Perfecting The Format

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Perfecting The Format

A religious service is divided between content and format. My recent outings gave me insight into this, especially Islam. I hope to see more formats for further comparison. I don't think format can stand on it's own for long, but I think pure format has a better chance than pure content. I define content as the information exchanged. Examples of content are holy books and other documents. I define format as the method for exchanging information. Methods for exchanging information can be reading, speaking, singing, ect. I think Christianity is weak, because it's all content - no format. Islam on the other hand is much more format. I've yet to see Judaism in person, but I've seen videos of ultra orthodox Jewish events that involve a lot of singing and dancing.

A format consists of a lot of criteria. This criteria will very by function. Among religion the criteria that comes to mind is scheduling, timing, seating arrangement, audience involvement, activities, rules, ect. It's my creeping suspicion that a well executed format has a better chance of retaining membership interest. If you think about it, many military's and businesses already have their own venue formats to leverage control over members. I've read about multi-level marketing organizations that have recruitment presentations down to a science. Rooms are kept freezing to keep people awake. Lights are darkened to make speakers look larger than life. And doors are kept locked to keep stragglers from interrupting presentations. Similarly, military's across the world regiment men into tightly formed lines. Organize war games. And have strict dress codes. If either businesses or military's relied on just sales pitches, they'd fall flat. This is why Christianity doesn't sell, or at least doesn't have repeat customers. It's a sales pitch with no punch.

A perfect format is one, which executes the goals of the organization. In the military, this is breeding killers. In a sales conference, this is making customers buy. In a prison, this is taming prisoners. In a religion, this is enhancing moral character. The levers that work in one venue, may not work in another. You need to adjust the levers to the purpose of the venue.

Islam does many things to keep people interested. When you first enter the mosque, you're required to move your shoes. This may seem subtle, but it's small adjustments like these that build into a bigger format. What's the purpose of taking off shoes? To distinguish between public and private space. It's a soft, but clear transition, whereas most religions have no transition lever whatsoever from informal public space to a private place of denoted meaning. Similarly the act of creating separate entrances for men and women creates a second transitional affect. Washing your hands is another transitional lever for indicating a change of responsibilities from public to private. When you pray in a line you're creating artificial homogeneity. There's a reason sloppy gaps or round circles aren't tolerated. A single gap breaks the system and homogeneity is lost. What's the point of eating together? Free food is a good incentive to get people to attend, but why eat on the floor, using bare hands from a communal plate? It's to breed pack mentality. Think of devouring food communally as a re-creation of hunting wild game as a tribe.

The Eastern Orthodox church lit candles and turned off certain light switches on and off throughout the ceremony. So in the case of the eastern Orthodox church, light was a strong lever for playing with the format. Similarly the minister walked around spreading smoke with a censor. I think Christianity's main weakness is it doesn't have audience involvement. It's boring to sit through a three hour session. It's also boring to sit through a Muslim meeting, but much less because you're constantly occupied with doing something. In Christianity the format is one way, only the presenter is involved. Music can be another pulling lever, and a double lever if it's music performed by audience members. This keeps audience members occupied and breaks up boring lectures.

The Witness format is lecture driven. Audience members are activated by speakers asking them questions. This is what keeps people interested. Similarly speakers are changed several times throughout the meeting in order to break of monotony. It doesn't help very much, but it's better than nothing.

Point being, if you wanna build a powerful religion, build a format first and find ideas later.