This past Sunday I made my annual pilgrimage to church for Easter mass. Thanks to my fidgety three year old, I have been able to duck out of weekly church services, or at least hang out in the lobby until after the benediction when I am forced to go by my wife. I spend the other 51 weeks out of the year(I used to be a ‘Chr-Easter’ worshipper myself but I’ve been able to eliminate Christmas Eve ever since I had kids and they became more interested in prepping for Santa than the birth of Jesus)away from Jesus. This Sunday however, along with me, three hundred other members, unseen for weeks at a time, piled into our pews, shoulder to shoulder.
Christmas and Easter are like the Super Bowl and MLB All Star game for Christianity. It is no surprise, neither to the weekly worshippers nor to the presiding clergy, the church is at maximum capacity, for all mass time slots, during these two days with ‘Chr-Easter’ worshippers. But what about the other 50 weeks out of the year? Where does everyone go? If they aren’t rejoicing in the glory of Christianity’s spoken word, what are they doing? Congregational attendances are receding faster than Brett Michael’s hair. The rise of ‘Chr-Easter’ attendees is growing at an alarming rate.
As the preordained orator was reading the same passage read on every Easter Sunday since Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome, I began contemplating these attendance problem and potential ‘Chr-Easter’ remedies(Why me? He who has put his faith in the evolutionary process, fossil records, and verifiable evidence? Sometimes help comes from the unlikeliest of places folks. For my purposes today, consider me your good Samaritan.)
Church services need a facelift. A facelift the likes of which would make Joan Rivers’ plastic surgeon jealous. While the pews are populated with a dense thicket of baby boomers(and those boomers parents), what the church wants are you and I. Nuclear families. They want young adults, preferably with kids. Blessed are the young for they can help churches avoid fiscal insolvency.
The problem is not God. People believe(or at least they say they do to avoid an argument with their grandparents). The problem is Gen-X’s and Y’s are wired differently from their parents. They don’t have the attention spans to sit in church(we barely can get through the free credit report dot com commercial without flipping the channel). X and Y’s don’t do well with restrictions either. Orthodoxy rules could put the tax code to shame. Not good if you’re trying to lure in people under the age of 40 into your ceremonies every week.
Church, for most of us, is boring. It offers less laughs than a dentist visit.
Church is outdated. Like boxing or a printed newspaper, Churches are slowly become a thing of the past simply because they have no idea how to win over the age bracket capable of re energizing them. Most of us would gladly ignore the church bells for the Fox pregame show or a buy one get one free sale at Old Navy.
Luckily, during the Easter service gospel reading, in between nodding off, I had a chance to really ponder the dilemma facing churches around the country. I have found 10 ways to save the country’s houses of God(maybe Bill O’Reilly will finally settle down about secular progressives now)
8. Thou shalt pay for entertainment. Churches need to get themselves some entertainment. It is the same principle sitcoms use during May sweeps when they are trying to get picked up for next season. Bring in an actor featured on a Star or Us!Weekly magazine cover for a three episode arc to boost the ratings. It creates buzz. People flock to buzz and celebrities. Our society has a celebrity fetish. Even the most minor of celebrities can grab a majority of the headlines(how else can you explain ‘Keeping up with the Kardashian’s’ success). Grab a contestant from Survivor Season 1 as a guest one week. If I knew Richard Hatch was going to be giving the sermon on Pentecostal Sunday, I wouldn’t mind blocking out some church time on Sunday.
9. Thou shalt stream thy service. Just put the whole thing on the Internet. Missed that Advent service last week because you were sleeping off a hangover? Just go to the online church service archives and download it onto your iPod or Mp3 player. It’s time for religion and their services to stop pretending computers and technology are the work of the devil and get with the times. The youth of today are much more inclined to stream your Sunday service knowing they don’t have to squeeze into a church outfit they have had since 8th grade. You could add live online chats with the pastors after the service. Read the altar boy’s Tweet updates live. Have a ‘tip’ icon to click so online viewers can give, even at home. The possibilities from this one are unlimited.
10. Thou shalt have retro-mass. By implementing all of these changes, churches will have the ability to have ‘throwback’ services. The old hymnals, organist, and choir members will be there. Dust off a retired Monsignor no one has seen since the Nixon administration and have ‘throwback’ service. The choir feels important again, the baby boomers can get their sermon served on a plate of stoicism, and everyone can dress up in their Sunday best while the rest of the congregation watches online or sleeps.
Religions and their churches want only to spread their Lord’s message(and perhaps increase the weekly offerings). They have tried their way. Out of touch, boring, repetitive, monotone tradition has not drummed up the new memberships the elders thought it would drum up. With dwindling congregations, organized religions had better be open to the new ideas. They need to be less concerned with the ‘How’ and the ‘Where’ of their message. They need to know the message is all that is important and it can be told any way, so long as it is told. They need to embrace our changing culture and realize they could still be influential in that culture. But by continuing down the same path, on the same donkey, with the same palms, regurgitating the same verses, in the same manner practiced fifty years ago, churches risk becoming a bi-annual event…for everyone.