In The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani writes:

These pastors [who encourage church leaders to "embrace entertainment"], representative of so many contemporary Christians, believe that God changes lives through the commodification and consumption of experiences. If our worship gatherings are energetic, stimulating, and exciting enough then people will attend, receive what’s being communicated, and be spiritually transformed. The justification for this approach is simple – people won’t come to a church that’s boring. And what qualifies as boring is defined by our consumer/experience economy. But the moment we believe transformation occurs via external experiences, the emphasis of the ministry must adjust accordingly. Manufacturing experiences and meticulously controlling staged environments become the means for advancing Christ’s mission. And the role of the pastor, once imagined as a shepherd tending a flock, now conjures images of a circus ringmaster shouting, “Come one, come all, to the greatest show on earth!” In Consumer Christianity, the shepherd becomes a showman.

Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity, page 75.

This is one of the dangers of the attractional church. Even if the attractional model is a legitimate one, we run the risk of simply providing worship experiences rather than worship services. We turn the preaching of the scriptures into a product that has to be packaged just the right way to make sure people come back. We are tempted to ask questions like, “do the sacraments scare people away?” It is a dangerous cycle.

Post filed under Contextualization, General Christian Worship, Hype and tagged .

2 Comments

  1. But don’t you think there is also room to incorporate modern elements into worship without watering down the focus or purpose of worship itself? I’m not suggesting that the church be on the bleeding edge of technology. I’m just hoping to not be a decade behind.

    For instance, instead of using video in church that looks like it was taken with a camcorder from the 1990′s, is it wrong for the church to use a high definition signal to make the lyrics, colors, words, etc look professional? Or, to switch it around, is it wrong for a church to have a symphony level audio system that may attract more visitors when that money could be used for other programs or missions, etc?

    I’m not leading, I genuinely am asking myself these questions. I often struggle with the place where the justification of such things (if we offer more, we get more and therefore have more to share for missions, etc) meets my more radical side that says maybe we’d be better off with 50 person churches and no A/V. In the end, I fear there is a fine line between these things enhancing worship and distracting people from it.

  2. Eric Priest says:

    Good thoughts Lance. I want to be careful in drawing the distinction between tools and motivation. If the motivation is to put on a great show to get folks to come back the next week, then we’re in the wrong. If, however, we use the very same tools to do some of the very same things but for the benefit of the congregation, then we’re fine.

    Technology should be as transparent as possible. If someone comes to a church and we set them up to think, “What a great sound system!”, the sound system has failed to do its job. Or an air conditioner. Sure, the building should be cool but the moment it brings attention to itself it’s failed to do its job. Frankly, it’s the same thing with preaching. If someone comes to a church and we’ve packaged the preaching to have the effect of, “What a great speaker! What a wonderful personality! I want my life to be like his!”, then the preacher has failed to do his job which is to preach the scriptures and call attention to God. That doesn’t mean that a preacher can’t have a personality or be funny, etc., but that those things are not the goal – they’re the God-given means by which he communicates the word of God.

    Technology makes a great servant but a horrible master.

    See Quentin Schultze’s book, “High-Tech Worship?” for more. Schultze is a philosopher and professor who thinks through many of these things.

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