The largest church in the United States is Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. It holds 43,500 people. The largest Christian network in the United States is Trinity Broadcasting Network, which draws about 5 million viewers per week.
Those are impressive numbers. But then, consider this: Last year, 41.6 million people watched the Academy Awards.
Of course, you might say, it's unfair to compare churches to the movie industry. Movies are a business, and churches are not. Movies pander to the lowest common denominator, and churches do not.
Still. The first Academy Awards ceremony lasted just 15 minutes, and 15 statuettes were handed out.
Over time, the awards show has become almost as important and lucrative as the movies themselves. And the show's continuing popularity seems to defy logic. After all, television audiences are shrinking and fracturing, yet awards shows— and the Oscars in particular—continue to draw millions of viewers every year.
Perhaps it's the fact that the Oscars have something for every kind of viewer. The show attracts serious film buffs as well as fashionistas who rate and rank the celebrities on the red carpet. It attracts white-collar workers who place bets in office pools.
But I wonder if it is more than that. Maybe the Oscars—and the movie industry generally—fill a growing void in people's lives.
The fact is, despite the growth in evangelical churches (in particular, megachurches like Lakewood) the percentage of people in North America who identify themselves as Christians is declining sharply. Our world no longer goes silent on a Sunday morning as Christians gather to worship—it spins busily and blindly on without us. And the Christian community is no longer a cultural touchstone.
For many, the Oscars (like the Super Bowl or the Olympics) represents one of those rare moments when we're all doing one thing together. In a fractured, busy world, that's what people are missing. We all want to live in community, to celebrate something excellent, to enjoy music, and be immersed in something bigger than ourselves. We want something to lift us out of the routine of our lives.
So perhaps people watch the Oscars for many of the same reasons they attend church—or used to. And, perhaps, for that reason alone, they're worth a closer look. Not because church needs to be more like Hollywood, but because the Oscars represent an opportunity to learn something profound about what brings us together, and why.