Why the Church Should Overthrow Nostalgia’s Reign

cassette tape

photo credit: AndYaDontStop via photopin cc

Did you grow up watching Full House? You can look forward to the upcoming reboot.

If you enjoyed playing Tetris on an old black and white Gameboy, I hope you want to see it made into a movie.

Honda thinks He-Man and other toys from the ’80s will encourage you to buy their vehicles. In fact, they had Skeletor “hijack” their Twitter account.

Thanks to its inexpensive nature and the cool factor of Guardians of the Galaxy, even cassette tapes are making a musical encore.

Whatever it is you enjoyed as a child, be it book or board game, television show or toy, someone is looking to tap into those memories and entice you to enjoy it again.

While Revelation records Jesus as saying He makes all things new, Hollywood is saying it makes old things new. In the world of entertainment, nostalgia is king. That’s especially true this time of the year.

On the surface, that seems like a brilliant strategy. Most people remember their childhood and teenage years fondly — or at least their choices of entertainment during those times. And they will pay to try to recapture those moments, even if they realize the original wasn’t as great as it seems through the lens of memory.

We can all point out the ridiculousness of Michael Bay’s Transformers, but if you go back and watch the ’80s cartoons, most of them are barely held together commercials for toys. Somehow, they have even less character and plot development than the blockbuster movies.

But that’s just it. Chances are you gloss over the weakness of what you enjoyed. Regardless of the quality of the original or the remake, nostalgia is big business because it invokes a seemingly carefree time and positive emotions.

Churches often do the same in our appeals to those who grew up in church. We have “Back to Church Sundays.” Pastors try to capitalize on all the long gone family members who return to church for Mother’s Day, Christmas and Easter.

While there may be short term successes with a strategy built on nostalgia, it is not a tactic by itself that can lead to sustained future growth for Hollywood or the church. For those in church leadership positions, they must be very careful to not place too much emphasis on nostalgia as a means of growth.

It’s hard to move forward when you are constantly looking back.

The Wrong Well

Let’s be blunt. Churches are having problems bringing in new people. The number of “Nones” continues to rise. There is no doubt that reaching the unengaged is a difficult task.

In an increasingly hostile environment, the solution is not focusing solely on past-centered outreach. Nostalgia narrows our reach to only those who used to come.

We should definitely reach out and engage those who were previously active or have a background in church, but they must not be our exclusive target. When we find it harder to create new connections, we should not shrink away and concentrate only on those which are already established.

In order to grow, the church must reach new people to whom there is no nostalgic connection with a congregation or Christian culture because that number is only going to increase.

Think of Hollywood for a moment. In many cases, it seems they’ve replaced developing new film franchises with rebooting old ones and adding endless sequels to those already made. But what comes next?

It’s the law of diminishing returns. Sequels frequently underperform the original, both in creativity and at the box office, but they are easier to make and less risky than producing original stories.

But, what will happen later when that well runs dry. You can only do sequels and reboots so long. At some point, you look around and you’ve done every possible adaptation of older source material and you’ve developed nothing new.

Nostalgia can keep our imagination stuck in neutral – or reverse. Science fiction writers are wondering if the perpetual returning to the ideas and technology of Star Trek has stunted actual scientific advancement. The same question could be ask for many other fields.

The nostalgia well will run dry. But for those following Christ, we have a spring of living water. The Bible is a living document. That means we don’t have to rely on invoking sentimental feelings about the past.

Eternally relevant

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis wrote, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date. The church has eternity on our side. We should be, by definition, perpetually relevant. It almost takes effort for Christians to refuse to contextualize.

We have timeless truth from a living Word to communicate and the winds of eternity blowing us forward, the church should not need pure nostalgia to draw the ever-shrinking de-churched individuals back.

It’s merely a matter of letting go of previous methodology and allowing our creative God to speak through us. Darrin Patrick recently said that contextualization is not communicating the gospel on someone else’s terms, but communicating it with their terms. There is a subtle, but distinct difference.

If we communicate on someone else’s terms, we change the core message of the gospel to fit the personal and cultural whims of an individual. But communicating with their terms merely frames Christ’s unchanging story of redemption into something they can understand.

Elevated nostalgia, when it is allowed to dictate methodology, is the worst kind of bad contextualization. It is communicating the gospel on our terms … and communicating it with out-dated terms.

It provides us with a means for self-righteousness. We pat ourselves on the back as if we are faithfully sharing the gospel, while we blame those on the outside for not hearing and responding.

Do not misunderstand, nostalgia has its place. Skeletor was hilarious on Twitter. A Charlie Brown Christmas is still must-see TV. And Christianity can work to bring back in those who once called the church home.

But from the beginning our faith has been one that stretches out further. We speak timeless truth with a fresh voice.

Nostalgia is the current king of Hollywood, but it should not rule our churches. That throne is already filled and its Occupant is never going out of style.

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About Author

Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.