Hipster Christianity

Hipster Christianity

September 20, 2010 by

I am a Christian hipster! I live in Brooklyn, N.Y., the second favorite American city of Christian Hipsters, I refer to Eugene Peterson as my “Pastor on Paper” and recently quoted he, Wendell Berry and Thomas Merton in a presentation to my church’s men’s ministry. The fact that I’ve just finished a Marilynne Robinson novel, have a Søren Kierkegaard book in my Amazon shopping cart and watch Philip Gröning’s Into Great Silence at least once a year, firmly place me in the category of Christian hipster. I thought it important to acknowledge this fact up front.  Brett McCracken, author of the recently published book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, the subject of the following discussion, confesses his Christian Hipster-ness up front. I thought it only fair to do the same.

Please note that this is not a book review, but a conversation during which I gained a better understanding of Hipster Christianity’s implications for those of us who are responsible for communicating the mission, identity and personality of the local church to its existing and prospective worshiping community.

For whom did you write Hipster Christianity? What did you hope that reader might take away from the book?

Brett McCracken: My target audience is pastors and church leaders; people that are in the process of figuring out how to communicate Christianity to the world and how to engage with the culture; people who are acutely aware of the tension between Christianity and culture and power. I wanted the book to be a resource for them, to make them aware of some of these trends of hipster Christianity.

Who are Christian hipsters?

Brett: Christian hipsters are those who are rebelling against evangelical Christian culture, which has been this huge force for the last couple of decades.  They have grown up in evangelical culture and they are a little bit desensitized with it, the excesses of it, the mega-church kind of “McMansion” style Christianity. The Christian hipsters really want to reengage with the broader culture and be relevant in the conversations that are going on in the world, in all areas of life, secular and religious.

How does a church, which authentically desires to put forth a face that is relevant and real, do so without falling into the trap of “wanna-be-cool”?

Brett: If we seek to be relevant in the sense of a community that embodies a gospel of transformation and renewal, then we’re pursuing the right relevancy. That’s where we want to be able to express our relevancy to the world. It’s a difference of where we put the emphasis on relevance: Is it trendy and fad-driven or is it transcendent and long-lasting, emphasizing the eternal aspects of Christianity.

What message does hipster Christianity offer to the folks who are responsible for the visual communication of the church: The bulletins, the websites, the videos and postcards?

Brett: I would encourage communicators to be mindful of the fact that while it is important to package things in a way that will connect with your audience, I also caution you not to be susceptible to the fads of the day.  Instead, focus on the content of the message.  Ultimately what will connect with the audience is the message itself, and what is being communicated.

What do you think about the engagement of technology and the church?

Brett: I feel like we should not all just jump on a certain technological bandwagon before we think about the pros and cons of technology.  What does it add to the way that we’re communicating?  What does it take away?  I’m a big fan of being mindful of those things and then talking and thinking them through, before running to the Apple store.

If there were a couple of things that you would want to make sure that church communicators keep in mind, as they do their work, what would they be?

Brett: First, realize that if you focus your communication style on a particular demographic, then you run the risk of alienating others.  Ultimately, I think the church should be a diverse body. It should be a place where everyone feels at home and no one feels like they’re not cool enough. Alienation is the worst kind of thing that a church could do. This is important to keep in mind when you’re designing materials and when you’re figuring out how to communicate yourself and express yourself.

Second, remember to focus on the message and, what, at its core, Christianity offers to people. Ask yourself, what is it that you want people to experience when they come into church? Because what people are attracted to may not be what the experience of Christianity actually is.

Did anything that you learned during the course of your research surprise you?

Brett: One of the interesting things that I found, but didn’t expect to see, was that a lot of these hip churches have very deep, rich theological teaching. You hear a lot about how the young people today have such short attention spans that they can’t really handle long form preaching and that they need bite size, short, flashy communication. I’ve found in a lot of cases that the opposite is true. We shouldn’t default to that mindset. We should instead focus on teaching and preaching Christianity that is rich with meaning and complex and intellectually nuanced. If we focus on that, people are going to find that interesting and I think that’s what people want from Christianity. They want it to be something that is deep and interesting and complicated, and not this simple, surface level experience that they may have perceived it to be in the past.

Post By:

Brian Gaffney

Brian A. Gaffney is the expectant father of FourWord Thinking Marketing and Communications, Inc., a Christian communications consultancy that he was called to start after working in corporate consumer marketing for a decade. He and his wife, Kym, live in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attend Emmanuel Baptist Church, where he is an ordained deacon.
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6 Responses to “Hipster Christianity”

  • Ohmaar
    September 20, 2010

    Feh! So many who are excited about this “next big, new thing in Christianity.” It’s just a rehash of the same rebellion that occurred in the late ’60s-early ’70s. “Hipster” today, “Peace, Love, Dope” tomorrow.

    Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

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  • Xander
    September 20, 2010

    I say bravo! The world is getting sick of this larger than life bloated mega-church thing where we lift up a personality over God and His vision for the church. It’s time to create churches that are more focused on sharing the story of Jesus and less worried about private jets and air time on TBN (which non-believers NEVER watch).

    I say bring on the “Peace, Love, and HOPE”

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  • David, justopenthebook.com
    September 22, 2010

    You highlighted some key areas of concern for all of us in ministry. Focusing on the content, not the package, is essential. A commitment to that will necessarily keep technology, personalities etc from overpowering Jesus. We’ve found the same thing in our ministry – a simple design and some meat for our visitors to dig into have the most impact.

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  • Ryan Gear
    September 28, 2010

    I appreciated this article very much. “Hipster” Christians are not part of a fad. They are intelligent, culturally aware people who have become disenchanted the narrow, anti-intellectual views of the conservative evangelical church they were raised in. There came a point in life when they realized that they had been taught a cartoonish faith that grew out of a simplistic view of the world.

    If these folks were forced to buy into the faith they grew up with, they could not remain Christians. Thank God for a new expression of Christianity that allows intellectually curious and culturally aware people to hold onto their faith.

    They are not “liberal” Christians, either. Google “post-liberal theology” and “narrative theology”, and you’ll get a clearer picture of how it’s a different theology from classic liberalism.

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  • Chris Syme
    September 30, 2010

    Hipster Christianity, huh? Just don’t become a Cosmo Kramer who was, by his own confession, a “hipster doofus.”

    Whatever the label, Christianity certainly is becoming organic. Don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing–Paul said it didn’t really matter what people said, as long as Christ was being preached, that is the important thing. But don’t say it isn’t a fad, because it is. Fads are not bad things, just temporary. Ten years from now it will be called something else.

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  • Dan Morris
    October 12, 2010

    My gosh this Hipster/Anti Hipster/ Anti Mega Church conversation at its best is painfully tedious and at its is worst spiritually depleting. If God leads you to grow a soul patch, find the coolest jacket at the thrift store and become oddly fascinated with fashionable footwear- do what you gotta do brother. If God leads you to impact Christians with some over the top Circus de Soleil Christmas service- do it. If God leads you to hang out with 3 wonderfully crazy Christian families and call it a church- fantastic! Just don’t call it cool (it isn’t to 9 out of 10 people). Don’t call it evangelical (9 out 10 people didn’t come to Christ because they like the acrobats). And please never ever use the words Organic or Authentic- they are sloppy which self righteousness and pretension- when talking about the limited scope of your church. Just let us unify in our love of Christ and our deep desire to live into the word of God and listen to what He is calling us to do.

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