If American culture has moved toward evangelicals’ practice of making the personal public, so religion has moved in the direction of the broader culture. The way worship is conducted in growing numbers of evangelical congregations now replicates what once was confined to the TV screen. Sitting in your living room, you may feel just as close to the pastor as you would at the 5,000-person megachurch down the street. Unless you join one of the megachurch’s cell groups, these institutions can be as impersonal as mass media. Moreover, a visit to your local megachurch–including Starbuck’s coffee, entertaining music and drama, and a short talk that seems less like a sermon than an inspiring self-help lesson–will not seem much different than a trip to the mall.
Those who worried during the advent of Christian radio in the 1920s and the dawn of television in the 1950s that church attendance would drop were dead wrong. What these things did change was the way church is done. In their attempt to transform culture, evangelical Christians found they had to imitate it in order to attract an audience.
These changes indicate something important. First, American culture, even in its most secular forms, may be quite religious in its growing focus on the interior life. Second, because of mass media, religion in America is increasingly tied to secular culture in its presentation. Looking back, the ’80s slicked-up televangelists don’t look as strange as they do prescient.
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