Archive for December, 2009

And the Band Played On

December 25th, 2009 Comments off


“Your party’s jumpin’ and ev’rybody’s havin’ a good time, now you know what’s goin’ through my mind; do you mind if I get comfortable and kick of these shoes”  (George Jackson) Z.Z. Hill – 1978

Are churches little more than worship nightclubs? Some may wish to deny it, other may challenge it, but the number of churches adding entertainment elements to Sunday services is growing and is the primary draw at today’s successful churches.

Today’s modern churches feature large screen televisions and monitors, high-tech sound systems and television production facilities complete with theater style seating and professional lighting. Along with modern facilities, powerful choirs, recording quality soloists and professional musicians populate the music ministry. There are steppers, interpretive gospel dance and religious rappers. Many of today’s churches offer everything from clerical comedians, popular gospel singing groups and religious movies. Said plainly, church today is a place to get your “swerve” on.

How many people would come to church without holy entertainment? The common thought is that attendance would fall precipitously if there was only “The Word” and several studies support that idea. Already, recent research into belief and behavior show that religion has little to no affect toward improving behavior. For instance, one of the most talked about topics in the last 20 years is abortion, but analysis shows that the people who obtain the most abortions are Christian. More than 70 percent that receive abortions in the United States are Christians, 43% Protestants and 27% Catholics. In fact, 1 out of 6 abortion patients describes herself as born-again or an evangelical Christian.[1] The gay marriage debate provides another example. The majority of people against gay marriage say it shouldn’t be legal because “The Bible says it’s wrong,” but ignore a much greater threat to marriage, divorce, which Jesus very clearly opposed. No matter what the Bible says, Christians have the highest divorce rate in the US making it clear that practice and preach are very far apart.

So, why do people go to church? Receiving “The Word” should easily resonate as the most important reason to attend, but the numbers and observation don’t support that assumption. Church attendance in the United States has been falling for years, according to evangelical researcher, George Barna.

One of the most common ideas used to stem the flow is to combine religion with something else like entertainment. Churches have used this strategy for years. At first this combination of religion and entertainment seems to work as more people attend and enjoy church, but what is often left unresolved is the “why” of the increase and in most cases “entertainment” stands out as the differentiator.[2]

“The people who are out there don’t see it as entertainment, although that is in fact the way it is. These people don’t go to movies; they don’t go to bars and drink; they don’t go to rock-and-roll concerts—but everyone has to have an emotional release. So they go to revivals and they dance around and talk in tongues. It’s socially approved and that is their escape…,” Marjoe Gortner, quoted from Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Changes

Observation of attendance patterns makes it clear that churches without entertainment lose out to the churches that do. With the advent of megachurches, smaller churches are dying off as they lose their congregations to the stylized, production oriented attraction of large churches. Clearly, entertainment plays a major role in most churches across the United States accounting for increased attendance levels, but it hasn’t been enough to slow the steady leak of attendees.

“. . . They put on a show filled with energetic gospel music, religious celebrities, enthusiastic crowds, miraculous faith-healings and watered-down, feel-good messages. These sermons lack any theological content but are rich in production value and soap-opera melodrama,”[3] says Scott Bridges, in his article,Contemporary Religion is New Entertainment.”

Religion skirted the edges of entertainment for years and now it sits in the front pew. If the planets happen to align any time soon, perhaps recognition of the stranger in the glittering coat will occur and all will be right with the world. However, don’t count on it.



[1] The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2008 & Women Who Have Abortions, National Abortion Federation

[2] The Religion R A C K E T, Dr. Norman H. Wells,

[3] Contemporary Religion is New Entertainment, Scott Bridges,

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