Brett McCracken, a 27-year-old self-professed evangelical, has an important column in today’s Wall Street Journal. Titled, “The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity,” McCracken begins by recognizing the “scramble” among baby-boomers to “keep young members engaged in the life of the church”:
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.
After detailing several ways contemporary evangelical churches try to be cool (e.g., being culturally savvy, operating on the technological cutting edge, and shocking people with sex-laced preaching and programs), McCracken concludes with this assessment:
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.
[Check out McCracken’s new book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide and go here to learn about the anatomy of a Christian hipster.]