My dad and step-mom are both very involved with museums in the Philadelphia area. Just like churches, they tell me, there are purists and pragmatists in the museum world. For example, the current Star Wars exhibit at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute science museum might be thin on science, but it sure packs in a crowd, brining revenue for the museum’s scientific and educational mission. And after those crowds look at the original Millennium Falcon model and get their photo taken with a Stormtrooper, they might also then browse through the permanent collection of wonderful exhibits and demonstrations of scientific wonders.
Get people in the door with a flashy special exhibit, and they just might wander through the permanent collection and be inspired by something much more substantive and authentic.
The same analogy can be made for art and history museums, too. Think of the King Tut, Princess Diana or Titanic traveling exhibits. Interesting, flashy and broadly appealing, perhaps, but not quite the stuff of historical or artistic depth.
Can the same be said of the church? Do we have a tier of worship and programming that is visitor-friendly, designed to be accessible to a broad swath of people who might not otherwise make their way into a church? And then do we have a "permanent collection" of faith treasures – theology, liturgy, and wide-ranging faith practices – that provides depth and meaning to those already committed to the church’s mission and message?
I think that many congregations clearly attempt the first, striving to be open to visitors and appealing to newcomers. (How effectively they do this is another issue!) But I’m not sure how many congregations are good at maintaining and sharing a "permanent collection" of faith treasures. We might get folks in the door, but what have we to offer after they come in?
What do you think? Is this a useful analogy? Am I off base?
Have a good week!