The wrong end of the cost/value proposition

I know business lingo does not sit well with everyone, but this thought came to my mind today.

Customer value can be defined as the overall benefits received from a purchase after subtracting the price the customer has to pay for a product. A product that delivers lots of benefits, and these can be intangible things like prestige and a sense of well-being, can be priced higher and still be viewed by customers as a good value for the cost.

Okay, so drop all the language you don’t like in that example when thinking about church: customer, purchase, product, etc.

Here’s the question: Doesn’t this same equation describe the reason people do or do not find Christian discipleship worth the effort? They are engaging in a cost/value analysis, even if implicitly. Do the benefits of Christian discipleship outweigh the costs? When the answer to that question is “no,” they stop having any interest in serious discipleship.

In an earlier age, the church was pretty explicit in explaining the benefits: Heaven or Hell. And so the cost of discipleship, while high, was not close to value of the benefits.

This has always put pressure on the church to reduce the stakes, and so lower the cost. There is always a market for low-cost, Wal-Mart style religion. And such a thing is a good deal if there is such a thing as a second-rate heaven (or New Jerusalem) for those who bought on the bargain plan.

As we have wavered in our confidence about the stakes of Christian discipleship, we have found ourselves more and more trying to convince people to pay a cost for benefits that could be easily attained for less effort in other places. We say, “We can give you a sense of belonging and some spiritual awe and a community.” Well, it turns out, so can the local professional football team.

It is not irrelevant to the dynamism of the early Methodist movement that it preached and took seriously the idea of the coming wrath. It is not irrelevant that the early Christian church saw itself in a spiritual war with the powers of darkness. It helps explain, rather, why so many people — but still a tiny minority of the overall population — were willing to pay the price about which Jesus spoke to his disciples.

In the words of Paul, they accounted all things loss compared to the value of knowing Jesus Christ.

Can the church exalt the benefits of knowing Jesus, of following him, more persuasively? Would doing so change the tepid nature of much of our discipleship?


10 thoughts on “The wrong end of the cost/value proposition

  1. Staying with the “lingo” of economics for a moment: In the marketplace, assets are not traded based on metrics of intrinsic merit, but VALUE as a PRICE determined by demand (what a customer is willing to pay under certain conditions). This very abstract and elusive concept is at work every day. The moment a new car drives off the lot, it’s value (price) drops in the eyes of the next potential buyer.

    Applying this to discipleship, the value of following Christ is measured in what I’m willing to give for it. My life? In the end is costs ALL to obtain ALL. Every time we come to the table, we “offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice in union with Christ’s offering for us.”

  2. Me, I’m overwhelmed at the value of the forgiveness of my sins.
    The opportunity to shed my old skin, and become a new man…for that I am forever grateful.
    The concept of a future damnation was in there somewhere, but it wasn’t much of a consideration.
    More alarming to me was the present hell I was putting myself and other people through, by my greed, selfishness, and attachment.
    Of course I still fall down, but hopefully with God’s help less often, and I get up quicker.

    1. So the value of being freed of your sins is there. I fear a great many of us these days do not see bearing our sins as particularly painful.

      1. Great point.

        “Wal-Mart style religion.”
        Perfect. That title should win some award.
        It’s as good as Bonhoeffer’s “Cheap grace” title.

  3. I am not sure if it is “cost value” or “supply & demand”.
    The people demand. The Church supplies seems to be the new trend.
    No longer is the church in the lead.

    3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4

    I would say the above passage fits the mind set of this generation.
    Demand supplied!

  4. I think we are missing the obvious. As a church, I think that OUR traditions, OUR programs, OUR priorities, and OUR community has lead the church to its ineffective discipleship. I am not saying that everything the church is doing is necessarily wrong and has no effectiveness towards reaching the lost, but I do believe we have totally lost sight of the first century church experience. In truth….and please give yourself the opportunity to be honest….the church no longer knows what it is to function under the authority and headship of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

    When the church functions as she should, she is the greatest evangelism known to humankind. When God’s people are living in AUTHENTIC community, their lives TOGETHER are a sign to the world of God’s coming reign. No evangelist or apostle of the New Testament brought souls to Christ simply to save them from hell. Such a thought was unknown to the early Christians. The early Christians won people to the Lord to bring them into God’s community, the church.

    Christ did not die just to save us from sins and hell….but to bring us TOGETHER into community. When we, God’s people, begin learning to love our Lord and one another with greater intensity, we will naturally want to share Him with others in both word and deed. The “community”, if it is the “church”, will be the invisible Jesus Christ made visible to the world. What do our churches today make visible? Discovering in Truth that answer is the first step. Problem is……we just can’t seem to stop clinging to our programs….our priorities….our traditions…..our community……and sadly…..our headship.


    1. Christ explains he “came to save”
      Save who from what?

      37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
      Acts 2:22-43
      it may end with community and it certainly a part but the primary was about something else.

      People place all the blame on the church and some of the complaints are valid.
      Don’t forget it is the public that pressures church authority to do what they do and many sit in the pews.

      1. I appreciate the comment from Duane, although I had a similar question to the one raised by d’s comment. My memory of the testimony of Acts is that actual message of the apostles often did revolve around forgiveness of sins.

        1. d………this statement supports a large part of the thought I was sharing:

          “People place all the blame on the church and some of the complaints are valid.
          Don’t forget it is the public that pressures church authority to do what they do and many sit in the pews.”

          Sadly….it can’t be forgotten that the public pressures church authority to do what they do. What we cannot forget is that Jesus is the one and only true authority of the church. It is man…..and man’s self- appointed authority that has distorted the church and is unable to withstand the pressures of the world. Jesus has not changed…..His authority still reigns. It is going to take great efforts by most modern day clergy to lay down their authority and give it back to Christ.

          I understand what you are saying John…and from a discipleship perspective the “means” which the 3000 were saved in ACTS 2: 22-43 is a beautiful example of how to share the gospel to the lost….and just how powerful the gospel message truly is when plainly spoken without holding back any part of it. Interestingly, this did not take place in the church.

          When we read Acts 2:44-47 we see what that personal salvation was meant to fulfill. The individual’s salvation eliminated the individual and a new creation came into being. And this new creation is a part, a member, of a body. Christ did not come to earth just to save people…..ultimately He came for his bride…..the community that was made visible through salvation.

          Rev 22:20. The subject of this verse is the coming of the Lord. The Bridegroom has promised to come, and the Bride responds to the promise of the Bridegroom by inviting him to come.

          What would be the purpose of the Bridegroom? To obtain a Bride. The Bride….in my humble thoughts….was the ultimate purpose of all creation. That was the mystery of the ages revealed to Paul…..that is the mystery revealed to us. We simply need to embrace that truth in order for church….the community… be made visible.

  5. John,
    This is an excellent post on an important point. The problem with cheap grace is that it is not attractive to those who have seen the real thing. There is great value in being in a committed faith community. We encourage one another. We spend the time to make disciples. We are effective in showing God’s love to the world. However, when we starting trying to draw folks in with cheap grace, we lose the momentum in these areas. We become Dan Dick’s schmoo church. The few who are committed spend their strength keeping the lights on for those who are, in economic terms, “free riders.” Gradually the committed find another fellowship and the church declines, just like the UMC in the U.S. There are only two alternatives to survive — either recover the expectation of member commitment or build a golf course (Who would join a country club without a golf course?). For more details, see The Churching of America. ( Thanks for the excellent post.

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