“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” G K Chesterton
“Going to church does not make you a Christian anymore than going to the garage makes you a car." Laurence J. Peter
A number of years ago I was invited to meet a man who wished to move to our area to start a new church. He apparently was ready to move on from his current church in a smaller town to “build” something for God in a larger city. Although I was not interested, I went to be polite to the person who invited me. In front of me stood a man who was dressed exactly like Rick Warren, Hawaiian shirt, casual pants and the beginnings of a goatee. He let us know how qualified he was for this mission by citing statistics on how to get a lot of people to the church in short order-great band, coffee, and cool sermons were in order. He then let us know his salary requirements by casually dropping the fact that his 6000 square foot house was currently on the market. Needless to say, I ran and so did everyone else. I wonder if he ever sold his home?
Another time I went to a talk by a locally acclaimed women’s speaker. As she talked, I got the feeling of déjà vu. Ad then it hit me. This woman was attempting to mimic the speaking style of Ann Graham Lotz. She used the same inflections and even placed her finger over her lip with an arched brow quizzically perched. It freaked me out. If I wanted to hear Lotz, I would go to hear Lotz. I came to hear her and I got a poor imitation of Lotz.
On August 13, 2010, Brett McCracken, a 27 year old evangelical caused a bit of a kerfuffle in evangelical circles by having an article entitled The Perils of Wannabe Cool Christianity. Here is the link. He makes the observation that the evangelical church is concerned and reacting to statistics that indicate that approximately 70% of all students who grow up in church, leave church with the advent of college. As an aside, these statistics (gathered by Lifeway) leave much to be desired in terms of analysis. There seems to be some indication that a large number of these students return as they approach their 30s.
However, McCracken makes the point that the evangelical church is making an all effort to regain these lost youth by any means possible. It appears that the popular method du jour is “Hipster Christianity.” This means to be cool, with it, cutting edge, etc. There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. The first way is to “look “cool.
“For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated "No Country For Old Men." For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and Helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials”.
Hmmmm, Helvetica huh? Well in keeping with TWW’s effort to remain relevant and cool, the rest of this article will be printed in said font. (Whoops, WordPress does not offer that font-how outre of them)!
Superficially, it does seem to be Scriptural to attempt to fit in with the culture in ways that do not compromise the essential message. The pastor who is ministering in the San Diego culture would probably do well to avoid the Southern Baptist greased back pompadour. A preacher on the Navajo Reservation would do well to wear jeans and boots instead of the gray two-piece with matching hankie. Paul seems to agree.So far, so good.
“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:22-23
(As an aside, I would like to make one observation. I know that indie rock bands are cool. However, does anyone else out there have trouble singing along with these groups? Half the time I have never heard the music. I don’t think I am alone. As I look around at said churches, I see lots of people moving to the music but very few singing along. Isn’t the music supposed to help us worship or is it supposed to help us see how way cool the church is? Rant finished)!
With point two, however, the waters become murkier.
“"Wannabe cool" Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., for example, have online church services where people can have a worship experience at an "iCampus." Many other churches now encourage texting, Twitter and iPhone interaction with the pastor during their services".
I know of a variety of churches that are expanding using the “remote location” approach. Let’s say, the Ever Hip Church wishes to expand to another town. However, the ever hip pastor cannot be in two places at once….or can he? So, the church rents out a movie theater in an adjacent town, has a subsidiary band come and perform (whoops, lead worship) and then the pastor gets beamed in as he gives his sermon in the other church.
I bemoan the lack of intimacy that this breeds. However, with the advent of the megachurch, who really knows their pastor or any of the passing through congregation intimately anyway? So, maybe its time to move to the next step. Why even bother with a church? We could all stay home, Tivo it so we don’t have to get up early. We could listen to the sermon at our leisure and sing along with the band right in front of our own 50-inch LCDs. We would even have child-care built in so no more arm-twisting to work the nursery. We could then tweet our pastors with our thoughts. For example, “Are you really wearing an authentic Crew sweater today?
Just think of the membership numbers a “church” could boast if it went to an all-remote venue. Wait, isn’t that called TV? That’s it. Neilson could rate the number of viewers per church and the winner of the rating war could be dubbed The Absolute Most Hip Church. There could be Grammys, spin offs, and even soap operas (Days of Our Deacons comes to mind).
We could even do small groups this way. Imagine Skyping all your meetings. Think of the diversity opportunities. We could be in a small group with people from all over the world. And no one would have to be in charge of planning snacks.
With McCraken’s third point, one begins to see the path the church is on.
“Sex is a popular shock tactic. Evangelical-authored books like "Sex God" (by Rob Bell) and "Real Sex" (by Lauren Winner) are par for the course these days. At the same time, many churches are ﬁnding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.
Oak Leaf Church in Cartersville, Georgia, created a website called yourgreatsexlife.com to pique the interest of young seekers. Flamingo Road Church in Florida created an online, anonymous confessional (IveScrewedUp.com), and had a web series called MyNakedPastor.com, which featured a 24/7 webcam showing five weeks in the life of the pastor, Troy Gramling. Then there is Mark Driscoll at Seattle's Mars Hill Church—who posts Q&A videos online, from services where he answers questions from people in church, on topics such as "Biblical Oral Sex" and "Pleasuring Your Spouse."
TWW did a series on Mark Driscoll who has never met a topic that shouldn’t be discussed in front of the world, at any time and in any place. Please read our series on this sexpert for an up front and personal look at Driscoll doing his best imitations of Dr. Ruth.
I believe that McCracken hits the nail on the head. He claims that young evangelicals are seeking more than another talk on sex. (Yes, yes they know its supposed to be in marriage even though the majority of single, hip Christians do not practice abstinence because they see no reason to do so because they don’t understand the Bible). They can get that at any freshman orientation at any secular college. Maybe they are looking for some far deeper than another ploy to gain their attention and their presence.
The problem is that the culture is always changing and the church is in a bind, trying to consistently appear relevant when relevancy changes on a daily basis. How far do we take relevance? For example, relevance in the Dallas culture means ostentatious displays of wealth. Is this why FBC Dallas is building their “$130 million addition? (The mosque/Islamic Center in downtown New York City is only going to cost $100 million. Atta way to win this war, FBC; out money them).
Then a funny thing happened as I researched this post. I visited to a blog written by Maurilio Amorim who is not impressed by McCracken’s point of view. Here is a link. However, if one actually takes a minute to investigate this guy, one realizes that he is using the trend to make money by advising churches on how to exploit this trend. If the church became anti-hipster, it would cost him oodles of money to catch up with the newest craze which would probably mean he would have to outlay cash on new videos, new speakers, new glasses, etc. He likes the status quo.
He is just another huckster who makes all sorts of money advising churches on how to be big successes (read make lots of money) through his company called The A Group. Here is a link. (Look at his digs- churches must be paying top dollar). He proudly claims that he is from a megachurch background. Shazaam! We are impressed! He looks the part with his hip glasses and somewhat spiked hair. Here is what he has to say.
“If you want to leave your current church because the music is too loud or your pastor has begun shopping at the Buckle, than that’s your prerogative. But before you exchange it for a choir and pipe organ, or for the ultra smart double PHD preacher down the road, make sure the byproduct of membership in your new church is not just a better experience tailor-suited to your tastes, but by a transformed life–one that’s characterized by a radical devotion to a man named Jesus”.
Note how he subtly equates a hipster with being a radically devoted Christian and a double PhD preacher with being an out of touch Christian. This reeks of anti-intellectual snobbery that we have seen infecting some aspects of the awesomely cool churches. One would never mistake Ed Young Jr for any deep thoughts on doctrine. He is waaay too cool.
Of course, the hipsters responded positively over at Amorim’s site.(Bet a few have used his services). I wonder if he gets some new business out of this one. Here is one such comment.
“However, I agree 100% with you on this and I found his article (the sensationalist anti-stance required to get published anywhere these days) to be silly, trite, and overly-simplified. The article basically stated: You can be either real or hipster — not both. Well, I work at a "HIPSTER" church and they reach thousands for Christ”.
Once again, I find these comments trite and boring. It is predicated on the numbers game. If thousands are coming then it must be God. About a year ago, Bill Hybels, part of the megachurch problem, made a startling statement. He said that Willowcreek had made some big mistakes. They apparently spawned a bunch of churchgoers who know next to nothing about the Bible. This has been my experience as well. Just because you have lots of people coming, does not mean you are spawning Christians. Remember, the Coliseum was filled to overflowing with spectators watching lions maul Christians.
So what’s the bottom line? It is important to be culturally relevant. But it is important not to become culturally enmeshed. The early Christians became known for their refusal to give into the cultural mandates of the day. They would not worship Caesar; they refused to take part in many of the pagan celebrations of their day and were willing to be rejected to the point of becoming tarred and being used for torches at Nero’s garden parties. Their countercultural ways made them stand out and, within 300 years, much of that part of the world was Christianized.
As I look at the Sermon on the Mount, I see no discussion on the relative merits of oral sex. The early church fathers did not publish tomes on cultural relevance. There is nothing wrong in dressing in the manner of the society we are trying to reach but things get a little weird when mixed drinks are being served during Bible study (getting looped for the Lord seems a little off message).
We need to think long and hard about what it means to be in the world but not of the world. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that most of the young people today were not raised in churches. Sometimes we try so hard to make them feel comfortable that we forget that they don’t know what to expect from church. Maybe we are trying just a little too hard to be “hip.”
The world searches for authenticity. Groups, like the one Amorim owns, want to make cookie cutter pastors who fit some sort of predetermined market researched and approved model. He especially would want a guy who could draw in the big money folks. However, I think the “A” Group of yesteryear would not have chosen Jesus as the leader of the new church.
He was not flashy, dressed conservatively, hung around with lowlifes, could make very awkward comments around the ruling elite (snakes) and He definitely did not get along with the Romans. And then there was the overturning the moneychanger’s table thing-how unhip and unmannerly can you be?
I think Amorim would have looked for a well dressed guy with great teeth who could press the flesh of the ruling elite and draw the rich crowds to fancy venues where they could sip Roman wines and listen to talks on how to be nice to your wife. Jesus wouldn’t, you know, fit. He would do better serving down at one of those rescue mission places. They don’t care how you dress down there.
Jesus hung with those out of the mainstream and embarrassed the Pharisees on a regular basis. He even gave talks on hillsides, eschewing the fancy venues of the day. I bet the guys he hung with couldn’t have raised enough money to build anything like Fellowship Church. Yet they changed the world while Ed Young Jr. has become the world. Maybe being cool is not all it is cracked up to be.
For your amusement, I have provided this link to McCracken’s web site called Hipster Christianity. It describes various subgroups of “hip” Christians. I found out that I do not fit into any category so color me “irrelevant.”