Looking at how much time we do it I’d say the evangelical church assumes that the most important ministry in the church involves having specialists pass on teaching, challenge, knowledge and wisdom on to those who aren’t specialists. We spend a lot of time and money on Sunday school, small group curriculum, sermons, conferences, books, and Christian higher education and all of these forms of ministry follow along this similar track.
If we go back far enough we see most churches located in small rural communities because most people lived in on farms or small towns. In such a town there would be a smattering of educated people like teachers, doctors and clergy. In this situation the pastor or the priest would be one of the more educated people.
Fast forward to 20 years ago. Western society is now thoroughly industrialized. More people live in cities than in the country and many more people are educated. Television, tapes and books are used extensively by the church. The local church no longer held the monopoly on spiritual content.
Now fast forward to today. Information on many topics has been thoroughly commoditized. The knowledge that used to be difficult or costly to access is as available today as tap water. This includes spiritual content. As people tap in to teaching that is cheap, easy to access to often even better than what they get at church they are beginning to wonder why they bother attending.
There is a great scene in Good Wil Hunting that demonstrates how information has become commoditized, and how formal education has become something of a racket.
A few friends I’ve known that post their sermons online have observed a consistent surge in traffic on their websites on Friday and Saturday. In many churches what we hear on Sunday is a warmed over version of what the pastor found online the night before.
As information becomes as accessible as tap water it isn’t appreciated near as much either. People are drowning in a sea of information. It isn’t always quality content but there is a massive amount of it. People are saturated in it. There just isn’t that much more capacity to absorb.
I think this might be one reason why many evangelicals have shifted over to the Orthodox or other traditions with a more formal liturgy. The heart of their church gatherings isn’t passing on information. They seek substance, divine connection and participation in the sacraments. It doesn’t necessarily rock my socks but I understand the desire to go in this direction.
One reason why people leave the church without leaving their faith is they believe what the local church offers them isn’t significantly different from what they could get with Itunes and youtube. The currency of the church must shift down the spectrum from knowledge to love. Immediately people will object by saying we can’t cast away knowledge because we will end up becoming ignorant and futile. I’m not arguing that we cast away knowledge. It isn’t an all or nothing thing, just that we need to rebalance things to the point where people feel a tangible connection with others.