Friday, October 13, 2006
What is Burning Man Saying to the Contemporary Church?
Earlier this week I noted in a post that I completed my seminary paper on Burning Man. In the paper I interact with Hakim Bey's concept of a Temporary Autonomous Zone, and Victor Turner's concepts of liminality and communitas as it relates to ritual. The result is that Burning Man might be understood as a heterotopic community wherein its participants are exploring alternative forms of identity and community through artistic and ritual expression. I move from this to ask what Burning Man might be saying to various segments of the evangelical church for those with ears to hear. Below is an excerpt from the paper as it relates to the contemporary church. Later I will post the excerpt on the emerging church:
[L]let us consider what Burning Man might be saying to the traditional or contemporary church in its various manifestations. Here I believe the demographic makeup of Burning Man, and the post-modern sense of social identity, provide startling considerations for the contemporary church.
Recall that earlier in this paper I noted that Generation X is a major demographic representation within the Burning Man population. This group and other young generational demographic groups, represent continued challenges to evangelical churches with their expressed interest in spirituality but not in institutional religion. It might be tempting to dismiss Generation X and other young people drawn to Burning Man as a cultural and spiritual aberration if it were not for a recent Barna study which indicates that churches are having increasing difficulty in maintaining the interest of “twentysomethings” in Christianity following their teen years even after active involvement in church life while growing up. If the church cannot meaningfully engage and retain young people who have had positive Christian experiences within its walls, then new approaches are desperately needed to reach those who find Burning Man and similar expressions of spiritual questing appealing. Barna’s assessment seems correct that “the current state of ministry to twentysomethings is woefully inadequate to address the spiritual needs of millions of young adults.” This is especially the case with post-modern neo-tribes.
This situation raises serious questions about the church’s awareness of and ability to adapt to social change. David Moberg commented on this situation by stating:
Few churches are able to retain successfully an unmodified program of activities over long periods of time. Social change cuts across every aspect of the work of the church … the church must understand much better than ever before its continually changing social environment and the impact of that environment upon the lives of people if it is to cope successfully with the tremendous challenges it faces (Moberg 1984, 546).
 Barna Update, “Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritually Active Teen Years,” http://www.barna.org; accessed 11 September 2006.