Within the larger churches of North America there is the insistent need for people to feel like they are ‘doing something.’ So much that goes on in larger churches is organized and executed by a small fraction of people. If you aren’t on a worship team, preaching, greeting or counting money there doesn’t seem to be much room for you in a participatory kind of way. For a long time the best way that you could participate was to observe, experience and spectate. As time went on though I think people started feeling a little useless. The problem is though that for a large church to function well, it pretty much depends on the select few running the show for the majority. If more people get involved that’s because there is a bigger production at hand. For the select few to have jobs, it depends on the passive spectating of the majority. So what churches started doing so that people could ‘participate’ was start creating more and more opportunities for you to participate. Giving money is seen as ‘doing your part.’ Picking up people that can’t make it and bringing them to the event is one way you can participate. But in the end just showing up ends up being the absolute best way you can participate, especially if you don’t have any transferable skills into making the event run smoothly. Pretty soon you have a lot of people who all are convinced they are part of something important just because they show up, as if showing up is actually participating.
You see this same kind of patterns in all sorts of popular culture. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone about a band and heard something like “oh ya, I listened to them way back before they were famous” or “I went to their concert before they started playing in stadiums.” In these kind of moments of bragging there is this underlying satisfaction of participating in something as if just being present, or just knowing about something, somehow gives value to that person. This is all fine and dandy for concerts, but what happens when this same sentiment moves into the church? I would suggest that when this happens we have a church full of people that think all they have to do is be present during a special moment (that will almost always happen on stage) and think that they are somehow being disciples of Christ.
Perhaps the evangelical church has fallen into this trap that attendance equals participation. Perhaps we as Christians have allowed showing up to observe someone on stage as an act of discipleship. There is plenty of problems with this but what we need to look out for is this lie that somehow watching something happen and listening to things in a big room is actually transforming you. It’s not.