all of a sudden – BAM! – it hits me like a chocolate shake on a summer day. Why couldn’t we be just like them? Open seven days a week. And then the Lord opened everything up for me, and I began thinking “an mebbe we could offer a menu like McDonald’s.” I mean, what if McDonald’s or Wendy’s was to offer only hamburgers and only one hour a week? Why they’d have declining attendance, too!
Give Us This Day: I’m sure some of our readers, and some of your critics, will want to know what your theological rationale is for Shopping for God.
Barnyard: Theology, eh? Don’t rush me – it’s been a while. How ‘bout “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord?” or “Choose this day how you want God served?” Now when’s the last time you saw people going to church with a smile on their face—or worse yet, coming out?
Give Us This Day: I see. I was thinking something like “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Barnyard: Say, the perty good. There ain’t a copyright on that, is there?
Give Us This Day: But seriously, how would you answer the objection that this isn’t proper worship?
Barnyard: Says who? I mean, let’s take communion. Some churches have it a couple times a year, and some have it every month.
Give Us This Day: And some have it every week.
Barnyard: And some have it whenever 2 or 3 elders can be cornered together. Point is, who’s to say how often? And that go me thinking—what are the ingredients of worship, and is there a reason they’ve all got to be there for everyone every week?
Give Us This Day: Or, for that matter, is there any reason to worship every week? I mean, why not worship only when it feels good – when you feel like it. And why not worship while floating in an inner tube in a swimming pool? And . . .
Barnyard: Hey – your not from the compee-tition – are you? But you’re right. We live in a democracy, and if you ain’t got a choice, what good is a democracy?
Give Us This Day: Speaking of communion and choice, I understand you offer some rather, er, unusual choices of communion, or the Lord’s Supper.
Barnyard: Some say. Of course we offer saltines and grape juice – that’s still the number one seller. Then there’s Cheetos and Grape Kool-Aid, and let’s see . . . . Oh yeah, French fries and Dr. Pepper.
Barnyard: We ain’t got a licker license.
Give Us This Day: Moving quickly to names – what do you call your place of worship?
Barnyard: I call it McWorship – what else?
Barnyard declined to speak about the host of competitors which had imitated him with such names as McLiturgy and Worship King. Give Us This Day decided to take a closer look at one of these Shopping for God places.
We went undercover and paid a visit to God-in-a-Box. When I got there, the place was doing a booming business. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m sure I hadn’t expected to see a roomful of people gazing intently at a TV monitor, ears engulfed by a set of headphones, and munching on their favorite flavor of Snack-raments, as the communion elements were called at God-in-a-Box. They had taken the McWorship concept one step further and made sure every order included some kind of food.
While my accomplice checked out the smiling and bobbing head of a stern, Mosaic looking face at the drive through window, I was served by a man in a light blue leisure suit and wearing a cap with the God-in-a-Box logo.
“Pastor Bob here. How may I serve you?”
It took me a while to decode the bewildering choice of worship condiments.
“I’d like a back pew seat in a church with at least 100 members so no one detects me.
“Charismatic, evangelical, or traditional?”
“Sermon or no sermon.”
“Tell me, how’s the sermon lite today?”
“It’s very fresh – right from the front page of the newspaper. Every sermon lite is less than 5 minutes and is guaranteed 100% judgment-free. No hell, no sin.”
“Ooh! Give me one of those, only make sure to hold the alliteration and any Old Testament references.”
“And will you be taking communion today?”
“What’s that like?”
“We have a take-home kit of wine and wafer, grape juice and cracker, or Kool-Aid and Twinkie bit for the kids. But you have to sign a waiver not to eat it until you can watch a certified service.”
“I’ll pass: I’ve already had communion once this year.”
“Perhaps you need some more time to choose.”
“Well, O.K. Gimme a Lamburger and a Water of Life – I presume the Water of Life is free?”
“Absolutely. Short choruses; praise and worship songs; hymns; instrumental music; converted pop music; or no music?”
“Are they all the same price?”
“The hymns are a little more since they’re more complicated musically and lyrically. We pump ‘em all directly into your headphones, so it’s no bother programming whatever you want.”
“I’d like the converted pop tunes. Do you have “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees, only with a few words changed?”
“I’m sorry, sir, we don’t. Can I interest you in ‘Amazing Grace” sung to the tune of ‘House of the Rising Sun?’”
“Yeah, that’ll do.”
“And how many prayers will you be needing?”
“Better make it only one – I’m in kind of a hurry. [But hold all of the “We just’s” please.”]
“Would you like some subliminal messages or affirmations to go with your order?”
“Is that extra?”
“No, sir. They come free with any full order of music. Will that be all?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Let me make sure I’ve got that all. You want a hundred-plus seater, back row, evangelical with a sermon lite – hold the alliteration and OT, a Lamburger and a Water of Life, converted pop tunes, one prayer, and your free subliminal messages and affirmations.”
[Speaking into a mic to the kitchen:] “I need a #27!”
“Your total comes to $10.48 with tax. You’re not on our Frequent Worshipper Plan by any chance, are you?”
“Nahhh. Who has the time or money?”
“Thank you for worshiping with God-in-the-Box, and we’ll be ready with your order in 5 to 10 minutes.”
I have to say that the ordering process ran smoothly, and they got the order right. Unfortunately, the sermon was half-baked, and I only recognized one of the pop tunes. The worst part of all is that half an hour after I went shopping for God at God-in-a-Box I was already hungry again.