It’s not your father’s church by any stretch.
The congregation is meeting in a warehouse in a neighborhood filled with trendy shops, cafes, and theaters. The pastor—sporting a faux hawk, tight t-shirt, and skinny jeans—is not averse to using salty language or discussing sex in explicit terms. During the sermon, congregants text the pastor questions, which he might answer at the end. The music? Indie-rock.
Welcome to the world of super-cool Christianity.
In his new book, Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide, Brett McCracken writes that evangelical churches are frantic to staunch the hemorrhage of young people leaving the church. But, he writes, their ideas for appealing to them may be sacrificing authenticity for coolness.
As McCracken notes in a Wall Street Journal article, Christian leaders are attempting to overhaul the church in an effort to “rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant.”
For instance, “wannabe cool” pastors toss in references to Lady Gaga or Stephen Colbert, or screen R-rated films like No Country for Old Men. Traditional church buildings are “out” in favor of holding services in a coffee bar. Worship programs are printed on eco-friendly paper, and many churches go after hi-tech special effects: They invite kids to attend online services.
Alarmingly, pastors are being turned into the new shock jocks. A Florida church designed a web series entitled “MyNakedPastor.com.” (No, he didn’t really get naked—he was being emotionally naked—letting viewers see how flawed he was in day-to-day life.) A Georgia church tried to attract the young with a website that had the word “sex” in the URL. To be hip, after all, is to be shocking.
But are these efforts bringing converts into the church? Are they making disciples?
McCracken says kids, who grew up with high-tech wizardry, are not nearly as impressed with seeing them in church as hipster leaders may think. As for the marketing gimmicks—like “MyNakedPastor.com—young people have grown up with so much of this kind of thing that they’re likely to view them with contempt.”
Second, McCracken writes, the very nature of hipness is diametrically opposed to what the church should be about. “At its core, hip is an individual pursuit,” he notes, about how “I can set myself apart, how I can advance my standing in the word, turn heads toward me to be noticed [and] envied.”
Every generation has sought what is real, what is true, and what has ultimate meaning. While these hipster Christian leaders may be well-meaning, and may see temporary success in attracting the young, McCracken says that “When it comes to church, we don’t want COOL as much as we want REAL.” And, he adds, in a world that is “utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched, “we want a good alternative.”
Now, please know that I understand the importance of reaching young people with the gospel in ways they can relate to. But new ways of evangelizing and discipling must always be tested in light of their fidelity to the truth and the faith given once for all.
And I’ve found in my own experiences that young people, when it’s explained to them well, are far more impressed with authenticity and the truth.