Monday Morning Insights

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    When Churches Jump the Shark

    When Churches Jump the Shark

    Derik Hamby has an interesting post over at Associated Baptist Press about what happens when churches 'jump the shark'.  (as Derik explains, that phrase refers to the time Fonzi, the star of the TV comedy “Happy Days,” jumped a shark (literally) and has served as an example of a TV show that tries something strange to boost sagging ratings.)

    Hamby starts with an old illustration when Baptist preacher J. Frank Norris baptized a rodeo cowboy and had the man's horse stand in the back of the church (so the horse could watch his owner get baptized of course).  That would be an example of using something somewhat sensational to help 'pack the pews'.

    More recently, Derik points out some current examples:

    1.  Fellowship Church's "Care Give Away Extravagana".  Ed Young, Jr. gave away 13 cars on Mothers day.

    2.  Another church who's pastor preached about sex with a bed on stage and gave a daily sex challenge to couples.

    3.  One church (according to Hamby) baptized children with a cannon shooting confetti over the crowd.

    4.  Paige Patterson once came into a chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary dressed as General Patton on a hummer with guns.

    The whole premise of Hamby in the article is... "is this really necessary"?  Hamby makes a good point that the line here is very fuzzy and very easily crossed.

    When we cross the line, we look, as Derik puts it "very fake and quite silly".  We need to make sure that as we strive to be culturally relevant, we don't look fake and silly.

    In my fundamentalist tradition growing up; we tried to jump the shark all the time.  We would do contests all the time to increase attendance.  I remember being disappointed one time that I didn't win the airplane ride that we were giving away.  Turns out some scoundrel invited more people that Sunday than I did.

    Some interesting questions for you as you start your week:

    1.  What's the most interesting form of 'church shark jumping' that you've ever witnessed?

    2.  Do churches jump the shark because it's the only way they can think of to gain more people or momentum?

    3.  How could churches 'jump the shark' in a positive way and yet not look very fake and quite silly?

    I'd love to hear your responses!

    (You can read all of Derik Hamby's post here at ABP)

    Todd

    Comments

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    1. CS on Mon, June 21, 2010

      Todd:

      “1.  What’s the most interesting form of ‘church shark jumping’ that you’ve ever witnessed?”

      Hard to say on this one.  Motorcycles jumping over/onto the platforms comes to mind.  The copious amount of sex talks also fit in this category, too.  Anything with clowns also takes the cake.

      2.  Do churches jump the shark because it’s the only way they can think of to gain more people or momentum?

      I believe churches jump the shark because they try to look like the world, appeal to the world, or do something worldly.  In all of those four examples, it was done to gain interest, make headlines, and for promotional purposes instead of focusing on preaching the Gospel.

      3.  How could churches ‘jump the shark’ in a positive way and yet not look very fake and quite silly?

      If a church is serious about preaching from God’s Word and seeing souls saved, I don’t see any way that they would set themselves up for jumping a shark.  I would say any act that could constitute a, “shark jump,” would have to be fake and silly, and that it couldn’t be positive.

      Perhaps we should also talk about churches that, “nuke the fridge,” by rehashing things that other places have done.  (The phrase comes from the latest Indiana Jones flick wherein Jones survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined fridge.  The phrase denotes the resurrection of a franchise or something that should have stayed as-was and not been rehashed, like Star Wars, Rocky, etc.).  Purpose-driven anything would fit in this category at this point.


      CS

    2. Sam on Mon, June 21, 2010

      “jumping the shark” doesn’t mean a publicity stunt to boost sagging ratings. It’s a sign that something has peaked.

    3. Shelton on Mon, June 21, 2010

      2.  Do churches jump the shark because it’s the only way they can think of to gain more people or momentum?

      When a church’s entire focus is on the Sunday Morning Event (or any other day of the week’s worship service event) and their measurements for success are butts, budgets, and buildings, then they open the door, like a TV show seeking viewership, to trying anything to boost ratings.

      One reason why I think the house church movement has exploded is because deep down people realize this type of “Attractional” church operation is neither found in Acts nor deeply meaningful in addressing life’s personal challenges. 

      I have a quote above my computer that simply says: “we have to stop making our front door (where people come to check us out) a worship service; we need to make it our lives.”  Just a reminder that the church doesn’t exist to put on on a Sunday Morning Event, it exists to make disciples, and Sunday Morning is the time and place where those disciples come to celebrate the life they have been given in Jesus Christ. 

      Instead of putting all of our effort, resources, and creativity into the Sunday Morning Event, how about we focus on training and equipping disciples to live the “abundant life” in the Spirit that Jesus came to give us, which is in itself all the attraction we need.

      ~Shelton

    4. Maxcat on Mon, June 21, 2010

      Here’s an example of jumping-the-shark gone wrong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZRoOx5L0DE

    5. Peter Hamm on Mon, June 21, 2010

      CS writes [In all of those four examples, it was done to gain interest, make headlines, and for promotional purposes instead of focusing on preaching the Gospel.]

      With all due respect, you couldn’t be more wrong about the motives you imply.

    6. CS on Mon, June 21, 2010

      Maxcat:

      That was exactly the video I had in mind when I made my comment.

      Peter:

      “With all due respect, you couldn’t be more wrong about the motives you imply.”

      You’re right; I should not have thrown that as a cover-all in this circumstance.  Sorry about that.

      I will say that I have seen some activities akin to shark jumping where it seemed more poised at getting out the name of the local church rather than the name of Christ, though.  That’s what was on my mind.


      CS

    7. Peter Hamm on Mon, June 21, 2010

      Gracious of you, CS.

      I too am troubled by things that churches do that call attention more to the church than the kingdom. So we share that.

      Blessings,
      Peter

    8. Elbee on Tue, June 22, 2010

      Whatcha’ get ‘em with, you gotta keep ‘em with - if you don’t “up the ante” someone else probably will. That’s part of the problem with the consumeristic mentality present in so many churches. Btw, Ed Jr was responsible for the first & second example on the list.

    9. missional girl on Tue, June 22, 2010

      I worked for a big-time megachurch ministry that seemed too obsessed with “jump-the-shark” activities.  I didn’t question their love for God but some of the things we did were so ridiculous that I found myself groaning some Sundays.

      As toxic as today’s culture is, it still recognizes a fraud and the addiction to gimmicky attention-grabbing ploys hurts the mission of the Church.  Jesus said “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.”  I leave it there.

    10. Marmot on Fri, July 02, 2010

      Sam is right, and you are misusing the term “Jump the Shark”.  The point is not that Fonzi did something silly to boost ‘Happy Days’ ratings, the point is that the show went downhill from that moment on.  Its the moment when you realize that something you loved has lost its magic.  Like I realized George Lucas and his Indiana Jones franchise had “jumped the shark” when in the the Crystal Skull Indiana got into a refrigerator to survive a nuclear blast.  It was a steep decline from there.

      In church terms it would require more than a single event, but an event that signals the beginning of decline.

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