We offer two cultural data points today for consideration, alongside the congregational information your church board will be reviewing as it prepares for the new year. We don’t want to make too much of either data point, but together they seem to suggest something about what spiritually hungry people may be looking for—and avoiding—in 2024.
First data point is the death of the slow dance. In his post on this topic, Ted Gioia observes:
Not long ago, these songs—played at slow tempos in dimly-lit dance halls—were how couples explored intimacy in a risk-free environment.
And now? One DJ explains what he learned recently when playing at a dance for a young crowd: “There were a lot of 23–25-year-olds, and all they want to do is twerk.”
There’s a paradox here. The younger generation is sexually liberated but, according to another DJ, slow dancing is “too intimate and scary.”
Second, there is the growing dominance of drive-throughs. Taco Bell opened a restaurant outside Minneapolis last year that has no dining room—it only delivers food to cars, and it does so through a system of plastic tubes. Chick-fil-A plans to open a four-lane drive-through in Atlanta that will handle 75 cars at a time. The food will be delivered via conveyer belt.
A recent New York Times article on the drive-through phenomenon notes:
Getting a meal through a car window began to define the nation’s food culture the moment the founders of In-N-Out Burger set up a two-way speaker in 1948. But the drive-through has never been as integral to how America eats as it is now.
There are numerous reasons for this trend: safety in the age of Covid, being able to bring your pet along, fewer stressful encounters with other customers or staff, and, perhaps crucially, more time to oneself.
Even drive-throughs with employees walking the line to take orders are deemed too social by some. One customer: “I do the drive-through so I can be anti-social. Now you are forcing me to interact? … Let me just drive through.”
Before we lose you to thoughts of a juicy burger or a shake with whipped cream, let’s try to pull back and focus on why all this should matter to your church board.
Of course, a congregation is neither a dance hall nor a fast-food restaurant. The intimacy of a slow dance is not quite the same as one might find at church. And Sunday morning worship is not usually a get-your-faith-and-go kind of enterprise.
But churches do build a lot of their efforts on the promise of human interaction and even intimacy (along with vulnerability, connection, and care). The opportunity for personal connection is assumed to be a strong part of a church’s appeal. People of all ages will want to come here to our church and join – a small group, a prayer group, a bible study, a mission project – to get to know others more deeply!
What if that assumption no longer holds? (“Now you are forcing me to interact? Let me just drive through.”) What if churches need to make a new case for church community to an increasingly drive-through world?
In Luke’s version of the Feeding of the 5,000 (Luke 9:10-17), the disciples implored Jesus to tell the large and hungry crowd to go find a first-century version of a drive through.
10 On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. Then, taking them along, he slipped quietly into a city called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds found out about it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God and healed those who needed to be cured.
12 The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside to lodge and get provisions, for we are here in a deserted place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 They did so and had them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And all ate and were filled, and what was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
“Send the crowd away, so that they may go… get provisions,” they said to Jesus. His response? “You give them something to eat.” Crucially (and unique to Luke’s account), Jesus instructed the disciples to arrange the crowd in small groups of about 50 each. Jesus put value on the interpersonal, the face-to-face, in tackling the challenge. That may or may not have been what the crowd wanted. It was decidedly not what the disciples wanted. There were seemingly easier ways to do ministry, but Jesus ruled out those shortcuts.
This post does not conclude with a “therefore, this is the way to break the fear of intimacy and vulnerability in enacting your ministry.” (Sorry.) But it does offer up, for your board’s discussion, the cultural stream running counter to our long-held ministry assumption that “people want to get together.” How you disrupt this strong cultural current will be up to you and your board in your particular context. But not taking it into account is dangerous in a four-lane, 75-cars-a-minute, “what, you want me to interact?” world.
When do you take the drive-through lane in your own life? Can you make a positive case for the use of drive-throughs?
What does the death of slow dancing and the dominance of drive-throughs have to do with the items on your church board agenda this month? Can you see any connections between those cultural trends and the topics you are wrestling with, as a board?
Why do you think Jesus told the disciples to put the crowd into groups of fifty?
Do these trends disrupt any of the assumptions you hold and by which you make decisions about your ministry?