Mall Arcades of The Past and The Church of Today
Probably half of those reading this blog won’t even know what I am talking about, but I really miss the mall arcades of the late 1970s and early 80s. I get that it’s probably nostalgia for a bygone era or maybe even a midlife crisis, but there was something really special about walking into that remote space usually dimly lit and located in the least popular wing of the mall. But, it was filled with flashing lights, exotic noises and lots of people. And for only a quarter, I could be teleported away to distant worlds where aliens or zombies had to be defeated, Death Stars destroyed, Klingons turned back or high scores overturned. Just for a moment, I wasn’t that dorky kid who played D&D in the basement of a neighborhood friend’s house that all the jocks picked on. No, I could be Buck Rogers, Rocky Balboa, Luke Skywalker or a host of super heroes or WWF Superstars surrounded by all the popular girls (even cheerleaders!) as I went about the business of saving the world. I take that back, I was saving the UNIVERSE. In the arcade, it wasn’t about how you looked, who you knew, what type of car you drove or how prestigious a job your parents had. All that mattered was how well you played. There was true fellowship in the mall arcade.
Pinball was a personal favorite. It didn’t require much skill to play, but there was something magical about hitting that silver ball with the flippers, watching it bang around as lights blinked, sound erupted and the digital scoreboard raked up all the points I was accumulating. I hardly ever got the high score or won a free game, but my friends and I could rotate out on each ball and see who did the best. Despite all the movie tie-ins or rock group affiliated pinball machines, Whirlwind was the best one I ever played. Its sound effects made you literally feel like you were in a hurricane. It even had a fan on the scoreboard that blew wind in your face. Maybe I will go on Ebay and see if anyone is selling one that I could put in the bonus room.
So what does the church of today and mall arcades of the past
have in common? As we continue to see the decline of mainline denominations and the rise of the non-denominational church, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the two. Traditional worship practices have been replaced by flashy stages, booming music and inspirational messages tailored toward young people. Just like in the mall arcade, every Sunday you can be reminded that with God’s help and love, you are not just nobody but somebody. You can beat that addiction, save that marriage, pay off that debt, find that special someone. And everyone in the congregation is cheering you on. It’s almost as if the independent, non-denominational church has figured out what the mall arcade pioneered over 40 years ago. Fellowship matters. And, it’s filling their pews. Particularly with young people. That’s not to say, traditional worship practices are obsolete or should be abandoned. And we must never forget that our faith always requires us to focus on Jesus Christ and not ourselves. Still, have many churches forgotten the magic of fellowship, being welcoming, bringing people together from all walks of life and ministering to one another in unique ways?
I doubt my pastor would let me turn that old conference room in our church hall into an arcade. But maybe, just maybe, the youth leader will.