When we consider the history of religion in the U.S.A. and in the western world – and when we observe the decline of lay participation in and commitment to local churches – we must recognize that society and entertainment have significantly changed over the past hundred years.
Before radio, television, motion pictures, the internet, cell phones, Facebook, inexpensive printing, automotive transportation, etc., people were highly dependent on their local churches – not only for their religious faith – but for their social relationships and entertainment. This dependency enabled pastors and preachers to teach the word of God to a readily available audience and to cultivate strong allegiance to Christian principles and to local church communities.
These thoughts were driven home to me while reading Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism by Douglas Brinkley. This excellent book about a parish priest – the founder of the Knights of Columbus in 1882 – documents parish life and the many activities that parishes played and that Father McGivney engaged in – to keep his parishioners entertained and involved in wholesome activities.
As you know, today we have a very different situation and society. Most people are no longer dependent on their parishes and churches for socialization and entertainment. Pastors and preachers have considerably more competition in their effort . . . to gain the attention, interest and support of their parishioners . . . to spread the word of God.
Of course, the new media also presents new opportunities for the “with-it” religious leaders – those willing to make effective use of the digital media and inexpensive printing to promulgate the message of Jesus Christ to the population at large. A more educated and informed congregation requires more up-to-date interpretations of Theology, Philosophy, Psychology, Biblical Passages, and the Christian application of traditional Faith-and-Moral principles and values – to hold the attention, interest and believability of parishioners.
More change has taken place in the last hundred years than in the previous 2000 years. Enlightened religious leaders recognize these changes and adjust their effort and approach to modern reality. Unfortunately, too many ministers of faith are clinging to the comfort of passé practices that have lost their effectiveness in our hyper-active and over-entertained society.
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