As I was researching the article Gospel according to Tom Petty, Neil Young & U2, I came across an interesting term. A New York Times article about U2 mentioned that Bono came close to jumping the shark with some of his onstage antics. I’d heard the term before but wasn't sure what I meant, so I consulted Wikipedia. Here is their definition.
Jumping the shark, the infamous moment where Fonzie jumps over a shark while on waterskis. Jumping the shark is a metaphor used by US television critics and fans since the 1990s. The phrase, popularized by Jon Hein on his website, jumptheshark.com, is used to describe the moment when a pop culture icon, originally a TV show or similar episodic medium, is in retrospect judged to have passed its "peak" and shows a noticeable decline in quality, or when it has undergone too many changes that take away the original charm and interest.
The term is also used to describe other areas of pop culture, such as music and celebrities, for whom a drastic change was the beginning of the end. These changes are often attributed to desperate attempts to keep attention, often by making over-the-top statements, or more overt appeals to sex or violence (see Circling the drain). It is sometimes used as an accusation that a particular statement or action is over-the-top, and that the public will turn against a particular celebrity or commentator as a result.
There is concern that Wikipedia has jumped the shark.
A good example of a Christian leader jumping the shark is the Gainesville Pastor who planned to burn the Koran. He found he could attract far more reporters than the 50 people who will show up to hear him preach.
Now, I had to look up another term.
Circling the Drain. The term refers to a patient who is on a slow and irreversible downward spiral towards death, but is a long way from finally dying. The phrase is now used in a broader context to apply to a person, institution or era which is clearly unable to reverse a long downward decline. It is used in business to describe business practices that stave off short term cash flow problems but lead to customer alienation. The phrase is often abbreviated to CTD.
In a medical context, a patient who is "circling the drain" has refused to give up and has a strong will to live. The negative connotations are primarily directed at those who have to attend to the patient, because they may develop excessive attachment, or have families who have falsely raised expectations about eventual recovery. In business, the term refers to projects that are clearly not going to reach completion, but which have not yet been canceled, or to companies that are engaging in self-destructive behavior to stave off insolvency.
Are We Jumping the Shark or Circling the Drain?
Which is it? Are we in the denominational churches jumping the shark by changing so much to connect with the unchurched that we lose our traditional identity, as many claim? Or, are we circling the drain, as 80% of our churches are on plateau or in decline? Have we alienated the postmodern generation (our customers) by our rigidity, fussing and fighting, and unwillingness to sacrifice our comfort to win others to Christ? Are we conserving cash flow by cutting programs and staff so we can keep underutilized buildings and persist in doing things that are not working anymore? Is the primary desire for new members so they can help with the budget and the work of maintaining what is?
Is it possible to do both at the same time? What an interesting image. As the Church lady on the old Saturday Night Live skits used to say, "It must be..............Satan."