I listened to On The Media in the car this weekend, on my way home from wedding festivities. It was about the state of television. They reported, among other things, that people are not watching network TV. Many people now either DVR the shows they want to see and ignore the rest (including the ads) or watch what they want to watch on Hulu or Netflix. They also talked about how watching TV used to be a social activity- friends watched together, family sat together in one room to watch.
I can witness to all of this. My family watched TV together all my growing-up-years. We had to agree on a show, we shared favorites, and we had to be there on time to watch- we had to use the commercial breaks for snack-getting, for running to the bathroom. There was no pausing. We laughed together, talked about what we'd seen, shared inside jokes from our favorite shows. My parents saw what we were seeing, and kept us from seeing things they didn't approve of.
Now, Scott and I often watch separate shows on separate TVs in separate rooms, and although we sometimes talk about the shows we watch, it's not in real-time, not usually immediately following a show.
There are benefits to this new way of watching- we don't have to wait, don't have to miss any punchlines because we can pause, don't have to suffer through shows we're not interested in. We can go straight to the thing we want. It means TV is customized, on-demand, and not muddied by annoying ads. We don't have to choose between seeing our favorite shows and other activities.
Of course, advertisers are not happy with this new arrangement. We the people don't feel the need to listen to the sales pitches, don't feel the need to share our experience with others, don't feel the need to be at a certain place at a certain time. Advertisers have lost control over the experience of television viewing. We are messing up their model.
It made me think about this "spiritual but not religious" time we're living through as a church. Like TV viewers, many Christians don't feel the need to listen to the sales pitch that they might view Mass as. They don't see the benefit of praying in community (and full and conscious participation is being edged out of the picture slowly anyway, leaving the worshiper little to do but sit and watch). They don't want to be tied down to a certain time of the day or of the week to be in God's house when, after all, God's already at their house, now. Christians are more and more comfortable with a customized, on-demand relationship with God, and the Church is feeling the strain of having lost control over the experience of worshiping.
What's the lesson for the Church? Is it time to see that we can no longer rely on people coming to fill our pews to be evangelized to? Is our goal to fill our Masses (thereby paying our bills, building community, continuing a tradition of communal worship) or to spread the Good News? Can we spread the Good News in more ways than Mass, and would that be okay? Is it okay not to look at other venues? If we just keep on keeping on, will we put ourselves out of business?