Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bridging the Generation Gap

Late night television has just embarked on a bold experiment.  The experiment boils down to a question.  Can a very old and storied television show, "The Tonight Show", which has older viewers (median age 67), a very storied history, and a tradition of legendary names (Johnny Carson, Jay Leno), begin to attract new younger viewers?  There are also two catches;  many of the younger audience don't even watch television (but rather read their newspaper online and catch their video on you tube), and many of the older viewers go to bed before the show even begins.  To carry out this experiment, NBC is putting all of it's hopes and dreams on one young man - Jimmy Fallon.

The "Tonight Show" is one of the most famous brands in television.  Beginning in the 1954 in New York City, the show has had luminary names connected with it; Jack Par, Johnny Carson, and Jay Leno.  Chevy Chase tried to take the show for a while and flopped.  Joan Rivers occasionally hosted the show when Johnny Carson was not there, and struggled.  Carson invented the medium of the show (monologue, interview behind a desk, and musical guests).  The show has had countless spinoffs.  The most famous example is CBS's competing show hosted by David Letterman - "The Late Show".  Many other replicas have been attempted but didn't make it; Arsenio Hall, and Conan O Brien, are just two that come to mind.

NBC seems to be banking on several specifics that they feel will help them win new viewers while at the same time hold onto older ones.  The specifics include:

1.  A Kinder Gentler Host; Jimmy Fallon is less of a snide, tough comedian than he is the sweet school boy who is just trying to give it a go.  In his first show a couple of Monday's ago, Jimmy said, "I just want to try to take the show for a while, and do the best job that I can."  Jimmy introduced himself on the first night of his show by saying, "I am 39, I live in New York, I am married and I have a brand new baby." (The crowd seemed to eat it up)

2.  Many Traditional Markers;  The show has returned to the same theater that Johnny Carson first began in.  The set of the show is very traditional, even cold in decoration.  The stage resembles more of a "Leave it to Beaver" set than a plush hotel room (Like Jay Leno's).

3.  Musical Features;  Jimmy Fallon sings a lot on the show.  He is actually quite talented.  Just a month ago, Jimmy did a Bruce Springstein impression that was almost totally dead on.  The guy has musical chops.  The idea is that music can bridge generational divides.  Jimmy also does a dance routine.

4.  Deep Respect for Elders;  Jimmy is regularly paying homage to the people who came before him.  This seems sincere from Jimmy, not a put on.

5.  A Very Self Effacing Style; Jimmy is always poking fun at himself.  He is almost always the butt of his own jokes.  One time recently, Jimmy said to musical legend, Paul McCartney, "I love you so much, you are so amazing."

So, why am I dedicating this entire blog post to the "Tonight Show"?  Simply because of this.  I believe that many of the challenges that face the "Tonight Show's" success also face the church today.  I must hasten to add that church is not a show, not even close!  However, the same tensions exist between the Tonight show and worship.  They exist between an older congregation who once had legends in preaching leading it (Lloyd Ogilvie, Earl Palmer, Bruce Larson), and a younger congregation who tend to read more "apps" on their I-Phones than they read church bulletins.

To be honest, I sometimes feel a bit like Jimmy Fallon when leading worship at First Pres, Colorado Springs.  On the one hand I know that I need to pay respect and homage to a great group who have come before me.  On the other I know that there is a younger group who are slipping through our hands even as we speak.  I try to offer musical selections - I sing, and play the piano, (which, in the same way also seems to bridge the generational divide).  I try to preserve traditional markers when they are appropriate (the robe on Sunday, the old hymns).  I try to offer a self-effacing style that is perhaps kinder and gentler than previous styles, but also winsome.  Hey, people even sometimes tell me that I look a little like Jimmy Fallon (compliment to me, not to Jimmy:-).

The church, as we know it, should never be the institution that puts it's finger in the wind and determines it's future based on the fads, styles and tastes that are popular at any given moment.  On the other hand, the church should also never be so disconnected from the styles of the world that it forgets where people are.  The church that neglects to "Meet People Where They Are" is definitely doomed to failure.  More importantly, as the church attempts to bridge the generational gaps that divide our culture today, healthy examples like the "Tonight Show", which have been around for more than 60 years, may just offer a few answers.

Go Jimmy!

All For Now,

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