Sunday, February 3, 2013

Here We are Now, Entertain Us

Today there is some big handegg game going on, but (at least in my circles) the bigger news is always the commercials. America relishes in consumerism so much that we look forward to Super Bowl ads all year, and then discuss them at length afterward. Companies pay millions for 30-second ads, and it pays off. Our obsession with advertising and marketing hasn’t stayed in the secular realm. 

"I'm not your buddy, friend."
It’s no secret that I love liturgy. I encounter God in ritual. The few times I’ve been exposed to contemporary settings, I wind up bored or frustrated. I see church there being commercialized. “Tradition is boring,” this marketing implies. “We can keep you entertained. Worship is what is popular, what makes us feel good, and what draws in big numbers.”  The type of settings I’m thinking of look more like youth rallies than sacred ground. They have “contemporary" worship with bands that play top-40 rock sounding music. They have “Jesus is my homeboy”-type slogans. They have jean-clad speakers on a stage with projectors. They promise that they aren't like those lame churches with holy days and rites. They offer church without all the churchlike stuff. Church is branded, re-crafted to be appealing to a young crowd. Emotion is key, church is cool, Jesus is a buddy, and being a Christian is the “in” thing.

I know I’m a stick-in-the-mud, but I don’t think church should be cool. Any church that tries to appeal to my demographic has already lost me. If churches market themselves as a cool hangout, they will go the way of other cool hangouts; that is, they will fade when the next new fad comes in. Churches shouldn’t try to allure young members with stage performances and promises of being “a different kind of church.” A church should allure young members with its good deeds, its community, and the Truth. By trying to commercialize itself, a church just becomes another option alongside restaurants, bars, and gyms that try to sell its service in exchange for your time and disposable income. I think trying to make church cool does more damage than good. Religion shouldn’t be something trendy and new; it should be something radical and rooted. Worship isn’t about entertainment; it’s about surrender. You give your attention and reverence to God. (I know I’ve been quoting C. S. Lewis a lot lately. Not sure why, but I just keep thinking of quotes of his that fit what I’m talking about.) Lewis said, “The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.” Emotional highs may happen, but that shouldn’t be the goal. You may enjoy worship, but the point of worship is not your enjoyment.

Trendy marketing does attract some people, and perhaps it attracts those who wouldn’t have otherwise considered church. But what happens once they are there? When a church is so focused on drawing people in, it seems to neglect the need of the people already there. The best thing about a church is its community: generations mixing, sharing their experiences, struggles, and understandings. Churches shouldn’t be full of like-minded people; it should be made of people who disagree but love each other anyway. They share a love of God and learn to work through their differences. Branded churches aim at certain demographics, creating echo-chambers of opinions. 

Maybe once I’m out of the prized 18-34 demographic it won’t bother me so much; I won’t feel pandered to. I just don’t like churches advertising themselves the same way beers and cars do. It creates the idea that churches should cater to people’s wants and conform to popular opinion. And that just makes churches as shallow as any other modern commodity. A congregation is not a demographic. A church is not a commodity. Worship is not entertainment.

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