The Old Story about What's Happening in the Churches
As I noted in the last post, since we don't really know our neighbours and their faith(s) we settle for media soundbites about the plight of religion in our Canadian culture.
As Bibby notes (p.9),
National Post columnist John Fraser wrote in June 2000: "Religion, as a source of excellent stories of all sorts, is one of two great no-go areas in the contemporary media (universities being the other)." He noted that there are exceptions, "but as a general rule over the past few decades, stories on religion will break into the media only if they are (a)sensational, (b) bizarre, (c) goofy, (d) gee-whiz or (e) contemptuous." Such lack of media attention hardly suggest that Canada's churches have been seen in recent times as institutional heavyweights.
How do we as active believers handle being ingnored by the media? To be honest, when we are doing good work "seen only by the Father in heaven" we might get miffed! Drive by shootings, pedophile youth workers, and murder suicides get all the press. We might look down on self-promoting individuals and churches, but we wouldn't mind being promoted by others. Unfortunately we have bought into a model of influence that focuses on visibility. If kingdom living works more like leaven than a billboard then we should be used to, and embrace, the gracious nature of the infiltration of everyday discipleship and local obedience. On a structural level, we should be praying for and working toward the reformation of press journalism. The "pajamas media" model of blogging is tweaking the hegemony of the MSM (main stream media). A biblical version of this might be called the "overalls model" of visible Christianity. Jesus said for us to be "a city on hill" whose good works would be evident and bring glory to the Father. "Let your gentleness be evident to all, the Lord is near."
Some recent news items have pointed toward the power of relational media (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn) to overtake the popularity of a primarily passive activity, TV viewing. The stories that are catching people's notice are now real stories of real people we know and are in close connection to regardless of physical proximity.
Some hard numbers
Membership of Presbyterians in Canada 1871-1966 (p. 11)
Protestant Service Attendance, 1945-1985 (p.13)
Percentage of people who attended the previous week
(From Bibby, Fragemented Gods (1987):
For some time now, a highly specialized, consumer-oriented society has been remoulding the gods. Canadians are drawing very selectively on religion, and the dominant religious groups are responding with highly specialized items - isolated beliefs, practices, programs, and professional services, notably weddings and funerals. A religion that speaks to all of personal and social life, pronouncing and, when necessary, denouncing, is largely dead in Canada. Ironically, in trying to get in step with the modern age, organized religion - by dismantling the gods and serving them up piecemeal - is running the risk of becoming increasingly trivial.
Yet the research through the 1980s was pointing to another important finding: people were not dropping out. Some nine in ten were continuing to identify with the predominantly Roman Catholic and Protestant ties of their parents. . . No, people had not dropped out; they were still at home. I noted back then that a student of mine, now my colleague Mary Thompson, summed up the situation well when she wrote on an exam that people were not "dropping out; they were dropping in."