Why Can’t Christians Be Original?

January 12, 2010 by

Encouraging the church not to be a copycat is a popular topic around here. The subject landed a spot in our top 10 posts of 2009 and was your pick for third best advice we offered in 2009. Even today I came across a blog called Stuff Christian Culture Likes, which kind of reminds me of Stuff Christians Like (the book comes out April 1, no joke), which probably reminds you of Stuff White People Like (the book is available now). Let’s give Stuff Christians Like founder Jonathan Acuff some credit though–he gives a quiet nod to Stuff White People Like in his very first post.

OK, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There can be room to take inspiration and even do parody and make something new, creative and interesting. Sometimes the best jokes are simply references to more pop culture. But it gets old at some point, right? Let’s not start Stuff Churches Like.

Whatever happened to originality? Our own Brad Abare talked with the Associated Press about “Jesus junk” recently:

“We think it’s just dumb. It’s not a true reflection of creativity.” …

Abare wishes that Christians paid more attention to the “Thou shall not steal” commandment. “The whole claim for Christians in general is that God is the source of all creativity. I think there’s something to being original that will speak to people in a way that we don’t have to copy.”

Brad was talking about logo ripoffs and not blog parodies of parodies, but I think originality and creativity (not the dumb part) apply: Christians (and churches) who don’t have to copy. Now there’s a concept.

For what it’s worth, the article implies that some of the logo-spoofing Jesus junk is illegal, and quotes a trademark lawyer who says religious parodies generally don’t fall under First Amendment protection. So keep that in mind the next time you think the Facebook logo and the line “Jesus wants to be your friend” is hilarious. Because it’s not. And it could be illegal. (Says the lawyer. Get your own lawyer. Don’t mooch the one we mooched from an article.)

Update: As a most-telling irony, Stuff Christian Culture Likes recently riffed on church marketing. The jist of the post? Too often church marketing copies culture instead of Jesus. Amen.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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12 Responses to “Why Can’t Christians Be Original?”

  • Dave Jones
    January 12, 2010

    I have figured out why we copy. It has taken me about 2 years to figure it out, and in the last year is when it really came together. I am no exception, I copied my way through high school and most of my adult life. So I am not throwing rocks here, so people keep your stones in your pocket.
    As usual the answer is simple and the most difficult to conquer. And believe it or not the answer is not about being Christian or not, it doesn’t matter if your a Christian or not, it just seems that Christians are the most guilty of it.
    Ready? Here it goes. We copy because we don’t understand why we were put on this planet. One, we don’t understand and number Two we don’t know how to uncover our true DNA structure or Destiny. Eph 4:14 we are tossed around by the committee of “They”.
    So its easy just to copy and get by with what is accepted by society. So the reason why its difficult to conquer is because we have to stop pointing the finger at people and look to our selves for answers…This is too hard. Destiny …Vision…Strategy…etc. Change the world change yourself 1st!

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  • Michael Buckingham
    January 12, 2010

    Anyone that knows me, read anything I’ve written, heard me speak knows that I’m a big proponent of originality and creativity. But.
    But I wonder if we copy because sometimes it works. Just look at your example of Stuff Christians Like…he has a book deal with Zondervan.
    Look at GodTube (now Tangle), they’re running strong…and growing. (though I’m really not a fan of ‘christian clubs’ as they seem like we’re hiding, not shining)
    Of course I would argue that this is the exception and not the rule and with John’s example he has a book deal because of his creativity and because he knows how to tell a story well…which he could have done without copying the title.

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  • Andy Wittwer
    January 12, 2010

    I’d posit that, while some imitation is plagiarism, and some is sloth, some is thoughtful engagement. Further, I’d suggest that aside from directly asking the imitator, there is no way to reasonably judge the motivation of that church.
    Rather than having this conversation in the negative, “Don’t Copy,” lets to have it in the positive, “Be Creative.” There are plenty of creative churches with creative Christians who are pushing the envelope – lets celebrate instead of bemoan.

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  • John Keese
    January 12, 2010

    Snap, you guys read my mind. I was thinking about this just yesterday but to how it applies in the Christian music scene.
    Secular music has Avril Lavigne, but “she’s not setting a good image.” So let’s push for a “Christian Avril Lavigne.” I’m sure you know of so many other similar bands.
    Why is it that so many “Christian” bands are pushed as “Secular replacements?” Some amazing Christian bands get crazy secular attention because – get this – they’re original.
    Matt Kearney. Anberlin. Switchfoot. Etc.

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  • Jeff Collier
    January 12, 2010

    Copying is easy, inspirational ideas are difficult. Frankly Christianity doesn’t pay good enough for the most creative minds to spend their time solving Christian problems.
    The reason incredible art like the Last Supper & Sistine Chapel exist is because Christians paid to have it commissioned. If the body of Christ wants better technology, art and culture it has to create a marketplace enabling the best and brightest to thrive.

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  • Vin Thomas
    January 12, 2010

    Inspiration is one thing, copying is another. And there is sometime a fine line between the two.
    I think as Christians we should strive all the more to be creative in our endeavors and allow the Spirit of the most creative being in the world be expressed through us.
    Thanks for the article!

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  • Lawyer with a Gun
    January 13, 2010

    Even though there may be good reasons, Christians should never use religion as an excuse to skirt the law. If a church is unsure of whether a copyright or trademark is violated by what they do, they ought to find out before they do it.
    It’s better to be original and stand out than to copy just for the sake of doing so. The church needs to change culture, not reflect it.

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  • bondChristian
    January 13, 2010

    I don’t know what to say to this. Like others, I’m a huge proponent of originality (and I hate all the T-shirt and logo parodies). On the other hand, nothing’s new under the sun.
    It’s a difficult balance between repeating and reinventing what works.
    I think the real issue at stake, is authenticity. The more we copy, the faker we feel. Our reputation becomes “Blink 182 but Christian.” I’m fine with Christians being influenced by culture. Part of serving others is responding to others. But when we become known for being influenced instead of influencing, we’ve gone too far.
    -Marshall Jones Jr.

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  • stephy
    January 13, 2010

    I think it’s funny that Christians want to influence the culture. I think it’s actually more about influencing individuals by loving them than trying to change the culture somehow.

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  • Exploits for God
    February 11, 2010

    It’s sad that Christians often mimic other Christians or church ideas when they don’t necessarily need to. Some aspects of Christianity should be universal as Biblical and approved of God. For example all Christian fellowships should have some basis or partaking of God’s Word. But many other practices might by unique in that they are what God has for you, and not someone else. The problem is when Christians don’t take the time to hear from God for themselves, which they don’t do for various reasons we could imagine. Rather than do that, Christians often see what works for others and copy. All original creativity does come from God, and therefore should easily flow to and through Christians who are truly connected to Him. Especially see E.W. Kenyon’s writings on the subject and his discussion of the past lack of intellectual property laws in countries with few Christians.

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  • Amanda
    October 13, 2010

    I work for a large church at the moment, doing graphics and marketing and I can honestly tell you from my experience why churches don’t come up with anything original… There are a few reasons. 1) They don’t have the budget and time frame to pay a creative professional to create original designs 2) The creative person (myself) doesn’t get a say in the final idea 3) Church leaders don’t have a creative mindset or are too set in their ways to make a change and 4) There are way too many ministries to promote and not enough time or resources to do so. Being the only young person among a lot of older people, trying to get my ideas to the plate is a daunting task. Some churches are set in their ways, they like what they like even if it’s been done thousands of times. It’s a sad realization.

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  • John
    August 7, 2016

    Christian or not, I think quality—especially in art—always begets attention and praise.

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