In her article “From Obligation to Consumption: A Framework for Reflection in Northern Europe”, the British sociologist of religion, Grace Davie, argues that the postmodern religious trend in northern European countries is a shift from obligation to consumption. In other words, people tend to go to church because they have a particular need to fulfil (consumption) and do not feel obliged to keep on belonging to that religious organisation or participating in their activities if they no longer fulfil one’s need (obligation).
Her argument applies to us because the fulfilment of needs (consumption) summarises the classic reasons—insecurity, uncertainty, and scarcity—that are foundational to our traditional religion. The difference between our traditional religion and Christianity is that Christ came primarily for spiritual salvation without neglecting salvation of our temporal needs. Salvation of our temporal needs is the point of departure in traditional religion, although there is the need to live good lives so that, at death, one can cross over to the realm of the ancestors (heaven).
However, as contemporary Christianity in Africa is largely influenced by traditional religion, the shift from obligation to consumption is now pervasive. Religion today is a commodity and people shop at religious denominations they believe will provide their temporal needs without really belonging to that denomination. Consequently, people are always on the move from one church to another.
I write this topic because we need to realise that preaching ONLY about heaven is not sufficient to keep our members in the long term. It has never worked. Although people left Jesus because of his “hard saying” (John 6:60-66), this hard teaching was not the first thing Jesus did. John 6 began with the feeding of the five thousand and the people continued following him so much so that Jesus said they did so because of the bread he gave them (John 6:26). Of course, Jesus never failed to utilise every opportunity to continue preaching repentance. The apostles provided for the temporal needs of widows and orphans, healed the sick, and cast out demons.
Therefore, we need to do more to solve the temporal needs of our community. Just like Jesus, we need to attract them first before they can hear the Word of God. This holistic approach to salvation has always been the strategy of the Catholic Church in its history. The missionaries did this for us, and the Church in Europe and America are still providing the temporal needs of our communities till today.
Unfortunately, it seems the Pentecostal Churches are doing better than us here. Why? We are an international institution and, coupled with the arrogance of being the true Church, we are complacent and are reticent to adopt strategies that will meet people’s temporal needs.
The Pentecostal Churches operate an ecosystem that enables them to keep their members. They often employ only their members and, as these people pay tithes, they keep expanding into other business enterprises. I have reached out to former Catholics trying to convince them to return. They told me they could not because they are employed in the school or hospital of the church they currently attend. Moreover, sadly but honestly, these Pentecostals have a better welfare package for their workers than the Catholic Church in Nigeria. It is the living that praises God (Isaiah 38:19).
May God continue to help us.🙏🏾