How the need for instant gratification has led to apathy in the Church

(Photo: Unsplash/Inside Weather)

We live in a world where everything is available at our fingertips. When I think back to my childhood, there was no way that I could find whatever I wanted to with just a simple mobile phone. Today, I can transfer money from one back account to another, 'fly' over cities on Apple maps, and book my plane tickets. As long as you have an iPhone and some money in the bank, you can basically get whatever you want.

The older generations who grew up without the internet didn't have YouTube or social media. If they wanted to talk to their friends, they had to ring them up or stop by their house and hope they were home. Now we can message our friends and get a response instantly, and if we can feel ourselves getting mad because it's part of our need for instant gratification.

All this might have made life more convenient than ever for us, but it has implications for the Church too. Our society's need for instant gratification has only increased because it is so easy to be gratified now that we literally have the whole world at our fingertips.

Yet if society's need for instant gratification has increased, this means our resilience and our ability to persevere have decreased, which is a problem because in the letter to the Hebrews, it speaks of a need to 'persevere' (Hebrews 10:36) in order to receive what we have been promised.

Not should we persevere, we need to persevere.

The Scriptures warn us that 'in this life we will face trouble' (John 16:33). The drawback for the Church is that it can be raising Christians who are not resilient or able to handle adversity.

What happens if they go to church and find they are not a fan of the pastor's preaching? They can simply go online and find someone they do like. And this can lead to apathy.

You might say I am drawing a long bow by linking apathy to instant gratification. But if I get used to getting what I want, when I want it, what will happen if I don't get what I want, when I want it?

Church is not about getting what you want, when you want. More often than not, it is about waiting. That's because planting seeds and watching them grow requires waiting.

If I plant seeds in the local school or soup kitchen or wherever it may be, and I don't see the fruits of my labour as quickly as I would have liked to, will I be able to persevere or will I move onto something that gives me instant gratification?

Would I start becoming apathetic towards God's work and perhaps start thinking about moving onto something more gratifying simply because I have not learnt to be resilient?

Apathy is fast becoming a problem in our churches. In my own country of Australia, church attendance has dropped since the last census, and more and more church services are being streamed online after the pandemic.

During the pandemic, we could pick and choose the online sermons we watched. We could watch sermons from churches located all around the world – and all from the comfort of our beds!

When church services reopened post-lockdown, the comfort of watching a service while still in bed did not suddenly become less appealing.

This apathy and taste of comfort is surely a factor in the decline we have seen in church service attendance since the pandemic.

It all stems from instant gratification and our desire for comfort, looking after what is best for ourselves rather than fulfilling the call of God on our lives.

In fact, we have engaged in idol worship - the idol of pleasure.

When pleasure becomes our idol, we want that pleasure not next week but yesterday. But the Bible teaches in Proverbs 21:17, "Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich."

These are wise words from Solomon who knew better anyone the pitfalls of seeking pleasure and instant gratification.

In Ecclesiastes, he wrote about how meaningless his pursuit of pleasure was when he said in chapter 2, verse 1, "'Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.' But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, 'It is mad,' and of pleasure, 'What use is it?'"

May we not be like Solomon, endlessly pursuing pleasure, because just like him, we too will discover that it is meaningless. Instead, may we stand in awe of the God who can satisfy all the desires of our heart.