By Mark A. Taylor
Even though I’m an extrovert by nature, I love a weekend evening at home with my wife, sharing the couch and something fun to eat, and watching a program or movie we both enjoy on TV. This is especially nice at the end of a busy week, with several nights away from home, and workdays filled with multiple obligations. It’s great to settle in, put away the to-do lists, and just enjoy good food and good entertainment with my best friend.
Several decades ago, trend forecaster Faith Popcorn coined a term for a pastime like this. She called it cocooning, the practice of finding entertainment from staying in instead of going out. According to a post at USA Today this week, people are cocooning now as never before. Reasons: news of terrorism, mass shootings, and other violence has made many people wary of big crowds at sports or entertainment venues. And electronic options are proliferating; high-definition TV’s are getting bigger and cheaper, and people are watching movies, TV series, and sports events on everything from widescreens to smartphones.
The article reports flat attendance at movie theaters and increased spending on home electronics in 2012. It quoted research that shows 37 percent of U.S. homes pay at least $100 monthly for either cable-delivered or satellite pay TV.
Church watchers can’t help but wonder how this trend will affect church attendance. One source listed 67 Internet churches with weekly services (most offer preaching and worship several times each week), and that list certainly is incomplete. For example, not included on the list is the thriving Internet campus of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. According to Kurt Ervin who runs the site, it attracts 10,000 unique visitors each month, from 126 countries and all 50 states. A second Internet campus, totally in Spanish, is already attracting about 600 unique visitors each week, in its first six weeks online.
And Internet churches aren’t the only digital options for today’s believers. Many are using apps containing devotional guides and the whole Scripture text, and some attend small groups via Skype. As possibilities like these multiply for a hunkered-down, plugged-in generation, how many will see the need to leave home for worship and fellowship?
Many in my generation (qualifying for AARP membership) would assert that online worship can’t offer the impact of shoulder-to-shoulder, face-to-face experiences. But it seems certain that digital venues will reach some who wouldn’t first go to church for worship services as we know them. And that’s good.
Will videotaped and digitally distributed worship decrease the involvement of worshippers? Will a growing audience of long-distance worshippers increase the tendency of leaders to make worship little more than something people watch? I hope not.
But it’s exciting, isn’t it, to imagine all the ways we can harness emerging technologies to reach folks more accustomed to cocooning than congregating?