Michael Goheen lists and describes a variety of images of the church that are shaped more by the current culture than by Scripture:
- Church as mall or food court: Malls offer a variety of consumer goods, and similarly food courts offer a number of choices. Likewise the church provides a variety of programs to meet the religious needs of the congregation.
- Church as community center: Various institutions . . . exist to meet social needs and organize themselves around the hobbies and special interests of their members. In this model the church becomes a hub for its members to meet social needs as the organize around a shared set of beliefs and a shared religious interest. Various programs are conceived for youth, singles, young married couples, and other groups to meet their various social needs.
- Church as a corporation: Corporations are rationally organized for growth, profit, and the efficient marketing of their product. Often church leadership and organization are oriented toward efficiency rather than pastoral care and missional leadership. They are organized to market the religious goods they can offer.
- Church as theater: Theaters are places where people are invited to sit back and passively enjoy various kinds of entertainment. Often the way we structure our worship spaces and liturgies makes our ‘worship’ look more like occasions for entertainment.
- Church as classroom: Educational institutions continue to dominate Western culture. Within a consumer framework, they offer teaching and insight for living. This may well reflect one of the consumer items the church has to offer its constituents through Bible study and teaching.
- Church as hospital or spa: A hospital is a place of healing, and a spa offers an opportunity for rejuvenation in a stressful world. The church is a place of spiritual healing and rejuvenation.
- Church as a motivational seminar: In our self-help-oriented world there is no shortage of motivational seminars to help improve various dimensions of our lives. The church can offer these too, from tips on better parenting to ways to improve your marriage.
- Church as social-service office: The social-services arm of the government exists to take care of the weak, the needy, and the poor. The compassionate church concerned for diaconal mercy in its neighborhood may come to resemble this kind of institution in its care for those in need.
- Church as campaign headquarters or social advocacy group: A social-advocacy group or political party promotes its particular brand of political economic, or ecological justice. In this mode, the church assumes this role, organizing pressure for a more Christian society.
Goheen recognizes that some, though not all, of these items contain aspects of church ministry that are essential (e.g., teaching). He identifies the problem: “The problem arises when the biblical story and the nature of the church are forgotten; then these activities are shaped by a different story and lose their authentic ecclesial form.”
Michael Goheen, Light to the Nations (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 15-16 (bulleted items quoted verbatim).