Weekly Devotions for 5/14

The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them. – Acts 4:32-33 (The Message)

I went to see a movie on a Friday night in a movie theater recently. I had not gone to one on a Friday night in a while. We had free passes, because we had gone to another movie about two months ago during which the projector broke down in the middle of the film. It was fixed in about 15 minutes and we were able to finish the film, but they gave us the passes for the inconvenience.  The only restriction on the passes were that the tickets needed to be purchased in-person; no online reservations. Figuring that an 8:00 Friday evening showing would be crowded, we arrived an hour early to make sure we got decent seats. We turned out to be the first people to get tickets. In the end, only one other group of three people was at the showing. We otherwise had the theater to ourselves.  I was a little bit shocked that the biggest movie opening that weekend had such a small turnout at such a prime time.

In the same parking lot as the theater (AMC in Voorhees), there is a record shop. We used the hour before the movie to stop by it. They have old records, new vinyl, used CDs and DVDs, and even small sections of cassettes and 8-track tapes. I’ve enjoyed being there before, but had never gone on a Friday night. The place was jam-packed, with teenagers through people in their 40s milling around looking these classic forms of media to buy to enjoy at home later. There was even a local band setting up to play later that evening. It was festive and fun. To go from the record shop to the movie theater felt like going from the cool hangout to a musty relic, even though it was going from old records to a movie just released that day. 

The Friday night trip out was wonderful in all of its parts – the record shop was fun, the movie was great. It was also a reminder that people do still gather, do still enjoy having a place to go, and still build community. Expectations based on the past tendencies, though, may cause us to miss where these things are happening. The record shop was lively, because it catered to a specific set of people with a shared interest, was interactive and so community-building, and built around the assumption that having 20 people at a time was a wonderful turnout. The movie was aimed at broad interest and would have needed 60-80 people in each theater to feel like it was an energetic and happening place, yet seeing a movie on its own does nothing to foster interaction or build community. It represents a different sensibility of what meaningful connection and a fun evening out look like. 

I can’t help but wonder if the church too easily follows a movie-theater model in a world that is increasingly looking for places like the record shop. I wonder if we too easily frame the gospel as something to attract broad general interest but low engagement rather than seeking a smaller, passionate community – in this case not to buy records but rather to connect and serve together. What might we learn from a record-shop approach to gathering in faith?