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Competing with Netflix: The Church’s Struggle for Attention

Netflix: Are you still watching “The Office”?

Me: Continue Watching

For the millions of Americans who aren’t saving lives in hospitals or stocking the shelves of the local grocery store right now, this is our reality. Saving lives for us means staying away from people, and at first, we thought that sounded great, but it’s now getting a little old.

Many are journeying through this quarantine haze like zombies who are just waiting for their next meal. And we fill the time between meals with Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, YouTube, and Facebook videos. The amount of content out there to be consumed is unfathomable.

We are all binging on shows like never before just to pass the time.

Staying safe at home has created both opportunities and challenges for churches. Ministry has been shifted completely online. Worship services, prayer meetings, Bible studies, and everything else have moved to platforms like Zoom, Facebook and YouTube. Some churches have fared better than others. Larger churches may have even been using these online platforms for years, and their members are comfortable with them.

For me, as a small parish priest, I expected there to be some good and bad things that would come with moving our ministries online. The challenge I thought would come from our older members. I worried that many of them would not know how or not be willing to learn how to use something like Zoom. The only way we’d stay in contact would be through phone calls. And that has happened. Though they’ve missed our online services, our members have been great about calling one another.

The real opportunity I thought would come from engaging our members who live far from the church. I would say that most of our members drive 20 minutes or more to come to our parish. We haven’t had great attendance at formation activities during the week over the past few years, and the reason given by our folks is usually the long distance. People just don’t want to drive that far on a weeknight.

Now with the pandemic, we’ve moved our Bible Study and one other short formation offering to Zoom during the week. Distance is no longer the issue. Extra time is no longer an issue. But we are still struggling to get five people to attend these events.

I will be the first to admit there are a lot of factors. Time of day, family commitments, and general interest in the topic. But I don’t think I’m the only one struggling with these issues. Every church, no matter the size, is fighting for the attention of their members. If the option is to sit on the couch and watch another episode of Tiger King or go onto Zoom for an hour-long Bible study, my bet is Tiger King nine times out of ten.

I’m not saying this because our church members are inherently lazy or that they don’t care about their faith, no, that’s not the issue.

The trouble is that we are creatures of habit.

While at home we have created habits, good and bad. Personally, I’m running now more than I have in over a year, but I’m also eating terribly because I’m sitting around the house all day. This time at home is shaping our habits. It may be helpful to think about the good and bad habits that have sprung up over the past few weeks.

As for the Church, we are competing for our members' attention. We are having to make the case for why they should tune into what we have to say compared to everything else they could be watching. For the time being there is no sacred space. There is no walking into a church and knowing you’re dedicating the next hour to God and nothing will distract you from that. We are in our homes where phones ring, dogs bark, kids yell, and music is playing in the background.

And yet amid all of this, the Church has a message to share. Though some of our members think they’re on vacation until our church is reopened, we must continue to tell of the Good News of Jesus to anyone who will hear, and I mean ANYONE.

Though we may lose some of our longtime members until the church doors are unlocked again, we may also gain members from all of this. I think about the folks who would otherwise never step into our church, but who have stumbled across our Sunday morning service on Facebook. Though we are fighting for the attention of our flock, we may gain the attention of a curious bystander. If that's the case, then maybe, all this hassle with technology will be worth it.

Jesus: Are you still working?

The Church: Yes Lord, in new and amazing ways.

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17. Apr. 2020

Working from home has definitely brought about a different sent of stressors for me. The days are still long, but the warm up time and cool down time I had with my commute is gone. It is more difficult to disengage my mind from the stress of work and the unknowns of our world right now.

As I struggle to find a new balance and relief, I recently found morning prayer to be a light in the day. It helps me really actively push the pause button on all my thoughts and remember the joy I find in the lord. If only for 15 minutes in my day.

I'm not good about digging through the prayer book, so I've found…

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