Great expectations

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There’s something special about marriage proposals. The fireworks, the flash mobs, the football stadiums with orchestras. The carefully choreographed dances, declarations written in the sky and uploading live videos to YouTube. That candlelit dinner for two just doesn’t cut it anymore.

When did proposals get so off track? When did they become more about being flashy than being meaningful? And why is Christianity going in the same direction?

New York event planner Sarah Pearse has made a career out of organising marriage proposals. She has even been dubbed “The Proposal Planner”. Sarah charges a base rate of $US1900–2900 to plan your special event. The fancier the proposal, the higher the price. But it’s not just a New York trend. A proposal planning business in Australia charges anywhere from $A475- 4500 to make all your dreams come true. 

This growing trend in over-the-top proposals has incited dissatisfaction with anything less.

A 2013 survey of 2000 British women, for example, found that one-third were disappointed with their marriage proposals. Why? The location wasn’t sentimental enough, the moment wasn’t romantic enough and the engagement ring diamond was too small.

The fact that they’d found the person they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with? Not enough to save the proposal from being a letdown. 

When did proposals get so off track? When did they become more about being flashy than being meaningful? And why is Christianity going in the same direction?

Studies show that more than half of all Christian teens and 20-somethings are distancing themselves from church. The Barna group, a nonpartisan research company, discovered that almost 60 per cent of people between the ages of 15 and 29 have left active involvement in church. And Christianity is pulling some dramatic stunts to bring this demographic in.

Hoping to pique the interest of young seekers, a church in Georgia (United States) created a website URL called yourgreatsexlife.com that redirects to the church website. Another church in Florida ran a web series called MyNakedPastor.com in which a 24/7 webcam followed the pastor around for five weeks. And one youth evangelist even dressed up like the devil and went to the local high school, explicitly telling students that they should NOT attend the youth revival at his church. His ploy worked and the church was packed.

But is “stunt Christianity” really what youth want? A 2014 study indicates that millennials actually prefer “real” churches to “cool” churches. And 67 per cent of the young people surveyed described their ideal church as “classic” rather than “trendy”. 

I can’t imagine the early church in Acts resorting to suggestive titles or dressing up to attract attention. Yet their growth was undeniably explosive. They didn’t have slick sound systems or beautiful buildings. But they understood what it meant to deny self. They went out of their way to witness. And their passion and love for Christ ran so deep that many surrendered their lives for what they believed in. 

Could we say the same?

I like how writer Brent McCracken puts it: “Many don’t want the church to be like a sceney bar or a stylish boutique. They want the church to be the church: an institution that embraces awkward people, confronts sin, transforms lives, subverts the sovereignty of self, serves others and provides meaning more substantial than the ephemera of fickle fads.”

It’s not gimmicks we need—it’s the gospel.


Vania Chew is PR/editorial assistant for Adventist Record.