Today’s Church Becoming Too Cool?

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.

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. The response has not been at a “We must continue to Win Souls” kind of level, but at a more corporate, “We must sell more stuff and offer more popular classes” kind of level. This is the kind that sells books and T-Shirts and begs attendees to keep coming back for more, much like a cleverly designed hook at the end of a well written novel.

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.

Hipster Churches

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.

Maybe you, like me, fall into the category of 25-35 years old. Our generation grew up during the very early years of high-technology and TV marketing at its peak. Huge investments were made by marketers to learn about how consumers shopped, and what our psychological responses would be to a product with a red package versus a blue one. 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.

About Kasey Harris

Kasey is a long time Christian who only recently found Christ. She tells people that she was 31 years old before she finally realized there was a huge part missing in her Christian walk, a part that made her long for something deeper, more relational and less ritualistic. That part was a day to day relationship with Christ Himself and a working application of His word. She has since committed herself to a deeper understanding of the Bible and God, and has come to the conclusion that for many years she was trying to change herself and not allow Christ to change her. She has completed four years with Bible Study Fellowship, enjoys leading women’s ministries, and is a member of The Gospel Coalition. Kasey is also a former board member of Changing the Face of Christianity. As a Christian Pop Culture writer, she loves sharing how we can be Christians IN the world, but not OF the world.


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Comments

  1. Skittles says

    I say as long as souls are being won, The Bible is taught as it should be, people are learning and being challenged, and Jesus is the head then its cool with me.

    • Glenn says

      Skittles, having been employed at a “seeker targeted” church, I have seen the abuses Kasey describes. The church leadership at least pays lipservice to “transforming lives.” However, I need to ask, define “winning souls”. Is it to just get “posteriors in seats”? Is that the definition of winning souls? Many times our Lord and Savior Jesus confronted those who claimed to follow Him with their motives. They walked away. Sometimes, and I would say, MANY times, teaching the truth and the demands of discipleship turns people off and drives people away.

  2. says

    Kasey, I think you’re on to something here. These modern church “movements” are designed to grow the church as if it’s a business. Moreover, their finances are handled as if it’s a business. The thing is there is very little that’s supernatural in these modern churches. They’re experts at putting on the show, drawing a crowd, etc. But God’s truth can get so watered down that we scarcely recognize it. To be fair, Jesus did say that if they’re not against us then they’re with us (Mark 9:39-40 & Luke 9:49-50). So I guess Jesus would rather have these “culturally relevant” churches that grow people a mile wide and an inch deep (spiritually) than no church at all – or instead of persecuted churches. But it’s heart-breaking to see the church prostituting itself to our modern culture. That may put butts in the seats today. But I see little evidence that it’s building prevailing churches for future generations.

  3. alan leonard says

    “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”. Now that’s funny. . . good reading. While there is the practical side of things that come with church life, I get nervous whenever production values and business practices are the mark of things. What is missing in all this is the one thing that the church as an organization cannot manufacture or manipulate or fake – Life. Life from God in Christ. Sometimes it is easy to forget when looking at what we have made of Church that this whole Christian walk is about something real from God coming into this world and into our hearts so that in a genuine way we can look and talk and be like Jesus.

  4. Kasey says

    All good comments back! Ultimately, Christ wins souls not the church in whatever coolness it holds…I can agree. And it’s not apparent that the church IS trying to mislead anyone. Something to think about for ourselves then; as I mature in Christ, my responsibility is to accurately use my spiritual gifts, offer correction within our own Christian community, and to make disciples and sharpen each other. This is ACTIVE participation on my part. I should never be content to sit back and rest, assuming that the church “is good”. The church, made up of men, is just as vulnerable to run off course as I am, and we should always be on the lookout to hold ourselves accountable in love (and willing to admit if we might be wrong). We should then always be on guard for anything that does not bring us closer to Christ each day. Are we seeing more maturity in our congregation or just more faces? Where do the old faces go? Did they give up or grow deeper? What was my role in that? Did I help or hurt? These are questions we MUST ask ourselves to guage our own understanding even. “I guess Jesus would rather have these “culturally relevant” churches that grow people a mile wide and an inch deep (spiritually) than no church at all – or instead of persecuted churches.” I question this…would he? Jesus tells us that there will be many in the church who will suffer because they did not truly understand His word. The parable of the sower and seeds in Matthew 13 describes two types of Christians that I think could be sitting in our cool churches and suffer if we don’t recognize them: “Some seeds feel on the rocky places where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.” Roots are developed in good deep soil. We cannot expect people to grow, if we don’t offer good beds of soil to grow in. It requires thinking about “growth” of plants, not so much how attractive the planter box is. “Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” This is the second kind of Christian, that I think is most difficult to recognize. The one that lets volunteerism and giving and doing and being all choke out deeper intimacy with Christ. In a sense they look like they understand Christ, but when asked some of the most basic essentials parts of God’s word, they might not ever read the Bible. Thus their spiritual growth is snuffed out and they are unknowingly continuing down a path away from Christ. That’s REALLY Sad!! The parable goes on to say that Satan himself is responsible for this…what if we are the administraters of it? Like Peter who was rebuked by Jesus for unknowingly telling Jesus He need not die, what if we are communicating the wrong message to our own congregations?

    • Glenn says

      Kasey, Thank you for your boldness and words of challenge. I would like to dovetail on what said about the parable of the soils. Since parables are “one point sermons”, it seems to me that the point Jesus was making was about the product of the seed–which was fruit. Jesus emphasized that the first three soils did not produce fruit; only the last one did. I conclude from this that the only true Christian is the one which bears fruit (also compare other descriptions of a disciple from other passages of Scripture). My opinion of your questioning whether Jesus would rather have mile wide and inch deep “Christians” is spot on. Jesus wants fruit bearing lives. It seems to me that we really confuse the issue when we have the “just get them in the door” mentality. Jesus never told them to bring them in; He also told us to “go to them.” Finally, since when did we get the idea that Sunday morning is supposed to have an evangelism focus? Sunday ought to be, in my opinion, a time when Christ followers come together to worship, pray for, be prayed for, support, be trained and encouraged, so that the body as a whole can go out into the mission field, into often hostile territory, to be His witnesses. In my opinion, Sunday mornings should not have evangelism as its focus. The church I’m privileged to pastor has a “Sunday morning as worship” emphasis, instead of a “Sunday morning as evangelism” emphasis. Though it is VERY painstakingly slow to change hearts and minds on this, I’m confident that we are headed in the right direction. May the Lord continue to bless you and your ministry.

  5. Kasey says

    ooooh, this is a great point Glen: “Finally, since when did we get the idea that Sunday morning is supposed to have an evangelism focus? ” This point encompasses my current struggle, that if I am a member of a church, I spend 3 days a week giving back my talents, time and gifts to serve the body of the church— IS the church obligated to meet my spiritual growth needs? I have heard the response, that I am responsible to grow myself through seeking His word on my own…however, my argument is that I cannot grow myself? I want to seek quality, challenging, teaching that moves me out of my current state. So I find myself challenged constantly with this debate—- to stay and serve a church who really needs mature believers, or leave to find teaching on Sundays that supports my growth. Tough. I think I am now in the same place you mention…that Sunday morning is for my worship, and I am seeking growth through other studies outside of our church. Thanks for your response.

    • alan leonard says

      How well has the American model of church worked? The expectation that coming together on a Sunday for teaching/preaching is either enough or will make a difference. . . how has that worked out? There is so much teaching available, so many resources. . . Christian TV, radio, internet, books, magazines, CD’s, what has it all amounted to? Is there an increase in the measure of Christ within in those who look mainly to Sundays? Spiritually, has it meant much at all? Life should mark the coming together of the body of Christ, and worship as a celebration is probably a better indicator of the health of the body. The prevalence of the of the view that Sunday service is the main vehicle for personal growth is probably the best indicator that the body is at a deficit spiritually. Corinthians speaks of believers coming together with something from God and those visiting have the secrets of their hearts revealed and falling down in worship. Something real from God was present in the believers coming together. For all the planning and production values, something real of God is the thing most missing and most needed on Sunday mornings.

        • alan leonard says

          Brad, thanks for the kind words that affirm. Can’t get away from the need for genuineness among believers here in America. . . and by genuineness is meant real Christ-likeness in those who call Jesus “Lord.” Jesus called us to so much that is hard: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and bless those who curse you, visit the sick and those in prison, sell your possessions and give to the poor, do not judge others, go to your brother if you have sinned against him or if he has sinned against you and be reconciled, humble yourself like a little child, sit in the lowest place, become last of all and servant of all. And it’s not so much that we should just do these things in a mechanical way but rather that we have hearts that embrace these things as a way of life. . . that we would genuinely be like Jesus in these things in this world. And I don’t say this to condemn others at all, that need starts with me. I find Jesus’ words to be a great challenge to my heart as to whether I am being true and genuine. There’s such a disconnect between all the outward resources that the church has available and the inner lack of something genuine of Christ in those who makeup the church. The thing most needed is what is most lacking or least seen, something real of God in Christ in believers, making them alive to the things of God in this world so that they can be and do more than they ever could in themselves on their own. It’s what Peter talked about in Act 10 . . . “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” I have great hope that in following Jesus even thru hard things. . . especially thru hard things. . . that the Spirit will lead and guide me. And if I will follow that the result will be being more like Jesus in a genuine way in this world.

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