This year the Australian Cricket Board took a gamble. They broke tradition and decided to telecast cricket games in the same city as the game was being played–even if all the seats weren’t sold.
The result was stunning. As was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, the first day of the Sydney Test was a record highest attendance.
But why? Why didn’t people stay at home in air conditioned comfort and enjoy the stunning technology of a modern telecast, complete with Snicko, Hawkeye, and Slo-mo?
The answer is that there is something more to being at an event than just the content. You can see that on TV at home. But being in the crowd–getting sunburnt, participating in passive drinking (getting splashed with beer), and paying-out the Members as they refuse to rise for the Mexican Wave–you just can’t get that on a telecast. And when those cricket milestones happen–Ponting’s double tonnes in his 100th match, for example–it’s worth its weight in gold to say “I was there!”
The same is true of church or Christian conferences. In this age of free MP3 sermon downloads/podcasts, there must be a reason that people still pay the admission fee to attend a conference (plus the travel and accommodation fees). The reason is that there is something ‘more’ to the event than just the Bible talks.
When people are asked why they enjoyed a conference, many say that their highlight was “the teaching”. I disagree. I think it is the experience of hearing the teaching with this gathering of people. People go to experience the gatherning as it taught, not just to ‘download’ the talks. It’s what one of my former Doctrine lecturers, Robert Doyle, used to call “propinquity” (from the Latin ‘near’). It’s the nearness of time and space that we enjoy when we are face-to-face. And it’s the reason why people will continue to pay to hear great teaching live and in the company of others–even if it’s offered elsewhere as a free download.
This should come as no surprise. Heaven is all about relationships: with God and with others. All those who are ‘in Christ’ are already gathered in heaven now (Heb 12:22 – you HAVE come to Mount Zion). When Christians gather on Earth it’s for more than just teaching. It’s to do what we are already doing in heaven–being gathered around God and enjoying the fruit of our unity with other believers.
Sermon podcasting is great… but there’s no substitute for community!