If you are a real fan of House of Cards, the political thriller staring Kevin Stacy as Frank Underwood, you will finish Season Three by the end of this week. Last year 668,000 households finished the series in three days or less. Today Netflix releases season three with Underwood having ascended to the Presidency.
Two years ago Netflix changed entertainment as we know it by releasing all 13 episodes of season one season of House of Cards the first day. This revolutionary approach to TV directly challenged the broadcast model of rolling out a series by showing an episode a week. It also catered to the new way Americans like to watch their TV, binging on one series at a time.
In our busy, techgear distracted lives; there is something about immersing yourself in a story that is quite satisfying. A generation ago, people would get this experience by reading a book. They would buy the latest blockbuster like Gone with the Wind or Shogun and read it late into the night. Today’s twenty-somethings can remember the pleasure of getting their hands on the latest copy of Harry Potter and locking themselves in their rooms until they made it through over 700 pages of text.
But rather than reading book, we inhale each TV series as the characters and images burrow deep into our consciousness. While broadcast TV is trying to combat this media trend by launching their own online services like CBS TV, the model of once a week viewing is going by the wayside.
The media habits of today’s children and youth (the iKids Generation born since 2000) are greatly affected by this approach as well. If their family has Netflix or Amazon TV, they are used to watching their favorite series, one show after another. They are very much growing up with the idea of instant entertainment at their beck and call whether at home, in a car, or eating at a restaurant. It almost doesn’t make sense to them that they would have to wait a week to see the next episode of their favorite series.
Most churchgoers view worship much like they approach entertainment. For those who are older, going to church once a week at the same place and time is much like it was when they turned on the TV to watch their favorite show on a Sunday night. Worship is just part of the regular routine and schedule of the week.
Dawn Chesser, Director of Preaching Ministries at Discipleship Ministries says, “It is critical to keep pushing on the essentially corporate nature of worship, especially in an age of such individualistic lifestyles. The nature of binging in whatever form it comes is I do it when I want to and I do what I want to, according to MY schedule and MY particular taste. There is a lot of ME in there and not much we, and it is important to caution against thinking about worship as only being about ME.”
But what happens when people no long follow a routine for their entertainment options? One week they may watch House of Cards and the next last season’s Game of Thrones or The Good Wife. And the next week they may take their child to see a movie after their child’s soccer game.
In fact the idea of a regular routine is also at risk. After all, when does the workday start and end? When we are 24/7 connected to the office or to our customers, work never ends.
To connect with our binge watching, routineless population churches will need to teach people that worship is not just another entertainment option. That worshiping with others matters. Even more profound, worship is not about fulfilling our needs but engaging with others in the worship of God. It is a means of grace. In the greater picture, binge watching is a symptom of a much greater issue, how we use our time.
Taylor Burton Edwards, Director of Worship at Discipleship Ministries says, “Using the means of grace matters — and it takes time to use them, time that will not be there if we do not actively encourage the participation of the people in all the means of grace, including corporate worship, but also searching the scriptures, personal and family prayer, fasting or abstinence, and the ministry of the word, read or expounded, to name just a few of those listed in the Third General Rule. Each has its own integrity, all are necessary, and of them, only corporate worship is corporate worship. Worship is not a lifestyle. Rather, worship symbolically represents the lifestyle we are to have as members of Christ’s body in the world.”
Perhaps the closest we get to binge worship is Holy Week, when a person can walk with Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, can dine with him on Maundy Thursday, can die with him on Good Friday, and can celebrate him on Easter. Of course, people still need to show up at the right place and time, but if they do they will embrace the totality of Jesus’ meaning and purpose in their lives.
Foremost in all of this is the story. Whether its House of Cards or a blockbuster book, what grabs our attention and solicits our passion is a powerful story that compels us to experience human emotion and challenges us to look at our lives in a new light. While many of us will indulge in 13 hours of Frank Underwood and his devious ways, a greater story is taking place during this season of Lent as Christians immerse themselves in the story of Jesus. Not just to hear a story, but to live changed lives.
- See worship as part of the corporate lifestyle of living in Christian community
- Live the means of grace throughout the week through small groups, missional encounters in your community, prayer, and connections through social media
- Embrace binge worship by marketing all the worship experiences from Palm Sunday through Easter as Holy Week so people can connect the dots. Offer all the services. If you have a small staff, just opening the church for silent prayer on Good Friday gives people an opportunity to live the story.
For resources on Holy Week: