Saturday, March 10, 2012

On Playbooks and Ipads - not!

Jasper National Park

Grasslands National Park

If the community of traditional North American churches were a corporation; it might well be called RIM—stock values falling, clients defecting to sexier alternatives, management in despair about what to do to halt the bleeding. Obviously it’s not a community and it’s not a corporation, but anxieties about the future are rampant in nearly every Western, traditional denomination: attendance drop off, budget cutbacks, even layoffs of personnel are becoming more and more common.
            Sailing against this tide is a host of non, or semi-denominational churches that have caught a breeze in their sails that established denominations have obviously been missing. Like RIM, older denominatiol's Playbooks have been overtaken by these new churches’ Ipads. A part of the world is hoping for a recovery; a larger part is already writing an epitaph.

            Recently, I downloaded an update to my Blackberry Playbook that makes it—in my opinion—superior to my wife’s Ipad in a number of ways that I won’t go into here. The reality is that RIM—in desperation—reinvented itself in the hope that it would again be competitive. “Too little, too late,” the pundits are saying. They’re probably right.

            So if the traditional churches would remake themselves in the style of the more successful, new wave of churches, would that, too, be too little, too late? It shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out what the differences are: send spies to case the new churches' procedures and programs and duplicate what they’re doing? Apple Ipad came out with a user-friendly email program; Blackberry Playbook didn’t. Playbook developed an excellent email program, but will it make a difference to sales? And what should traditional denominations modify in order to raise their stock value, expand their client lists once more? Bands and contemporary music? A return to a simpler, more personal gospel? More aggressive community outreach?

            It’s a conundrum. The basic gospel message is the same in its core; the creeds differ only in minor details. So is it all in the delivery?

            I’m sure there are those who would answer this question quite emphatically. They might point to “old and tired” versus “young and energetic,” or “spirit led” versus “tradition led,” or “outward-looking” versus “inward-focused,” and there might be a grain of truth in all these comparisons. On the other side, I can hear people say that the success of the new churches is based on the willingness to provide a simple, black and white theology that provides great reward while demanding very little. That they, too, will be subjected to tiredness, client loss and dissolution with time. There might be a grain of truth in that as well.

            And then, of course, there is the possibility that Christian churches, like trees in the forest, are inevitably subject to the decay that time and changing climates are bound to bring.

            I’m presently on a train to Winnipeg to a denominational conference that will again visualize its future against the above backdrop. The Assiniboine Valley is slipping away to my right as we speed southeastward. Even in its winter monochromes, it’s very beautiful. It’s a majestic, miraculous creation, this verdant, living planet and us to enjoy it. It makes me wonder if we’re too much missing the forest for the trees, if we’re fiddling with the trivial while the majestic slips by us unappreciated.

            It’s been know to happen.

            Can the Creator be worshipped and creation held in reverence without churches, mosques or temples? Or must an old, old revelation descend on us again, this time in hip-hop dress with a Blackberry and headphones?

            No matter how hard you shake them, clocks refuse to run backwards.

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