Ocean liners became cruise ships.

In a fascinating blog, we discover that the name change in the middle of the 20th century was significant. Ships used to travel in lines (hence the name 'liners'), as a means to get people to a destination. Then they started cruising round in circles: the focus was on the big experience, not the destination - which actually turned out to be back at the same place you started.

According to the blog, this dramatic cultural shift is reflected in what happened to many churches in the same period. Churches somehow became just like cruise ships.

As Skye Jethani puts it:

The shift from crossing to cruising was really a shift from transportation to consumption

This is what we see on the church scene. In the first half of the 20th century, most churches were small and had the simple goal of transporting people into communion with God by providing the basic necessities of the Christian life. But now, with the mega-churches following in the the wake of mega-cruisers, the experience of church itself, with all the variety of entertainments and attractions it has to offer, has become what most churchgoers want.

So now, in a radical departure from previous trends, 90% of American churchgoers attend churches with congregations of 400 or more. Even more startling, half of American churchgoers attend the largest 10% of churches, while 50 smaller churches go under every week in the U.S.

In 1970, only 500,000 people took a cruise, and there were only 10 mega-churches in the U.S.A. In 2010, over 14 million people cruised, and the number of mega-churches had increased to over 1500. As the cruise ships get bigger, you hear awestruck passengers saying, "I can't believe I'm on a ship!" There's so much to do they may not even see the sea. And first-time churchgoers may be heard to exclaim "I can't believe I'm in a church!" I dread to think what some of them may fail to see.

What does this mean for the church in North America? Read more...