A week or two ago, I stumbled across an article entitled We Are the JumboTron Generation and it got me to thinking. The post contends that how we watch sports live has changed, due in part to giant video boards and the media overload we experience at games now. The JumboTron is a staple of modern professional sports venues and even most of the major college venues as well. I am sure there are plenty of ritzy high schools that might have them too. The problem stems from the change that they have inspired in our culture.
Before Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, the JumboTron encouraged attention-getting but ultimately ephemeral little performance pieces from fans in the stands. On the JumboTron, people cheered for racing dots; on the JumboTron, people danced the chicken dance; on the JumboTron, people proposed marriage.
The need to be noticed is not a new thing, and we live in a culture that seems to obsess over fame and notoriety. Even blogging might be thrown into that mix, but we can have that discussion in the comments or some other time, I want to talk about the effects of this in the church.
According to the article, the first JumboTron was installed in 1980, which isn’t that long ago really. It touched off a keeping up with the Joneses style competition that is still going strong. As the screens grew in size and complexity it was only a matter of time before they became the attraction.
It wasn’t long before the New York Times ran a story with the headline, “For Some Ball Parks, Entertainment, Not Tradition, is Trend.” The JumboTron, the story said, “keeps patrons enraptured …”
How does this translate to church? Well, lots of churches have projectors and screens now. In a way, we have our own little JumboTron type of contraption right there. We can put the announcements on the screen and project the words for the songs and maybe show a video for the song that is being done as the special music that day. We get clips of missionaries for Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon to play for the congregation so they can see the need. If the pastor is really hip, he might try to show a media clip or two to supplement or reinforce his sermon. We have begun to entertain and maybe we didn’t even notice it happening. I am not saying that this is all bad I admit that I have one that I can use at our little church, although it gets very limited use indeed; but we might need to ask ourselves some hard questions about what this means for how we worship.
When Jerry Jones built that monstrous new stadium in Texas, he put in a big screen to beat all big screens and bragged that it was the “centerpiece” of the whole place. Think about that for a minute. This is a football stadium where people pay good money for the chance to see the teams play live on the field and yet people in the stands are so overwhelmed by the video board that the game itself is almost an afterthought. They even have an outside area with another big screen that they sell tickets for the privilege of watching for people willing to fork over money to watch TV outside. I think it is extremely possible that we are unintentionally doing the same thing in many of our churches without even realizing it. Are we coordinating a show each week for people to come and enjoy rather than inviting them to be a participant in real life itself?
It seems to me that many churches have become more personality driven as a result of this “show” mentality. This was mentioned in the discussion about Joel Osteen recently, but he isn’t the only one we can point to for this trend. There are some churches today where the pastor only appears on a screen because he isn’t even in the same town. I am tempted to put the word church in quotes in that statement, just because I think it betrays the very idea of what a church should be at its core, relational. A pastor in Washington state with a congregation in a theater in Arizona or the like is just a video professor or lecturer.
I watched a discussion a few months back with Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald as they made good humored pokes at Mark Dever for being a old fogey(I can’t remember the specific terms they used so I am paraphrasing here) for just holding services in one location. You can watch the discussion yourself if you want. While I could probably spawn another couple of posts with my opinions from this short video, I want to stay on target here. And let me add this, I am not against technology, but if technology destroys the humanity of the gospel or distracts us from the human element, then it has overstepped its usefulness and is now a hindrance.
So what do you think? Is the church in danger of going down the same path as the JumboTron generation? Are we catering to entertainment or personality rather than substance or reality? Is church becoming a spectator sport rather than a place for participation?