If there’s anything we’ve learned from Marvel Studios’ 11-year long run of 22 movies culminating at Avengers: Endgame, it’s this—we love being entertained. In fact, we live in a world that will spend $21.7 billion on these couple dozen films and in a country that spends 10+ weekly hours on Netflix, nearly an hour a day on Instagram, and 7 hours a week listening to podcasts. Forget living for the weekend—we’re filling our days with slices of entertainment in an effort to live in never-ending bliss.
When you realize we spend around $100 billion a year on vacation, it seems like we’re succeeding in our pursuit of entertaining ourselves to utopia. Until you face the reality of the increase in loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
Nearly 20% of the U.S. population is suffering from an anxiety disorder of some sort and over 16 million Americans have experienced a major depressive episode within the past year. The American Psychiatric Association ran the same poll from 2017-2018 to find that anxiety grew by 5% within that year. Last year, Barnes and Noble reported a 26% increase in anxiety-related book sales.
While there are countless inputs creating an output of pain for us, we can’t ignore the correlation of increased entertainment with increased anxiety. We are literally entertaining ourselves to death.
Like most things, entertainment is an empowering gift when enjoyed in its proper place and a destructive vehicle when driven too far. Much of our pain stems from an abuse of a good thing. And a sign that we have embraced an entertainment culture too much is when we allow it to structure the way we build the Church.
Charles Spurgeon warned us of this motivation when he said,
“If you have to give a carnival to get people to come to church, then you will have to keep giving carnivals to keep them coming back.”
In hopes to draw people who are typically uncomfortable with the traditional church experience, we begin putting more energy into creating a relevant experience. And if entertainment is relevant, then entertaining will be the new adjective of Sunday. Top hits become the new ambiance, keeping up with fashion trends is the newest ticket to belonging, and loud, bright, and big is the new goal.
Matt Chandler recently addressed this issue by saying,
“You and I are so overstimulated, you and I are so overwhelmed with fast-paced, energized entertainment that we have developed a real idealized sense of life with a real low pain tolerance. The Church herself no longer is about discipleship, no longer is about being shaped, no longer is it about being formed. It’s about being entertained in the gathering.”
Good intentions taken too far have reshaped many churches’ motivations to be that of impressing rather than empowering. If we seek to impress, then we will fill our schedules and strategies with image-driven experiences. If we seek to empower, then we will build our strategy around formation-driving guidance to bring about change.
Entertainment says, “Take a seat and enjoy.” Empowering says “Train and give.” And giving strips away your comfort in hopes of providing your neighbor with life and peace. It takes training, not passively receiving. And it is the Church leader’s role to provide that guidance and training.
Chandler goes on to say,
“My job, and the job of vocational ministers, is not to do the work of ministry, but rather help you see, spot, be trained in your giftedness and then unleash that giftedness on the world around us so that you have been called to ministry.”
As anxiety and depression rates rise, people are discovering the empty well of a life built around entertainment. You may entertain your way to an impressive looking Instagram feed, but your soul will still thirst and hunger for belonging and meaning. We need to provide training for people to swim in and taste the deep waters of healing a hurting world, not merely entertaining it.
What does moving from entertained to empowered look like?
Well, it will look different for each church depending on your current structure, location, demographics of attendees, your team’s capacity, and much more. But I do believe the first step of the journey is to ask your team the simple question, “What does our church and community need?”
An honest look at this question will not return an answer revolving around entertainment. We get enough of that already. Honest answers will revolve around restoration and redemption. And once you land on your answer to the needs of your people and your city, you will be able to structure your weeks around fulfilling such need.
These empowering practices may look like offering counseling, classes that take a deep dive into an issue plaguing your church, the launching or restructuring of groups in order to help people better discover belonging, a retreat to help people go away and rest, a teaching series built around spiritual disciplines that can be practiced throughout the week, or any other creative idea that suits the church’s desire for authenticity and depth.
Let’s lead the charge of empowering church attendees to work alongside the Church for the building up the Kingdom of God. This mission will allow people to experience true belonging and purpose, something entertainment itself can never provide.