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A single word is common to descriptors of dinosaurs, the print media, and American Christianity–decline.  While the latter two are declining yet still alive, there exists a striking similarity in their present condition to the plight of the dinosaurs that is worthy of consideration.  Much like the dinosaurs of centuries past, they are declining in numbers, declining in influence, and declining at a rate that holds the potential for extinction.  The ultimate reality has been realized for those reptilian relics of another era.  The question is whether the print media and American Christianity will follow suit in the 21stcentury.

In a recent article describing results of the latest State of the Media report by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, it was cited that the number of daily American newspapers has declined by 14 percent between 1990 and 2009.  Meanwhile, numerous books and articles have
been written in recent years describing the decline of American Christianity as a percentage of population.  The unlikely common thread that largely contributes to the decline of both of these historic institutions of American life can be summarized in the word “service.”

While print media obviously exists for the purpose of reporting news, the hallmark of its long tradition in American society is service.  Its subsistence is totally dependent upon its ability to provide a needful service to its readership, the public it serves.  The virtual eruption of electronic alternatives to the printed word and alternative media sources are largely responsible for the decline it has experienced.  However, another factor came to this writer’s attention in a recent conversation with a columnist for a local newspaper.  In that conversation intended to glean information for a topic unrelated to this post, the columnist responded with an attitude of condescension and arrogance.  Nothing in that conversation suggested his interest in providing any amount of service to anyone representing the public he serves.  Ironically, his contact information is clearly printed in every column published in that daily newspaper.

American Christianity, in all of its denominational and non-denominational manifestations, is an entity whose obligation is to follow the example of Christ in serving others rather than itself or its members (Mark 10:45).  Too many churches have evolved over the years into bodies that more closely resemble a social club or family reunion than the bride of Christ for whom He died.  Too many churchgoers address the experience with the attitude of self-actualization.  The church they choose to attend is the one that has the most to offer them and their families.  For some, that church may be the one which offers the highest level of entertainment in the context of worship.  Jesus told His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you (John 20:21).  These words should challenge churches and Christians of all theological persuasions to reevaluate their motives for worship, live life beyond the four walls of the church, and do nothing less than serve others!

Will print media and American Christianity go the way of the dinosaurs?  Probably not; however, the future of both may see marked changes that will separate them from the present-day “business-as-usual.”  Many expressions of print media are embracing electronic alternatives to the printed word.  Their circulation numbers in combined formats may decline, but they will likely survive.  Whatever its future, it will look different in the years to come as the result of self-imposed change.

American Christianity must likewise be willing to embrace change in order to prosper in the years to come.  Personal and public libraries are replete with books and journals suggesting the theoretical and practical means to reverse the current trajectory of decline.  Countless conferences abound with “experts” willing to share their perspective and solutions with anxious pastors and lay people for the requisite fee.  The quintessential solution for the decline of both institutions can be found in the sometimes trite but uniquely applicable back-to-the-basics approach.  In so doing, the all-important first step for both must reflect nothing less than a return to an ethic of service.  Anything less could find them following in the footsteps of the dinosaurs.

Consider for a moment a local church which you attend, have previously attended, or which you live nearby but have never attended.  What impact would their embracing an unabashed attitude of service to their neigborhood and community have upon your participation in the life of that church now and in the future?