The Hip Church

How much should a church reflect the culture around it?

Thought about that lately?

Well, church leadership types think about it, and disagree about it, all the time.

I think most of them are on board with the idea that a church should be enough like the culture around it to communicate clearly and effectively to that culture. It seems like a common sense principle, But “you know who” is in the details.

The Hip Church Band

And here’s where I share a case in point…

The Hip Church

There’s a local church in my area that occasionally sends me well-designed direct mail advertising promoting a sensible, relevant image of Christianity and their church. It’s a fast-growing, multi-campus Evangelical church that minimizes its denominational affiliation and takes a “seeker-sensitive” approach to congregational worship. That means they approach congregational worship as if it’s specifically FOR non-church people.

This past Sunday, my youngest daughter and I paid the nearest campus (which is a local high school for now) a visit.

As we entered, we were good morning-ed and welcomed by several folks in a non-threatening way. I took a few seconds to walk into the cafeteria where I noticed a walled-off area inside which I could hear the noise of children having a good time. Next to this, several people were sipping caffeine around a coffee bar displaying what looked like a Starbucks logo.

I paused for a moment, then turned to enter the auditorium. Good, we were 5 minutes early. I thanked the smiling man with the stack of Bibles to hand out, and informed him I had my own (YouVersion on my iPhone).

Then we passed into the auditorium which was lit and musically themed as if for a concert, dark and intimate. Soft aqua and lime spot lights focused attention on the stage while Cold Play provided the prelude.

The “Audience Event”

At the advertised time a band — actually a first-rate, really tight band — took the stage and the amplified thunder began.

Yeah… It was loud.

It was energetic. It was really well-performed. The band members (who all looked twenty-something) played and sang with tons of sincere passion. The congregation (or, is it audience?) sang along as if at a concert, meaning, it was more like listening and reading words projected on screens with cool graphics than actual group singing. They performed, er… led four songs, one of which was a terrific re-mix of “Jesus Paid It All,” while another contained some questionable theology.

Then the Pastor took the stage. Here’s a treat! Turns out he was the “Executive Pastor” (remember the multi-campus thing?) making his rounds to this particular campus that day.

He preached on faith. He challenged us to believe. He asked us what we believed. He told us we might be one prayer away from God’s answer. He told us prayer was more about learning to be with God than getting from God, but still, somehow we needed to pray with more faith.

Then he prayed, “God, help us to pray like all the power of the Kingdom of Heaven is at our disposal.”

(I almost fainted. Yikes!)

Announcements. Offering. Close with the band.

Notice anything missing?

Relevant… For What?

Here’s what I think this church was trying to communicate:

“God is really awesome and isn’t cool to know him… dude?”

It was church as a mall, church as day care, church as rock concert, church as coffee shop — all very relevant and familiar. But, the gospel message that presumably would gain a more favorable hearing from all this relevance was missing.

I think Jesus was mentioned only in the hymn and closing prayer. The cross was never mentioned. Jesus’ own call for repentance and pronouncement of forgiveness through His work was never mentioned. The congre-audience was never instructed in what to believe or Who to believe or why believe. Virtually every important and meaningful element of the gospel was never communicated in lyric or sermon or prayer or symbol.

So I have to ask, if this is the congregational worship service of the future, what impact will this have on the congregation?

The Future Average Church

If the Hip Church becomes the average church, will it matter if we still call ourselves “Christians” (i.e. little Christs), or will “Generic, spiritual, sincere people of faith” do just fine?

In the Hip Church future, sincere people of faith probably won’t know much about God, what He’s all about, what He requires of us, what He’s done for us, or how to serve Him, or even how to find out.

But that’s okay…

It’s cool just knowing He’s up there, right? Dude?


15 thoughts on “The Hip Church

  1. Interesting post. Personally, I loose sight of God with all of the hoopla. I like our quiet, reverent, God-centered orthodox churches. Old Hymns. Holy Communion. The priest faces the altar, keeping total focus on God always. But, I understand that others may get “God” more in some of the churches you describe above.

  2. Our church has some of the same qualities (Kids Zone, cafe, exceptional worship team of which my husband is the bass player), but the message of the cross, JESUS and altar calls for salvation of first and foremost. Senior Pastor, Anthony Baker, has a son who is the worship leader. He is so committed to Christ and the praises of His people. Yesterday, we sang 5 or 6 hymns as part of the worship service. It was touching and important. One of the things Pastor Jeremiah said was, “We can’t forget those old hymns, lots of great theology in them!” So true.

  3. Interesting comparison: We visited a different church yesterday with the exact same compliment of band members/instruments. Similar approach to darkening the room like at a concert (I’m not a fan of that).

    Differences? The Hip Church band was much better as far as performance is concerned. But, yesterday’s church band was much better at calling and inspiring the congregation (not audience) into the act of worshiping God. They had a more content-rich, Jesus-centered selection of songs. And the sermon was clearly centered around making the hope of the gospel of Christ clear and compelling. No vague, God-talk there.

  4. Quote from C.H. Spurgeon – “An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most short-sighted can hardly fail to notice it. During the past few years it has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them. From speaking out as the Puritans did, the Church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.

    My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the Church. If it is a Christian work why did not Christ speak of it? “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” That is clear enough. So it would have been if he had added, “and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.” No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to him . . . .

    Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles. What was the attitude of the Church to the world? “Ye are the salt,” not the sugar candy — something the world will spit out, not swallow . . . . I do not hear [Jesus] say, “Run after these people, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it.
    Be quick, Peter, we must get the people somehow!” Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them. In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of the gospel of amusement . . . .

    Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to effect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the Church met them half-way, speak and testify. Let the heavy laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment had been God’s link in the chain of their conversion, stand up! There are none to answer. The mission of amusement produces no converts. The need of the hour for today’s ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.”

    • Is this whole thing a Spurgeon quote? In sounds so contemporary. If you can, please send me the reference and I’ll insert it with the quote.


  5. I, too, have noticed the ‘Hip Churches’ that are out there today, and the lack of the Gospel message being preached. It’s all about performance and numbers; this grieves my spirit. The age group is the 25 – 30 something, with the colored spot lights, the loud revving up of the audience as if I was at a football game. The attention is taken off of God with generic lyrics and teaching the foundational truths, and deeper things of God. What does that look like in 5 years? 10 years? We will have children and young adults growing up into defeated Christians, and new believers just wandering. Where will the maturity be? This subject is very close to my heart, and an on-going discussion with Christian believers in my sphere.

    • Hey Cindy, I think your concerns about the future are justified. I think this is already a serious problem, but I believe many Christians and Churches will opt for the centrality of Jesus and the clear gospel to counteract this trend. BTW – I had noticed that the band was 20-somethings, and the event seemed geared for the 20-somethings… but they weren’t there. The audience was made up of 40 somethings as far as I could tell in the darkness. (Part of me thinks this is just the logical next step of abandoning catechism for children’s church and youth services, imho).

  6. Dude, good post, though I think you probably over-stated a tad for literary impact (perhaps not), but even so, I agree with the sentiment. Though, by emphasizing trivial things like style (I.e. colors, ages, volume) that don’t matter as to substance. You slightly (perhaps ever so slightly) detract from your point of lack of substance. Unless, and I don’t think you are, you are suggesting 20-something’s who drink coffee and play quality music can’t preach the Gospel at the same time, or even do it better than others. It’s the words that was at issue, not the style. It was the gift offered, not the wrapping paper, to which we should object. Good post. :-)

    • Thanks John, (and I love it when people call me “Dude” – it makes me sound cooler than I am, which I’m not. LOL). I like your analogy about the gift and wrapper, it’s primarily about message through spoken words, lyrics, and symbols (aka the Lord’s Supper).

      Yes, I think you read this right about my main point: This church worked really hard at relevance (Great!), but fell short that day to use the connections it painstakingly built to deliver a clear message about who Jesus is, the gospel He proclaimed, why He died, and what that demands. My secondary point is that the degree to which we adopt the concert paradigm, is the degree to which we risk transforming a congregation of worshipers into an audience of observers. So, while the musician in me appreciates great performance quality at Church, and the coffee lover in me loves coffee anywhere including Church, I think the congregational worship service itself should prioritize reverence over relevance, and that means it may always have something a bit unfamiliar/other/sacred about it.

  7. Hi Lon,

    Great post! I have been to twenty of these and you were not exaggerating. One of them in Arizona actually bills itself as “The Cool Church.”

    Why is it so difficult for us to follow the ancient pattern of word and sacrament (Acts 2:42, Luke 24:30-32)? Perhaps opening the Scriptures and teaching them, giving people the character of God, the reality of sin, the redemptive work of Christ and the hope of the Kingdom is difficult for them because many of the leaders I know were trained in those churches. They have very little seminary instruction. Lots of former youth pastors in their own on-campus training programs.

    I do wish the uncool church were doing significantly better. I am a member of a tradition that seems to take joy in badly done and irrelevant music. My tradition is also known for sub-par preaching, and yet our clergy consistently rank preaching as one of our strongest gifts on our job search profiles.

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