Interesting article from a magazine called Church Executive.
TEANECK, NJ-Treating groups such as students, patients and religious followers as "customers" is having a serious negative impact on America’s schools, churches, hospitals, media and government, according to marketing professor James G. Hutton.
"Every parent, teacher, policymaker and leader should be concerned about the impact that customerization is having on American institutions and on Americans," Hutton said, "because the effects are much more profound than most people realize."
In his new book, The Feel-Good Society, Hutton explains that the idea of being a customer has tremendous intuitive appeal to most Americans because that implies greater accountability.
"Unfortunately," he said, "when institutions like schools, hospitals and churches treat their students, patients and members as customers, the result is almost the opposite – those institutions almost inevitably begin to pander to their audiences, becoming more responsive, but to the wrong things. They lose sight of their basic mission and ultimately become less accountable."
In education, for example, Hutton’s research found that axioms such as "keeping the customer happy," and "the customer is always right" have led to a variety of problems, including a lack of discipline, a dumbing down of standards, cheating and other forms of dishonesty, social promotion of underqualified students, out-of-control grade inflation, a focus on self-esteem rather than character-building, and a tendency to tell students what will make them happy rather than what will make them educated.
In the healthcare arena, Hutton found that the commercialization and customerization of the American healthcare industry has not brought the benefits that were promised. "If anything," he said, "concepts such as managed care, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and the privatization of hospitals have created more problems than they have solved, adding new layers of costs and bureaucracy, and often taking medical decisions out of the hands of people qualified to make those decisions."
At the heart of the overall problem, Hutton said, is that everywhere Americans used to use the word "citizen," they have substituted the word "customer" or "consumer." "The implications are profound, because citizens have rights and responsibilities, but consumers have only rights, with virtually no responsibilities," he said. "Thus, we have become a nation overrun by lawsuits and victimization, where fewer and fewer people take responsibility for their own behavior."
That is an interesting insight that viewing ourselves as customers puts the onus on others with no responsibility for ourselves. This is true especially in regards to religion as practiced by our society. The very term church shopping reflects this consumerist attitude. That the Church much change to satisfy us and never the other way around. Too many parishes treat the parishioner as always right and tries to keep them happy by neglecting what should be done. As he notes when this happens accountability is lost and it happens on both sides. There is a tendency for priests and other teacher of the faith to worry more about offending some body rather than preaching the truth. Hard truths just get left unsaid to ensure that no one might squirm in their pew or even to be offended. Contrast this to John 6 where Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist scandalized some disciples who walked away. Homilies on contraception are rarer than sensible statements from Howard Dean. Knowing that the majority of Catholics are contracepting and are objectively committing grave sin and receiving the Eucharist unworthily would perhaps spark a homily or two on the subject. Yet the opposite happens since you can’t upset your customer, I mean parishioner.
Now I admit that I also have a consumerist mentality towards my local churches. After all I don’t normally go to the parishes closest to where I live, but instead go to a church downtown. Because some parishes have catered to the consumer instead of being obedient to the norms of the liturgy this is a sad consequence.