Just accept it and we’ll all be better off.
It must have been in the 80s or 90s, or whenever “Jesus Freak” came out, where we felt the need to prove that it was cool to go to church. So we started ripping off “cool” songs, sayings, t-shirts, movies, art, architecture, really anything pop culture considered “cool”. We tweaked the content or title just a bit and then started selling it to other Christians so they could be cool too. Yes, there was money to be gained by marketing Christian spinoff products, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think it was more about our own insecurity. All of us want to be cool - Christians were just doing what they could to fit in.
Like a Jr Hi kid who trips a friend for laughs.
Not only has this failed to make us cool, but it’s created some serious damage to the Church and to people the Church could have otherwise helped.
The Church looks stupid
If the only people who think doing something is cool are the people doing it, chances are (a) it’s not cool and (b) they look naive and oblivious to everyone else. The world sees the Church as intellectually dull, 20yrs behind, irrelevant, fake, unoriginal. No one thinks we’re cool. Mission failed.
Art has suffered
I’m not just talking about Church art. I’m talking about human art. Bach wrote for the Church. Michelangelo sculpted for the Church. There was less distinction between “sacred” and “secular”. It was art because it was original and it was honest. How many great artists have been diluted because they felt pressure to only create “Christian” art, or ignored because we feel pressure to only appreciate “Christian” art? After 20yrs of creating art in the Church (10yrs as a staff member), I have concluded that the Church is a terrible place to create art. The overwhelming pressure to “not be too” fill-in-the-blank (loud, performance-y, melancholy, “edgy”, serious, funny, red, green, whatever) forces art to become bland and negligible. And the pressure to make sure to cover all spiritual bases (mention the word “Jesus”, end all songs on a positive note, tell the entire gospel story) limits art to become almost the same exact message over and over and over.
This is why you know you’re on a Christian radio station within 5 seconds of turning to the station. It all sounds the same. It all says the same thing. The art and message is limited to a very narrow view of life, in order to be accepted by popular Christian culture as “Christian”. How sad for artists and for listeners.
They’ll know we are Christians by our painfully bland, outdated, and predictable art.
Is recovery possible?
Yes. If we want.
Trends and cultures change so fast now. The way social media can push information across the world within seconds gives organizations like the Church (or Microsoft for that matter) the ability to change their position very quickly. We don’t have to wait for mass media to carry a message for us. So if the Church changes, people will know. If we want to recover, we have to change.
I have a few ideas about ways we need to change. But I believe there’s one fundamental thing we have to do before any other change is possible:
Give up on being cool.
I see the Church spending 20% of its energy on the things that make 80% of its impact and 80% of its energy looking in the mirror. If we spent as much time trying to eliminate hunger and thirst, reducing loneliness and suicide, impacting government in a respectable way (not picketing), being generous to people around us, visiting sick neighbors in the hospital, pooling money together to pay for a single mom’s broken car (bringing the Kingdom to Earth) as we do on building projects, HD projector screens, LED church signs, meetings about bulletins, meticulously executed church services, moving lights, fog machines, and staff to manage it all (trying to be cool), the Church would become known as a powerful force who makes meaningful things happen in our world.
We’ll be known for what we do in this life. The Church has absolutely no chance of becoming known for being cool. Let’s just stop trying.
Church is not cool. But so what? Jesus was killed. The disciples were killed. The Jewish nation has never won any popularity contests. Many of history’s most influential artists died before selling a single painting. But that’s the whole thing. You can’t pursue both meaning and acceptance. Live an extraordinary and influential life, or be accepted. If you want one, you’ll have to give up the other.
And besides, cool is boring. People may buy cool, but they’re not longing for it and it doesn’t help them. They’re longing for meaning. You may attract people to your church by hiring the hottest young worship leader, but attracting people to church doesn’t necessarily help them.
We need to spend way less time trying to be cool and more time trying to offer helpful and meaningful things to people who are waiting for something real.