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Monday Musings – 15/11/10

Periodically, someone will send me an article that gets my intention.  The following article by Brett McCracken posted online in the Wall Street Journal is one such article.  I am amazed how it relates to one of the workshops I conduct in our RTC seminars called:  “Walk Away or Reinvent”.  Here are some excerpts.

“The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity”

 “’How can we stop the oil gusher?’ may have been the question of the summer for most Americans. Yet for many evangelical pastors and leaders, the leaking well is nothing compared to the threat posed by an ongoing gusher of a different sort: Young people pouring out of their churches, never to return.

As a 27-year-old evangelical myself, I understand the concern. My peers, many of whom grew up in the church, are losing interest in the Christian establishment.

Recent statistics have shown an increasing exodus of young people from churches, especially after they leave home and live on their own. In a 2007 study, Lifeway Research determined that 70% of young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly.

Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn’t mega churches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.

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 metro sexual 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…

“Wannabe cool” Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge… Churches…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…At the same time, many churches are finding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.

But are these gimmicks really going to bring young people back to church? Is this what people really come to church for? Maybe sex sermons and indie- rock worship music do help in getting people in the door, and maybe even in winning new converts. But what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?

In his book, “The Courage to Be Protestant,” David Wells writes:”The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.

“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.”

Mr. McCracken’s book, “Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide” (Baker Books) was published this month.

The opinions expressed by McCracken do not necessarily reflect those of Reinventing the Church, but they do represent some of the issues we address at our RTC seminars.  Already I am booking seminars into the fall of 2011.  If you would like to know more about them or would be interested in having RTC come to your area you can contact me at dmann@paoc.org.

By the way, I would be very happy to entertain your comments on today’s blog.  

Until next Monday…

Don

Taking risks for Kingdom impact!

www.reinventingthechurch.com

No Comment

  • Luc

    November 29, 2010

    Hi Don, I like the article. It makes a good point. We need to be relevant and authentic. The truth and commitment of discipleship will appeal to the young generation if Jesus is real in us. Let’s be real and reach the younger generation where they are.

    Reply
  • Ewen Butler

    November 29, 2010

    Don,

    It’s a fascinating article particularly coming from someone so young. I am also wrestling with all of this. The evengelical church in the midst of a mega-shift and the question is which button(s) do we as leader push so as to respond positively to the cultural earthquake. The most recent issue of CT also addresses the issue in an article titled, “The Leavers.” I would welcome at some point a seminar/conference or talk-back session where the current situation can be discussed openly. Somewhere practical solutions need to be found. Questions that come to mind are things like: Is the whole social networking age creating a new appetite for the real rather than the media-hyped? In other words, are people beginning to crave for authentic relationships rather than the surfacy communication associated with FaceBook, Twittering, etc? More seriously though is the reality that a younger generation seems to have little concept of an ecclesiology where commitment to Jesus and commitment to His body go hand in hand. Whew! A challenging time but exciting too!

    Reply

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