“Wannabe Cool’ Christianity

The Wall Street Journal posted an article recently talking about “Hipster” Christianity, an article that, in all honesty, was a little critical of churches today that are trying too hard to be “cool.”

But I love the author’s conclusion. Here’s just a snippet: (emphasis mine)

“And the further irony,” he adds, “is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.”

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.

The article (click here to read the entire article) is by Brett McCracken, author of the book, Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide (Baker Books).

If you read the entire article, you’ll probably find McCracken a little critical of today’s churches. An example:

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).

A little harsh. But I think many of us have seen some of these elements “out of balance” on either extreme. For example. We, like the author of the article, have probably seen the church that seems to just “try too hard.” They concentrate so hard on looks and appeal, but are stingy when it comes to simply opening the scripture and teaching truth. But before we cast stones, we need to realize that this church might just be an “overreaction” to a church that has been dead for decades because they put people to sleep with bad teaching and a lack of relevance. (Most of us have sat through some of these services) There’s nothing wrong with quoting Stephen Colbert or referencing current music. These elements become “out of hand” when they monopolize a service and Jesus becomes lost in the shuffle.

This discussion has huge relevance in youth ministry circles. As McCracken points out, kids are savvy to being target-marketed with the “slick and glitzy.” Some of us need to sit back and take a deep look at our ministries, asking some tough questions. Does slick and glitzy trump relational ministry? Do we spend more time programming then hanging with kids? Are we better at presentation than connecting? (all red flags) But don’t ignore the opposite side of the spectrum. Do we lack good communicators that are gifted at teaching the scriptures? Do we not provide safe arenas where kids can feel safe to dialogue? Do we put kids to sleep? (all red flags as well)

I think many churches and youth ministries are searching for a balance here. It would be nice to be relevant to the culture the way the Apostle Paul was, but at the same time, not stray from the privilege of clearly introducing people to the love of Jesus. McCracken’s article is a good reminder of that. (and a good discussion peice for your next volunteer training)

McCracken is a graduate of Wheaton and UCLA, currently the managing editor for Biola University’s Biola Magazine and working on his Master’s in Theology at Talbot. He regularly writes movie reviews for Christianity Today and articles for Relevant Magazine. You can see an online video interview of him about his new book here.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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4 Responses to “Wannabe Cool’ Christianity

  1. Jon Forrest says:

    In Romans 1:16, I guess Paul is right, when he says the gospel is the power of God. Glad it’s not in my cool haircut.

  2. Yeah… $80 haircut. Ouch! I’ve got less and less hair to cut each year!

  3. Jesse says:

    I agree that it was a bit harsh with making it seem as if those churches have no influence from God whatsoever. I’ve seen the church where a pastor is “trendy” and the services are as God filled as ever and the pastor’s life is completely filled with God’s Spirit and he’s an incredible witness. Then, I’ve seen the church where the pastor is trendy and encourages everyone to be so much like the world that no one can see a difference because we don’t want to appear “different” or weird. But, I definitely agree that it’s many times out of a retaliation to the boring, dead churches that probably scarred them at some point..

  4. Jon Forrest says:

    I read the first chapter of this book online. It’s pretty interesting. Before you’re too hard on the guy you need to realize he considers himself a hipster Christian. He’s not necessarily putting down these churches, he’s just saying, being “real” is the key. I know wearing an Ed Hardy shirt is not going to do it for me. Luckily there is an idea in our culture that says, really being who you are without apology or fakery is about as cool as you can get. (see Napoleon D., Juno, etc)
    So that’s me:cacki’s (how do you spell that) polo, bad haircut, blood of Jesus, no apologies. I’m so cool it hurts.