By Caleb Keith –
One of the greatest technological conveniences today is to have an entire collection of music with you wherever you go. The ability to take all of your music with you has only conventionally been around since Apple introduced the first iPod alongside iTunes in 2001. The iTunes digital music store crushed physical sales of music and helped lower the distribution of pirated and stolen music. This was a win for Apple, publishers, and artists alike. Then in 2008 the streaming music service Spotify launched in the U.S and changed the way consumers listened to music once again. For ten dollars a month, Spotify will let you stream any of its 20 million songs whenever you want from any device you own. That equated to less than the price of one album on iTunes for what is an almost unlimited library of music.
Many would say Spotify dethroned Apple as the world leader in music distribution even though it did not crush digital music sales like Apple had done with CD’s in the early 2000’s. Instead of financially dethroning Apple, Spotify hit them hard by becoming more relevant. Today Apple fought back and released its own unlimited music streaming service in order to take back its crown of relevance. Relevance is something individuals, companies, and even churches want and will fight to get; but what does it even mean?
Relevance is an interesting term because it isn’t a measurable quantity. You cannot weigh or count relevance, you can only feel and sense it. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines relevance as “closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand.” In our world the matter at hand can be religious, political, social, or any combination of the three. With this being the case, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are probably the best tool available for attempting to measure this invisible quantity. That’s because, as my fellow Jagged Word author Joel said, “Facebook allows for an exponential spreading of quick slogans.” While Facebook slogans are mostly just platitudes, these platitudes are shared and liked because at least for a moment it mattered or connected to those people.
Something I think is often ignored is that relevance is a two way street. A topic is relevant when it matters. This can be a positive support or a negative criticism. The legalization of homosexual marriage is an excellent example of this. My Facebook feed was full of rainbows but almost any other post was a statement standing against this legal decision. The SCOTUS decision was relevant not because people turned their Facebook profile rainbow but because one way or the other it mattered to almost everybody. Had the court ruled against legalizing homosexual marriage Facebook would have still blown up with rainbows, however instead of a victory lap it would have been a call to arms.
Relevance is not the same as popularity. YouTube cat videos are popular, the message of the church is relevant. Relevance requires someone or something to have a stake in the game. Being relevant means every move you make and word you say is under the microscope being analyzed by both sides, to either cheer with you or boo against you. It is common to hear that the Church is no longer relevant, that attendance is shrinking and that the kids don’t care anymore. However in reality the church is immensely relevant; the eyes of popular culture are constantly focused on the church waiting for a slip up. Slipups in the eyes of the public and the media are demands out of God’s perfect law. Demands that cast guilt and shame on the hearts of everyone who knows they are guilty. Christians are not called to be police enforcing God’s law; rather we are called to be proclaimers of God’s law and gospel, and always offering the forgiveness of Christ. Proclamation of that forgiveness is the only way the relevance of the church doesn’t become mass hostility against it.