Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, June 01, 2009

Leno, O'Brian, and Christ - O My.

Jay Leno is out, and Conan O'Brien is in. The question that remains is whether or not Conan can recapture some of the flagging market share in the precious 18-49 year old demographic. Under Leno's leadership, the tonight show realized a 35% drop in that group. While some of this is attributable to the dramatic changes in media delivery (young adults are turning off the their TVs, tuning into the internet instead for 'on demand' access to shows, and to cable, as seen in the soaring Daily Show.

This endeavor is a risk for NBC, and instructive for we who are called to share Christ. That NBC is monitoring their effectiveness and responding to the changes demands of their audience is good capitalism. When churches do the same thing, however, the word "good" should be used very carefully; so should the word "bad", for the reality is that could be either, good or bad... or both.

The real danger, in fact, resides in a monochrome assessment of whether "market analysis" has value. Those who say, "responding to the market is good" run the grave of risk of continually altering the message to entice hearers, or retain hearers. Of course, Paul warns Timothy that such an approach becomes the soil out from which heresy grows. Lowering the bar, twisting the clear ethical mandates of the gospel, or in any way 'widening the road' is an ever present danger. When our paradigm is rooted in a continual assessment of market share, the danger becomes our inevitable mode of operation. Ironically, these accommodations ultimately render the gospel powerless, and hence irrelevant.

This is part of the reason that theological liberal churches often struggle to find vibrancy and health. I'll hasten to add that this is also a clear and present danger in the entire "emergent church" culture. Embracing the tendencies to shrink back from the ethical mandates of the gospel doesn't capture market share; it simply makes you nothing more than a classroom (only lacking qualified teachers), or a bar (only lacking alcohol), or a concert venue (only lacking good sound systems are creative artists). Responding the market isn't inherently good.

Then is "market response" inherently bad? Wrong again. It's not holy, or pure, or mature, to callously disregard the response of people to your message; its' just poor communication. If I'm sharing Christ and nobody is listening, it might be that everyone's heart is in a state of utter rebellion, and that God's spirit isn't at work anywhere, among anyone with whom I speak. Or it might be that I'm using language they don't understand, or answering question they're not asking. It might be that I'm confusing the wine of the faith with the wineskin, insisting on neckties, or choir robes, or the King James Version of the Bible. Such posture reminds me of Jesus' assessment of religion found here. Paul indicated the one of the assets of the gospel is its profound malleability. It's wine skin can shape shift, so that it looks profoundly different in Nepal than it does in Seattle, in Atlanta, than it does in Beijing. Because of this, Paul was a student of culture, and used the cultural material of the day to frame his declaration of God's timeless truth; the good news; the gospel of Christ. Failure to follow his example isn't holy; it's irresponsible.


At 4/6/09 00:17, Anonymous Graham said...

Never been a fan of Leno; I'm a more of a Letterman man myself. I think the danger of churches doing "market response/research" is that we can make church about "giving the people what they want", instead of facilitating a community of worshipers. We've said at church that "healthy things grow." That is true but unhealthy things can grow aswell. One has to only turn on the TV on Sunday to see Joel Osteen fill out an entire Houton Arena with health and wealth and watered-down theology; but boy, those people are happy.
I think one of the reasons we are seeing the rise of the mega-church in recent decades is the increasing American need for entertainment and consumerism, to be where the "action" is. If there isn't stellar music and a preacher with a dynamic personality, then 'what what am I getting out of this church?' 'out of this service?' Gone is the sense of a community gathering primarily to worship God. It's a place I go to be filled.
Now I think you are right that toatlly ignoring your "audience" and their needs is suicide for say a writer, for a network station and for evangelists/churches. But I think pandering (for lack of a better word) to them runs the risk of feeding the consumeristic church culture.
So what does this mean for Bethany? Do we do away with Choir Robes? Do we show more movie clips? More upbeat worships songs? Do we add more worship times so people can find a seat? Perhaps, I'm not directly apposed to any of those things; but we need to think about what a decisions like, say, planting a church vs. adding additional service times may say to /teach the congreation about the nature of worship.

At 24/6/09 09:37, Blogger buscar siempre said...

Having attended a mainline seminary and served in several United Methodist and Episcopal churches, I disagree that the decline in membership in mainline denominations is as simple as "widening the road." The United Methodist church in the South is, in fact, very theologically and socially conservative, and could easily be mistaken for the SBC. The Episcopal Church, too, has drawn a shocking number of young evangelicals over the last 20 years (See Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert Webber) who are tired of the legalism and lack of substance in many evangelical churches. I think we must carefully consider, as Graham said, what growth means, that is, what in particular we are growing--disciples of Christ and communities of brethern, or individualist consumers looking for entertainment and some answers. I've very much enjoyed worshiping at Bethany while staying briefly in Seattle, but the church the church that most manifested Christ, to me, was a "dying" Episcopal church in rural Wisconsin with only 10 members--few, but faithful.


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