While we continue to live in a “microwave society,” I think we are beginning to see shifts in Americans’ ability to think beyond today and remember farther back than the last 30 minutes. The most unlikely source of all is demonstrating this fact – television.
Think of most shows from the 90’s. They were 30-minute sitcoms with every problem neatly wrapped up during that time frame. There were also hour long dramas and not so surprisingly the issues fit perfectly within the hour.
The world was also showing that geopolitical problems could be solved almost as quickly. The Berlin Wall had fallen. The communist threat was no longer weighing on the minds of citizens. We had a Middle East peace deal that ended all those conflicts. We even fought and won a war lasting as long as a football season.
Everything became designed to cut to the chase. Details were forgotten. Quick sound bites were the way to express our thoughts and opinion.
As with every other cultural phenomonon, the church jumped on the bandwagon – late as always. Pithy sermons and cute illustrations were used to reach “today’s audience.” This continues to be where the vast majority of “culturally relevant” churches are staying.
However, as with everything else in life 9/11 both changed and left our lives the same. While many things remain the same, our culture is beginning to yearn for something more.
The War on Terror has trudged on with no clear end in sight. We are learning to deal with battles that stretch past one football season well into basketball, baseball and back again for several years. The peace deal that was supposed to end all the conflicts has proved worthless. The culture is coming to grips with the fact that short sound bites might be effective they can be hollow and empty.
Seeing problems wrapped up on television in less than an hour seems even more unrealistic now, so TV has adapted. Look at some of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows from the past few years. Fox’s 24 was perhaps the first in recent years to perfect the season long (and even longer) story arch. Viewers weren’t given a pat answer in one hour, they were presented with even more problems.
Many shows have since followed suit. Lost, Prison Break and Desperate Housewives became instant hits drawing committed fan bases. This season new shows such as Jericho, Heroes, Kidnapped, Six Degrees and Vanished are following the same mold. Comedies like How I Met Your Mother and The Office have themes and plot lines carrying over through out the season and beyond. Recently hits shows like CSI which have almost exclusively been a one espisode and done show have altered their format with plots stretching beyond one week. One could even point to the infamous reality shows, where viewers follow continuing action through the season.
So while the television programming is reflecting the cultural change, I am afraid that once again the church will be left operating off of an old paradigm. Christianity was afterall the last bastion of the boy bands, long after the secular world had moved past them.
If we continue to avoid any real substance in what we offer the culture, instead opting for the short and sweet, we will lose many today who long for a sense of true reality. The generation coming up tends to look past all the glitzs and glamour and wants to be show something with substance. They know from first hand experience that big problems aren’t solved before bedtime.
If there is any area where Christianity can excell, it is in offer substance, something beyond the quick clip mentality. We should thrive in this environment. We could see a cultural revolution and revival.
Or we could catch on to this too late. We could continue to throw up showy performances with lots of light and smoke trying to hide the “offensive” cross behind a smiley face logo. We could continue to offer church goers the chance to sit in a movie theater and drink coffee while the preacher gives a hip, relevant message to yesterday’s culture.
The Church should be ready with the clear, substanative message of the Gospel. There is depth waiting for those seeking to explore Christianity. Messages that go far beyond your 15-second sound bite or 15-minute
It’s not automatically wrong to offer things different than in the past. In fact, it is often a good thing. But if you are going to try to be culturally relevant, you have to know what that is. If you want to have church in a theater and drink coffee, go ahead, just make sure you give the congregation, not audience mind you, something more to take home than a cup full of Starbucks. They recognize they need more.