Is it OK for churches to be hip?
“Hipster Christianity” has seen a lot of discussion since Brett McCracken published a scathing article about what he calls “‘wannabe cool’ Christianity”. McCracken identifies hipster Christianity as just another manifestation of the desire to “rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it ‘cool’.” What does that look like?
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).
“Wannabe cool” Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., 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?
McCracken has also recently published a book on this topic, which is thoroughly reviewed at Religion Dispatches. McCracken’s book seems to present a more nuanced picture of “hipster Christianity” than his WSJ article: he distinguishes between authentic hipster churches that are born of sincere efforts to correct the Church’s course, and insincere churches that just pander to young people with a thin veneer of manufactured cool. The latter are just as phony as any stereotypical “old-school” church that turns up its nose at sinners and refuses to sing any song written after 1788.
It’s hard to know what to make of McCracken’s critiques. A lot of it is spot-on; every time I read an article about yet another provocatively-marketed sermon series about sex at yet another cooler-than-thou church, my eyes roll even farther back into my head. But at the same time, some of the criticism of hipster Christianity verges into the mean-spirited. We all recognize the danger of sacrificing genuine worshipfulness in the pursuit of cool; but it’s important to remember that the main alternative—traditional worship services “the way we’ve always done it”—carries its own risk of phoniness. Unless a hipster church’s “cool factor” actually pulls it away from orthodox Christianity and belief in Jesus Christ, I’m not inclined to criticize too harshly.
What do you think? Is “hipster Christianity” and its desire to make Christianity cool a dangerous trend that should be resisted? Is it a new generation just trying to avoid historical church pitfalls and worship Christ authentically?
Note: see also Molly Hemingway’s post on the topic at Ricochet.