From my own comfy church pew, I’ve recently noticed what seems to be an obsessive pursuit of “cool-relevancy” by the church. In a mass-media, buffet-style world of congregational offerings, it seems like an increased amount of focus is being placed on organizing media presentations and coffee bar locations, rather than intimate interaction with new members and plans for deeper spiritual growth.
While I understand that we cannot grow people until we get them through the doors, I also think that there could be a downfall to spending too much time adhering to the tire-less march of reinvention. It may threaten to blind new Christians to the realities that being a Christian is less about slick slide show presentations, cool gadgetry and ease of bible use, and more about uncomfortable, slow, change (sanctification).
In this age of technology and Starbucks and amid threats that we are losing the next generation of Christians during college years, it seems that the church’s human response has been to arm itself with all it can to ensure its own survival.
A Move Toward Relevancy
When I think about the church of my current day in comparison with the church of my parent’s day, I can say with confidence that I think a move towards relevancy (or coolness) has had a lot to do with the way my family now so openly discusses Christ at the dinner table or in line at the grocery store. The Post-Modern Church in my lifetime has done a great job of opening the relatable doors and making Christ a much more fluid part of daily life, the way that He should be! But beyond this point, I’m not sure that we should keep going.
As I write this, I also realize that I do not have the responsibility or experience in leading a church. I recognize that to succeed, the church must run as a business to pay its bills and staff payroll. And I can appreciate that an evaluation must be done to ensure the church moves with the congregation’s needs and the manner in how it is received. But where do we think the line is between remaining a reliable source for the needs of the congregation and flamboyant all-out reinvention because you can?
And consider this, what do YOU look for in a church the first time you visit it? Would you return to a church if the floors were in good repair, but kind of outdated and ugly even if the teaching was sound and inspiring?
If the church seeks to be relevant within the context that it seeks to disregard legalistic views and stodgy expectations of ritualism in exchange for a more connected pursuit of worship between God and people, I’m all for it. But when this is not the focus I start to get a little…bothered.
Brett McCraken writes in his 2010 Article, Hipster Faith, about the Hipster Christian movement, which was born out of a climate of progressively “cool” evangelicalism. “. [a] youth culture built on the infrastructure of a lucrative Christian retail industry and commercial subculture. Huge Christian rock festivals, Lord’s Gym T-shirts, WWJD bracelets, Left Behind, and so forth. It was big business. It was corporate. It was schlocky kitsch. And it was begging to be rebelled against [by today's Hipster Christian].”
The article is an insightful description of a movement of Christians longing to disregard the gimmicky church of their youth and return to a core desire of church without all the excess.
Though the article heralds the Hipster Christians for their bold exodus from showy expectations and uncomfortably churchy traditions, it also warns of the danger of being “of the world” rather than set apart. Though past initiatives for the church to remain relative have often strengthened our relationship with God (think Martin Luther’s departure) I don’t believe that is where our current metropolitan church is headed. Somehow it seems like a tool to increase pew attendance.
The Marketed Church
The result for me is that I am hyper-aware that I’m constantly being marketed to as a consumer. And when the church acts like a business, it tends to fall within this sometimes loathed category. Creating a disenfranchised establishment that seems cold and disingenuous.
Hipster churches are hip, because they meet people where they are, have low demands before coming to Christ and demonstrate a genuine interest in reaching the lost despite tattoos, piercings, or past. They offer welcoming environments to go TO the lost in their own territory like bars or nightclubs, where some of these churches hold worship. They are an organically created environment that requires no committees or marketing firms. But wanna-be hip church seems tempted to fashion themselves (and their churches) in the hipster mold out of fear of being on the periphery.
The bothersome point I’m getting at is this; have churches traded faith in God to provide, for high-gloss printed material on recycled cardboard and sermons that include the phrase “Check out my next series, you’re going to love it”? Every time I hear a preacher reference his future sermon series, I picture Paul writing to his church and concluding his letter with, “I, Paul, write this greeting by my own hand. Check out my letter next week, in which I will write to you about my upcoming interaction with Barnabus and see how I handled “Difficult Relationships”.
PS – About Essential and Non-Essential Beliefs
As a Pop Culture Christianity contributor for Changing the Face of Christianity, my goal is to bring up topics that are worth discussing within our Christian communities. It’s also worth reminding readers of the difference between taking a hard stand against the devaluing of Essential Beliefs and the liberty to discuss Non-Essential beliefs. Read a great explanation on the difference between essential and non-essential beliefs. Though the non-essential stuff might be important and worth discussion, it is my prayer that it does not inspire division among us. We are one body, one Church, under One Christ.