I have always been a Dave Barry fan! Even though I have never lived in Miami, I looked forward to seeing his columns in various newspapers. He is no longer writing a regular column, but from time to time he still treats us to something special. What would we ever remember a year without his annual year in review? His column on his colonoscopy is not only one of the funniest things I have ever read, it is also the most accurate! (If you have not read it, check it out here. But word of warning—get some tissue because you will cry from laughing!)
So I was delighted to hear him interviewed last week on NPR Weekend Saturday. He was talking with Scott Simon about his new book Insane City, which is now on my to-read-list.
I do think Scott Simon is one of the best interviewers around and he proved it again as he escorted Barry from his description of Miami, “I moved here in 1986 from the United States, and I have come to really love it here. And it’s a great place to be a humor writer. Carl Hiaasen … his quote is, ‘You really don’t need an imagination to write fiction about South Florida, you just need a subscription to The Miami Herald.’ ” to a look at the current state of journalism. “The time that people used to spend crafting one thoughtful 800-word piece, they’re more likely to spend now dashing off 53 one-liners, because that’s going to get them a much broader audience.”
It was here that Barry got me to thinking about church. In talking about local newspapers he noted:
“The business model they operated under for decades and decades, where Sears bought a gigantic ad for a whole lot of money, because we were the only vehicle for that, and so we made tons and tons of money. And we thought, in journalism, that we got all that money because we had a bureau in London and a bureau in Rome, and we had bureaus all over the place, because we were The Miami Herald, and we had bureaus everywhere, and we were making all this money, and it must be because we were doing great journalism.” And then the Internet arrived, he continues, “and all of a sudden, we aren’t necessary for any advertiser the way we used to be … and it turns out that the public wasn’t demanding that we provide them with this level of journalism that we thought was so important to them.”
Recently I have been thinking a lot about the “business model” we use in church. For so long church was the place where people came to be married and buried. But is that still true? Charleston is now the top planned destination wedding spot in the country. (We ignore Las Vegas! But when we get our Elvis Chapel…) I did 8 weddings last year (a slow year) and 2 already this year. None of them were in a church. Reading through the obituaries today, unless the individual was Catholic or African American, the vast majority had their service in the funeral home chapel.
It goes beyond to the very nature of missions. This past Christmas our local newspaper gave away over $400,000 to assist families. Have you given a donation to help feed or clothe or house anyone? It was not that long ago that those were the purview of churches. But now…
This is occurring at a time when more and more are saying they are SNRB—Spiritual But Not Religious. The Nones are the fastest growing religious group in the land.
So what is our business model? Are our assumptions all wrong?
Many times to even raise the questions puts you in the camp of religious doomsayers! That is not my intent! Quite the contrary! I do believe that the church has a vital role to play in our world. The voice of faith is an important one in the conversation taking place. But to believe that we can, or must, do it just like we have before…then that is just like believing that the local newspaper will always be around. (Ask the people in New Orleans about their paper!)
It is one thing to lose a paper. But to lose the church??? I just don’t think God will let that happen. There will be a church, just like there will be journalism. What it looks like…well that is the question!
Those of us in the church must ask the tough tough questions about what we are about, how we are going to meet the mission ahead of us, and what we are willing to change in order to reach that mission.
I pray we are up to the task!