In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Brett McCracken, author of the new book “Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide” states the obvious: modern Christianity is in trouble. Despite the rise of megachurches, people – especially young people – are leaving the church in droves. What’s the answer? McCracken spells out the strategy that’s so far been deployed:
Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.
There are various ways that churches attempt to be 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. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.’s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).
“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.
But one of the most popular—and arguably most unseemly—methods of making Christianity hip is to make it shocking. What better way to appeal to younger generations than to push the envelope and go where no fundamentalist has gone before?
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.”
Ever get the feeling that the building is decayed and run down, but instead of doing something about it, we just keep slapping another coat of paint on the exterior? Make it look good and get them in the doors. But when they get inside, it’s still broken down and dilapidated.
Emergent church, megachurch, mainline church…see the common denominator? It’s CHURCH. Church that’s grown to be something more than what God ever intended for it to be. Programs, buildings, money, marketing campaigns, and whatever else we try are destined to fail because they are not what Christ intended.
Nothing is going to change the church until the people in the church change. When we get back to a true community of love and grace, when we get back to people broken before a holy God, when we get back to the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through His people, THEN things will truly change.
Until then we just keep slapping another coat of paint on a run-down building.