As I've been studying through Esther 2.12-14 for Sunday's message, I'm reminded of a book I read that was “spot on” with many of the problems we face in the modern church. It's Gary Gilley's, This Little Church Went to Market. I think what he has written about entertainment is crucial for a Christian to understand:

Growing churches are creating an atmosphere, an environment of fun. Fun has replaced holiness as the church's goal. Having a good time has become the criterion of an excellent, growing church, since fun and entertainment are what consumers want.

Which of these churches was a growing church in the Book of Revelation?

  • The church at Laodicea (Rev 3.14-22), which saw itself as rich and wealthy and in need of nothing?
  • Or the church at Smyrna (Rev 2.8-11), which is described as poor, in tribulation, and facing great persecution?

God said of the Laodicean church that he would spit them out of his mouth, but of the Smyrna church that they would receive the crown of life.

The growing church did not please God, while the struggling one did. Apparently, the Sunday morning worship attendance is not the criterion God uses to judge the true effectiveness of a local church.

We cannot understand what is taking place in the modern church until we have some comprehension of the powerful role entertainment has taken in our society.

Entertainment: [defined] Activities designed to produce personal gratification and pleasure.

In the early decades of the 1700s churches and preachers were still under the influence of the Puritans. The primacy of the Word of God during this time was seen in the highly doctrinal sermons and plain-style worship services.

All that began to change in the 1740's. Church attendance began to dive, theology lost its appeal. By 1800 the American church was in a dismal state and ripe for anything that would offer some kind of spiritual substance. The Second Great Awakening, which began in 1801 in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, would fill that void and forever change Christianity in America. Sermons of substance were rapidly replaced with emotional appeals. Doctrine was steadily replaced by “conversion” stories, and the preacher's performance became more important than what was taught. Music took on a central role as emotionalism became the order of the day. Ministers began to study “what worked” in order to draw a crowd. In other words, church services became a form of entertainment.

In the 1700s and well into the 1800s almost everyone in America was a reader. The outcome of such a state was a nation of people who could think, analyze, debate, formulate an argument, and understand and discuss issues, including theology. All of that began to change in the nineteenth century as entertainment started putting down roots in the lives of the American people.

We have become a people who longer think and analyze; rather we respond to clever manipulation of our emotions. Neil Postman says, “The decline of print-based epistemology [how we learn and come to know things] and the accompanying rise of television-based epistemology has had grave consequences for public life, that we are getting sillier by the minute.”

The local church began paying attention. If they were to draw the masses, it apparently could best be done by wrapping the faith in the package of entertainment. The people, having now been trained to be consumers, have also been taught that the ultimate sin is to be bored. Hence the birth of the market-driven church that caters to the insatiable appetite for amusement.

Neil Gabler says this: The old Puritan production-oriented culture demanded and honored what is called character, which was a function of one's moral fiber. The new consumption-oriented culture, on the other hand, demands and honors what we call personality, which is a function of what one projects to others. It followed that the Puritan culture emphasized values like hard work, integrity, and courage [e.g., a hard-working pastor that will teach and lead his congregation in sound theology]. The new culture of personality emphasizes charm, fascination, and likability [e.g., congregations today want a nice, gentle, likable pastor who will make them feel good].

We live in a society that embraces the superficial, lives to play, and prizes fun as the highest pursuit of life. And the church is in lockstep with the world.

Too many Christians, just like their unsaved counterparts, are impressed by appearances rather than structure; are seeking thrills and excitement rather than substance; are more apt to respond to emotional manipulation than to rational discourse. Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether. The main business of entertainment is to please the crowd, but the main purpose of authentic Christianity is to please the Lord. Both the Bible and history have repeatedly shown that it is seldom possible to do both at the same time, for very long.

The new-paradigm church has caught the wave of our times and has created a church for the entertainment age. Rather than expose and correct the superficiality and wrong-mindedness of a generation addicted to fun, amusement, and self, the modern church has all to often chosen to go with the flow and give them what they want.