Seriously, though. Across the internet, there's lists explaining just about anything. There's the click bait garbage like, "You'll Never Believe These 37 Celebrities Who Went to Jail!" There's the oversimplified advice, like "8 Foods That Kill Your Metabolism."
In the church realm, there's also a sense of sensationalism, even as people offer actual help. One revealing example comes from Cary Nieuhof, who recently released, "5 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2016."
Here's the thing about that article. There's lots of good content. The trends Nieuhof lifts up already exist in many of our contexts. What he points to, it seems, is that these trends are likely to arise as dominant trends in 2016. The sensational language, that somehow these trends now rule the year of 2016, just point to a marketing trend of creating urgency for the content we publish.
So, what should you remember when you read these lists, especially in the church realm?
1) Judge on content more than on form. In other words, despite the strategy used by media outlets, the content may not in fact be that urgent. Or, in the case of Nieuhof, the content may be quite good, so if you're turned off by the marketing, you'll need to jump that hurdle in order to appreciate what's in the list.
This also means you need to discern whether things are actually as urgent as the piece seems to indicate. Will my life change drastically if I don't read about these metabolically destructive foods? Probably not, because I already know that simple carbs and sugars wreck go right to my waistline. But if I find myself out of work, the advice offered on "5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Resume" might make an immediate impact.
Nieuhof's list offers an interesting middle ground. Much of it offers us knowledge that we must appropriate, and there's an urgency for knowing these things. Rather than immediate, tangible benefits, this kind of information helps us to prepare better for how to live life as a church. It's about preparation and formation, long term matters. There's no immediate payoff like that found in the self indulgence of celebrity mugshots, but comprehension of this information offers a foundational stability that allows us to shape ministry in helpful ways for 2016.
In short, when you read lists like this, focus on the actual information so that your reactions fit the content.
2) Form communicates something. In a fundamental way, form shapes meaning to a certain extent. It also tries to shape you as a reader, listener, or watcher of media.
For instance, Axe Body Spray commercials want (particularly young) men to feel inadequate without the (painfully overpowering) scent of their products. Once the apparently pathetic boys smell like Phoenix or Instinct or Kilo - seriously, these are the names - the commercials show young women ravenously chasing after these now desirable persons. Yeesh.
Marketing of articles, while not as overt, still try to shape you in a certain way. Every time an article tells you that you're incomplete without the information hidden behind the clickbait, it's not letting the information speak. It's a pretty simple formula: X (numbers) of Y (things) that will ambiguously change your life. Notice that there's some important information missing here. Why should I care? Any information shaped like this generally treats consumers as statistics and revenue sources first, because it's meant to inspire clicks that lead to advertising dollars.
Why's this important? Two reasons. The first is that I genuinely don't believe that Cary Nieuhof or most of the other countless Christian bloggers and media view people in this way. Yet, they use these advertising methods because, and here's the second point, we're conditioned to respond to things like this on the internet. Despite my best efforts, and despite knowing all that I've shared, I'm still drawn to these articles that create a false sense of urgency. I'll find myself a few points in when I realize I care nothing about the content, but I've been duped by the presentation. Nieuhof and others utilize this method, it seems, because it works so well.
What's the point, then? We can't avoid all data that's presented as a list. You're reading something presented that way right now. More fundamentally, it's not the list that is the problem, but it's the false sense of urgency so often evoked by the list, and what that tells us about who we are as creatures. We're not meant to be minions shaped by marketing ploys, so take the extra moment before you click on these things and decide whether it truly makes a difference in your life. If it won't build up the image of God, then it's not worth your time. So remember the third point.
3) You're not a robot on the other end of the internet. You're a living, breathing person who is valuable and worthwhile because of God's image within you, and no marketing ploy need have power to tell you otherwise. Before you dive in to any of these things, remember that you're beloved by God and that means you don't need to be drawn in to every ploy and plea for your attention. Instead, discern if it's worth your time to explore, then dissect the form from the content. Take what's valuable and leave the rest behind.