What would happen to a church that decided it was not important to have a website because the church had been successful for 250 years without a website and didn’t need one today?
I recently read “MTV Classic Is Nostalgia for Millennials. But Do They Want TV?” which appeared in the New York Times on August 16, 2016.
Author Amanda Hess wrote about the problems of trying to bring back what millennials want to see on TV in a format that might not apply to them anymore.
It got me thinking about the Christian implications of falling in love with the methods of the past. Is there anything that we lose when we try to force the present into the mold of the past?
On one hand, Christians value history more than many other people in the world. Our holy Scriptures are also history. We care about what literally happened to King David while he was ruling the nation of Israel. We care that Jesus Christ literally died and rose from the dead at a certain point in history. We care that the apostle Paul actually traveled all over the Middle East establishing churches almost 2000 years ago.
We are undoubtedly a people who not only care about history but also learn from history.
Christians have made mistakes, and we learn from them. We have similarly, through the power of God, seen many great things happen. Hospitals and universities have been founded by Christians. Christians like William Wilberforce have influenced national policy to change the world for the better. We can use that example to learn from and perhaps replicate in the future.
To use the language from Hess’ article, there is no doubt that many millennials enjoyed watching MTV while growing up. By having this new classic channel, these people have a way to go back and watch and shows that made them laugh when they were teenagers. Although MTV is not my network of choice, I certainly understand that we all can be nostalgic. Nostalgia in and of itself is not a bad thing.
However, MTV is a business that could have invested those resources into creating something new. Rather than simply live off past successes, why not invest those resources into creation rather than replication? Nothing great will ever rise again by simply showing the same shows over and over again. Eventually, millennials are going to get tired of watching reruns, and without any new content, this network is going to inevitably decline. Nostalgia does not attract new viewers; it holds onto those who want to remember the way TV was.
I think about this issue from a Christian perspective then. I’m certainly not saying that we ought to change the gospel to fit the times. Trust me, I’m not promoting heresy by any means. Truth remains Truth today, and it will be the Truth forever. This is not commentary on doctrine.
What I am saying however is if I want to reach people today, I am probably not going to start a crusade like Billy Graham. That was a tremendously successful approach in the time period where large events were the way to reach thousands of people. I am grateful for the work that Billy Graham was able to do, and he understood his culture at his time. He knew that these events would impact people.
Therefore, I do need to be like Billy Graham and understand what will reach people today just like he did in his ministry. However, that doesn’t mean my ministry needs to exactly mirror what he did. Just like the reruns of old TV shows will not appeal to a modern audience once the nostalgic millennials are done with them, recycling things that worked in the past will not necessarily work today. It might, but it very well might not, and we cannot simply be married to the methods of the past because they worked in the past.
I would propose that we try to create in the situation we find ourselves in. When there are great things that happened in the past, we learn from them, and we value the work of those who have gone before. We can perhaps replicate some things that are still relevant and can impact society today. However, we need to make sure that we don’t become too enamored with nostalgia that we don’t invest any resources in creating things for the present when they are sorely needed. The gospel will always remain the same, but we need to make sure we communicate effectively in 2016 in ways people today actually understand.