When I was a boy, our pastor preached about the evils of movies. We were told not to go because the Lord could return and rapture the church. And what would we say, he asked, if the Lord came back to find us not in the church pews but in the seats of the local theater?
Churches are going through the same kind of crisis that motion pictures went through in the 1920s. ... Some adapted and went forward. Some didn't and became footnotes, Parnell says. (Photo: The Weinstein Company)
However, I think the church might find some lessons for the future in an Oscar-nominated movie.
"The Artist" tells the story of George Valentin, the biggest silent-movie star in Hollywood. He is handsome and knows exactly how to mug for the camera.
All of his movies are just the same: He is the hero and must escape from the clutches of a villain – while rescuing the girl.
But time changes and so do the movies. Silent movies fade and talkies become the rage. They usher in new stars, like the young Peppy Miller.
Peppy moves from extra to star – on the magnitude of silent George – because she realizes that exaggerated movements and fluttering eyelashes are yesterday's techniques.
George is offered a chance to go into the talkies, but he thinks they are silly and a passing fad. As time passes, George falls like a meteor from the entertainment heavens.
The church could be going through the same kind of change as George.
In her blog, "Tribal Church," Carol Howard Merritt cites a Hartford survey showing that more than half the people that populate the "oldline" churches are older than 65.
The survey also shows that 75 percent of churches have less than 10 percent of church congregants aged 18-34.
One can argue about the numbers, but one commenter on the blog said: "Why would many young people want to come to our churches? The older people want to preserve the model that ran the church 50 years ago. The older people constantly shut down the new ideas of the younger generation."
The writer concluded it was all about control.
Churches are going through the same kind of crisis that motion pictures went through in the 1920s. Change happened. Some adapted and went forward. Some didn't and became footnotes.
George has only one reason to reject talkies: pride. He is so proud that he will not attempt to adapt and continue his career. Does he have more to offer? Surely he does.
What of the church? Jesus said the church would be built on the rock of confession and the gates of hell would not prevail against them.
"The Artist" challenges us. Is the church offering a silent movie in the age of talkies?
If we are to move forward, we must – to quote Clint Eastwood – "analyze, adapt and overcome."
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.