Jeff Jarvis (Huffington Post) has some sobering words for the newspaper industry:
You blew it.
You've had 20 years since the start of the web, 15 years since the creation of the commercial browser and craigslist, a decade since the birth of blogs and Google to understand the changes in the media economy and the new behaviors of the next generation of - as you call them, Mr. Murdoch - net natives. You've had all that time to reinvent your products, services, and organizations for this new world, to take advantage of new opportunities and efficiencies, to retrain not only your staff but your readers and advertisers, to use the power of your megaphones while you still had it to build what would come next. But you didn't.
You blew it.
I can't help but wonder if someone will be writing a similar letter to the church 10 years from now.
Have we misread (or turned a blind-eye from) the ways in which communication and culture shifts have impacted our mission field? Are we holding on to the right traditions? Do we fight the wrong fights and, in the process, ignore the fights worth fighting?
What would happen if our proud denomination of 4.8 million members removed the inactive or disinterested members from their roster? Would 2 million people remain? 1.5 million? How many members would be under the age of 40? How big / strong / vibrant is our church today? What things are in place to ensure that the church is still the church for the next generation?
Are mainline, protestant churches destined to suffer the same fate as newspapers?
It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. We're at a pivotal moment right now. It doesn't have to end badly. We don't have to keep closing more churches than we grow. We don't have to keep shrinking in membership, worship attendance, and giving. These can be avoided if we stop complaining about the way the world is changing and embrace what's going on. We can find our voice in the midst of the Information Age. I believe we're poised to not only survive but thrive in a postmodern (and post-postmodern) universe, if we hold true to what is at the heart of our theology...and get our hands a little dirty in the process.
Here's hoping we can learn from the mistakes of some in the newspaper industry...for the sake of the church and the sake of the gospel.
(article ht: @paulyeager)