The "Experience" Culture
written by Rev Gary Heard

To attend a child’s birthday party today is vastly different from my own experience as a child. Over the past few years we have seen our children invited to parties where the entertainment on offer has included: an animal farm (with real snakes and crocodiles), indoor rock-climbing, fairy parties, and an indoor play centre. It’s a long way from pin-the-tale-on-the-donkey. It is an indicative shift of what is happening in the wider community: people no longer are interested in purchasing a product, they are after an experience.

Consider the ways in which one celebrated birthdays. We have moved from a time when one purchased all the ingredients for a birthday cake to bake for oneself, through the time when a packet mix cake offered a more convenient alternative, on to purchasing a ready-make cake from a specialty store. Now parents purchase an experience as indicated by our own limited sample above.

This is true of marketing in general, not just for children. We are now invited to holiday ‘experiences’. It is why we are bombarded with ‘Reality TV’. It is behind the growth of interactive entertainment. We want a new experience; we want to be part of shaping what is happening, and to be shaped by these same experiences. Go to the new Museum, and ‘experience’ the exhibits. Many people (perhaps the majority?) attend the Grand Final for the experience, not because they support one of the participating teams. The emerging – the dominant – culture is now much more experience-based than ever before. And that experience is often multi-dimensional. Note how story-lines are intertwined on television programs, rather than linear…

So what?

I keep asking myself that same question. The world in which we seek to relate faith is changed markedly. Fundamentally. What ‘experience’ of church, and of faith, do we offer to our friends and neighbours? What does it presently speak to those who are seeking a relevant journey of spirituality?

Over the last generation or so, church has disconnected worship from service, placing increasing emphasis on head-knowledge over against lived experience. We have similarly disconnected faith from the community context (even as we gather under the one roof). Small groups have sought to reconstruct the notion of community faith, with limited success.

The way forward lies in our preparedness to wrestle with these issues, under God.

October 7, 2001
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