for release Friday September 23, 2005
by Melodie Davis
Churches: Staying Relevant Without Selling Out
During a recent church service, the speaker had just finished the opening paragraph of his sermon: a very serious and heavy introduction to his topic. He paused. A child let out a long, noisy yawn that was audible to the entire congregation. It was impossible not to laugh, it was so on-cue. Wisely, the minister, pausing another beat for the laughter to die down, said, “It’s time for a story.”
Unfortunately, a giant yawn is the response of too much of society to the average church service. It’s not so much that younger generations lack faith; they find church Boring.
“Our kids think in images … Electronic generations are wired differently …” so said a speaker at a recent communications conference I attended.
When I go into a Best Buy or other huge electronics/music store. I feel bombarded by sound! If I go to the TV/DVD/video equipment section with huge images playing all around me and different sounds coming from many different quarters, I feel a little dizzy or at least overwhelmed. When I go back outside of the store, I feel relieved.
Okay, so I’m showing my age. What does the church do in such a culture? How can it possibly compete?
This column is mainly for people over the age of 40. Tex Sample, the speaker at the communications conference addressed how churches can stay relevant and accessible in our current times. Tex is the author of many books including Blue Collar Ministry, Ministry in an Oral Culture: Living with Will Rogers, Uncle Remus and Minnie Pearl, Powerful Persuasion: Multi-sensory Witness in Christian Worship.
Mr. Sample can tell good ‘ole boy stories from the Deep South reminiscent of comedian Jerry Clower (now deceased). But he also communicates deep theological truths stemming from his education at Boston University and many years of teaching at a theological school in Kansas City, Mo.
Bottom line, he encourages today’s churches to find ways to express Christian faith in a culture that is increasingly electronic—but without selling out to fads and just doing the latest thing because it is the latest thing. He says that the church cannot “touch or move people if they speak a language that those in culture do not understand or trust.”
You have to be contemporary, but you don’t have to be faddish. He suggests anything to get visuals, images, symbols in front of today’s visual-oriented audiences—for instance, blowing up a picture of the communion symbols—chalice and bread, to help people focus on the act of communion. He says that starting small is the best way to begin to incorporate imagery into worship services—let the kids of the church or youth produce media that can be shared in services—always a good way to win over parents and grandparents.
Reproduce kid’s art on Powerpoints or in the bulletin. Illustrate music with photos or artwork—many are available copyright free and in the public domain, or scan in your own photos and download from a laptop computer to a video projector. It takes a little extra work; large churches are hiring multi media specialists to produce the fancy stuff, but small churches can make creative use of technology with a couple of dedicated technology users—and find out that it is a fun way to get more involved in creative aspects of worship. (One source for multimedia worship aids is www.midnightoilproductions.com )
Sample encourages using all of the senses, just as people find in society: image, sound, beat, light, and dance. Read the scriptures to a background of music and images. The object is not to produce slick, fancy media shows which detract from the basic point of worshipping God, but to help provide experiences that involve more of the senses than just sound.
Earlier this summer, following Sample’s advice, for a worship service I worked with a songwriter to illustrate two of his songs with photos scanned from my own photo album of events at church, and a photo art book. Another woman created and ran a Powerpoint using the photos. The photos helped people think about the words more, not less, as viewers tried to associate the text with what they were seeing. It was a lot of extra work but with three of us cooperating, it was worth doing.
If people object to being more creative, Sample says the question that usually gets people thinking is, “Do you want your children and grandchildren to be in the church?” Or, do you want them producing, as adults, long figurative yawns?
What do you think? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va., 22802, or post your comment at www.thirdway.com/aw/conversation.asp (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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