Evangelical Exodus

Wall Street Journal: The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity

‘How can we stop the oil gusher?” may have been the question of the summer for most Americans. Yet for many evangelical pastors and leaders, the leaking well is nothing compared to the threat posed by an ongoing gusher of a different sort: Young people pouring out of their churches, never to return.

As a 27-year-old evangelical myself, I understand the concern. My peers, many of whom grew up in the church, are losing interest in the Christian establishment.

Recent statistics have shown an increasing exodus of young people from churches, especially after they leave home and live on their own. In a 2007 study, Lifeway Research determined that 70% of young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly.

Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn’t megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.

Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.

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?

Sex is a popular shock tactic. Evangelical-authored books like “Sex God” (by Rob Bell) and “Real Sex” (by Lauren Winner) are par for the course these days. At the same time, many churches are finding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.

Oak Leaf Church in Cartersville, Georgia, created a website called yourgreatsexlife.com to pique the interest of young seekers. Flamingo Road Church in Florida created an online, anonymous confessional (IveScrewedUp.com), and had a web series called MyNakedPastor.com, which featured a 24/7 webcam showing five weeks in the life of the pastor, Troy Gramling. Then there is Mark Driscoll at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church—who posts Q&A videos online, from services where he answers questions from people in church, on topics such as “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse.”

But are these gimmicks really going to bring young people back to church? Is this what people really come to church for? Maybe sex sermons and indie- rock worship music do help in getting people in the door, and maybe even in winning new converts. But what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?

In his book, “The Courage to Be Protestant,” David Wells writes:”The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.

“And the further irony,” he adds, “is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.”

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.

Mr. McCracken’s book, “Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide” (Baker Books) was published this month.


6 Responses to Evangelical Exodus

  1. Conservative Evangelical says:

    This is a very interesting article but is written from a subjective view point.

    We may write according to how we see. Some one else is likely to see the same thing differently and write the article objectively.

    Question: “What is an Evangelical Christian?”

    Answer: To begin, let’s break down the two words. The term “Christian” essentially means “little Christ.” “Christian” is the term given to followers of Jesus Christ in the first century A.D. (Acts 11:26). The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word that means “good news.” Evangelism is sharing the good news of the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. An evangelical, then, is a person dedicated to promoting the good news about Jesus Christ. Combined, the description “evangelical Christian” is intended to indicate a believer in Jesus Christ who is faithful in sharing and promoting the good news.

    Who is called to evangelise?

    Born again Christians are Holy Spirit led and are anointed for evangelisation. It is the Holy Spirit who converts and equips.

    What is worship?

    Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16).[1]

    One can hardly read this passage without a recollection of the Roman passage. Do you offer to God a sacrifice of praise through your lips? Do you do good? Do you share with others? Has Romans 12:1-2 made a difference in your lifestyle? Do you disconnect what you do on Sunday from what you do during the week? Is there a dichotomy between worship and work in your thinking? Is your concept of worship limited to one hour a week? What does this section of Scripture mean to you?

    Presenting one’s body as a living sacrifice involves one’s meeting with the saints. Does Paul suggest in Romans 12:1-2 that the gatherings on Sunday are not true service to God? The answer is no! How does one harmonize what one does on Sunday with what one does during the week—twenty-fours a day? Both are related to one another. When one presents his or her body to God as a living sacrifice, this activity also entails the local gatherings that occur during the week, which includes the Sunday gatherings. These local gatherings, especially on Sundays, help to prepare God’s people for the kind of service that God expects from one twenty-four hours a day. When Christians meet together to hear the Word of God and to respond to that Word with prayers and hymns and spiritual songs of praise, this kind of worship, or devotion, is the background for other kinds of service exhibited in the life of every believer.

    What is the definition of church?

    Christians who have their own beliefs and forms of worship with Jesus as the Head

    So what is the Bible?

    Well, in addition to all the above, the Bible is this:

    It is a guide for living life to the full. It gives us a road map for the perilous journey of life. Or to put it another way, on our voyage through life’s ocean, we find our anchor right here.

    It is a sourcebook for everyday living. We find standards for our conduct, guidelines for knowing right from wrong, principles to help us in a confused society where so often “anything goes.”

    Question: “What is the five (5) fold ministry?”

    Answer: The concept of the five-fold ministry comes from Ephesians 4:11, “It was he who gave some to be (1) apostles, some to be (2) prophets, some to be (3) evangelists, and some to be (4) pastors and (5) teachers.” Primarily as a result of this verse, some believe God has restored, or is restoring, the offices of apostle and prophet in the church today. Ephesians 4:12-13 tells us that the purpose of the five-fold ministry is, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” So, since the body of Christ definitely is not built up to unity in the faith and has not attained to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, the thinking goes, the offices of apostle and prophet must still be in effect.

    However, Ephesians 2:20 informs us that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.” If the apostles and prophets were the foundation of the church, are we still building the foundation? Hebrews 6:1-3 encourages us to move on from the foundation. Although Jesus Christ is most definitely active in the church today, His role as the cornerstone of the church was completed with His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. If the work of the cornerstone is, in that sense, complete, so must the work of the apostles and prophets, who were the foundation, be complete.

    ThereFORE as the church is a body with Jesus as the head and foundation who are called to a living relationship with the living God whom they workshop they will be witnesses 24 hours a day no matter where they are. Traditionally Christians worshipped only in the building called church but now they will do so where ever they can be a witness and draw more into the Kingdom of Heaven. The worshp with their whole body through song, dance etc. The songs sung are anointed songs given to the worship leader by the Holy Spirit.

    Teachers & preachers, pastors, evangelists,apostles, and prophets are all called by God and anointed for service.

    To criticise them and they way they teach is actually a criticism of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


  2. Del says:

    Dear Conservative Evangelical,

    I cannot think about these things unless I also recall the words of Jesus Himself, recorded in the Gospels.

    I recall the Church that He gave us in Mt. 16, founded upon Peter.
    I recall the worship that He gave us at the Last Supper, which He explained sharply in John 6.
    I recall the power to forgive sins in His name, which He gave to His priests in John 20:21-23.

    Catholics have always worshipped with our whole bodies — making the sign of the cross with our hands, singing the Scriptures in chant, kneeling before Our Lord on His altar, eating His Flesh with our teeth.

    The point is that this whole-body worship is aimed toward TRUTH — the true presence of Our Lord Jesus. We do not use our bodily worship to generate emotional frenzies, like a whirling dervish.

  3. Conservative Evangelical says:

    “emotional frenzies, like a whirling dervish”

    Thank you Del in support the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that the Catholic Church is founded upon Peter. Because this is what we Catholics have been taught and which I wholly agree.

    If Peter is the rock who Christ established His church upon, then most Protestants today are neglecting and failing to give recognition where it is due. However, if Peter is not the rock who Christ established His church upon, then someone is assuming that Peter and his successors were given an authority which in God’s sight does not actually exist.

    Catholic evangelical are, as you may know already, “born again” through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings about unity and there is more unity now among evangelicals of all traditions and Pentecostals than ever before. So at large evangelical conferences of healing and deliverance which are supported by Catholic evangelicals the Church is the whole body of Christ. We concentrate on what we have in common eventhough we are still faithful to the doctrine of the Catholic church and attend all the Sacraments privately as well as daily Mass including Sunday Mass.

    But I presume that you would not go along with this as you are a post-Vatican II Catholic who may have a PhD in Theology but your head knowledge requires to be turned into heart knowledge. It is for this reason you describe evangelical worship as a bodily worship to generate emotional frenzies, like a whirling dervish.

    May the scales be removed from your eyes and may your ears be unblocked in Jesus name. May the Holy Spirit touch you now at this moment and draw you into intimacy with Jesus. May he take away your stony heart and give you a heart of flesh and may he continue to use you to defend the Catholic church but to serve in transforming it into the Bride of Christ in readiness of the second coming of Jesus. Amen.

  4. Catholic Evangelical says:


    The healing and deliverance ministry has been in the Catholic church for more than 40 years under the title of Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

    Lay men and women are in the five fold ministry already especially in the large Catholic Healing & Deliverance centres e.g. Divine Retreat Centre Muringoor, Kerala State, India.

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