I love the blues. Sometimes I try to insert old spirituals in worship services too. The line in the video above aptly describes churches today (2:20),
…the preacher was preaching, and the congregation….were congregating….
And so it’s been for 500 years, the preacher stands and preaches, and the congregation congregates. The distinction is this: one does, and the rest watch. Church is a spectator sport. Church leaders lead a “sit and listen” model of gathering, yet we wonder why the the vast majority of congregants do little to ‘grow’. Answer? They don’t have to.
But not only does person formation (we call it discipleship) stall, overall growth has stopped in churches as well. The reason?
Spectator sports are only as good as the product they field.
There was a time when the church had the message industry cornered. Not so today. In fact, there’s a saturation of messaging with the explosion of media. The church simply can’t compete.
The message industry produces fantastic content (think daytime talk like Oprah, Ellen, or TED talks, Youtube channels, etc.) Suddenly, the centre of the church service experience–the preaching–is no longer enticing. Parts of it remain valid, but when it comes to vying for attention, there are few preachers who compete (let along share a message that’s under 20 minutes). This is why in the age of consumer Christianity, only the best show wins, which invariably means the best resourced (biggest) church spectacles. The rest can barely compete and ARE losing.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something unique and of eternal value within the Christian experience. The self help worldview only gets you so far, and ultimately keeps hitting empty dead-ends. The ‘spiritual but mot religious’ is merely another consumer mentality that lacks committed depth.
What people may be attracted to is the strange yet enticing Christian experience. The ancient intentional practices steeped in the incarnate Christian reality of encountering the living Saviour now in compelling preview of a world not yet restored. Now that’s something I’d pay to see.