I don’t know why I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I’m an American Idol fan. Some seasons I’ve been closely connected, others loosely, but this year …I was dialed in. I found myself asking, “What’s up with this show? What’s with all the buzz and how come suckers … I mean viewers like me, get addicted to this?” While watching the tales of Sanjaya and the battles of Simon and Ryan, I’ve taken a few moments (probably too many) to consider what’s so captivating about this show and if there is something that we in the Church should be learning about its success. I’m now convinced that there is. In my opinion, American Idol is hitting the bulls-eye of what this culture is longing for. Let me just mention five things that I think happens on American Idol that the Church can learn from.
Keep it real
For numerous years now, fans are calling out for the less-scripted, real and raw footage of people sitting in an unplanned moment rather then something prescribed and well thought out. The key to the show is when the poor contestant has to hear what Simon says about them. I personally agree with Simon about 90 percent of the time, although I only agree with the way he says it about five percent of the time. The moment after Simon barrages the contestants is what everyone wants to see. How will the contestant do? What’s going to happen next? No one knows because it’s live, and it’s real.
We’d be well-suited to remember the real nature of what people are looking for. This is where the Church should incorporate testimonies, real life stories from the speaking pastor and other moments where those on the platform get to express their true identity. It reminds us that faith is real and that God cares for regular people like you and me.
Power to the people
The second reason that Idol is such a hit, is because people actually feel powerful when they watch. After the show, they will have the right to have input in who the winner will be. This makes us all feel like we are in this together. I once heard that not every person wants to be right, but every person wants to be heard.
The Church totally lies in the hands of the people. Every weekend each attendee has the power to not show or to bring friends with them. They have the choice to serve through volunteering or to just take it all in. Each weekend, 100s of volunteers are necessary and scores more are needed. God’s idea is that the Church rests in the hands of its people, and we’d best to remember this.
Ride the emotional rollercoaster
Each week there is an emotional journey that takes place. There’s anxiety when they do pre-performance interviews. There’s courage and triumph that’s felt when someone nails it. There’s awkwardness when the time of judging happens, and there’s often sadness that comes when yet another contestant is eliminated from the show and watches their video profile of their experience on the big-screen to the heart-tugging Daughtry tune entitled “I’m Going Home.”
The Church is a massive establishment of emotions. This last week in our church were two funerals and a wedding (talk about extremes). On a regular week, we’ll have an extreme sense of satisfaction when a program takes off, when a leader makes a big call or when someone takes a spiritual step toward God. At the same time, we’ll walk through the agony of leadership mistakes, broken relationships, physical pain and healing as well as the daily grind of life’s difficulties. The church gets to ride the emotional roller coaster every week. There’s no need to hide, just embrace it and trust God through it.
Use technology to illuminate
Television knows how to use technology. From the text-message voting system, to regular online blogging and websites, to a prevalent visibility of flat screens and state of the art concert environment, the shows have invested in the language of this culture. Although it’s often hard for a church to justify flat screens and state-of-the art technology, in my opinion, sometimes certain investments are necessary to reach people.
Care for those who need care
During the “Idol Gives Back” episode, they brought in numerous stars to help with this effort, but the main idea was to raise as much money as they could to support initiatives in Africa and domestically. More than $70 million dollars were raised. It shows the heart of this culture is to reach those that have less. I thank God to be a part of such a generation.
However, Idol is missing one thing in both the “Idol Gives Back” initiative and in everything else they do. If we send millions of dollars to Africa and to the Gulf Coast, yet fail to expose people to the truths of God, I think we are missing something. This is where the Church surpasses the success of the television show. Not only can the Church band together to raise millions of dollars for cities and villages that are in need of transformation, we can offer a truth that will transform their souls.
I pray that the Church be a cutting edge movement that remains real and authentic in all we do. I hope that people will realize how badly they are needed and how the Church would be dead without them. Whether life is on the mountain top or in the valley, the Church is the place that meets a wealth of emotions. May we always have the courage to invest in new strategies to reach a new generation, and let’s all band together to raise millions of dollars and donate millions of hours to care of those who are in need. Not so we can feel good about ourselves, but so millions of people can be brought from darkness to light.