Thursday, December 31, 2009

#114 Church marketing

Christian culture is obsessed with church growth. Churches want badly to "get their numbers up," so some churches hire marketing teams to assess their fitness (their actual term) and tell them how to be culturally relevant. The goal is to get people in the door and make them come back.

They put espresso stands in the lobby and get some ambient lighting so Kids These Days don't feel like they're in one of those churches full of dorks. They don't want to be like those churches with fluorescent overhead lighting cause that's super lame. Those churches sing hymns and their pastors wear suits, and church marketing statistics say only old people like those. The church marketing stats also say that people decide if they'll come back to a church within the first three minutes of their visit, so they've really gotta work those first three minutes.

They want to make their church feel like you're at a concert, so they have a stage lighting ministry and play the music really loud. The pastor tries to look cool (as we've discussed here and here) and uses high school jargon and so he can be relevant. And he wants the worship band to be extra rad. The worship leader tries to get a Fleet Foxes/The Fray/Death Cab vibe going. He holds auditions for the worship team and picks the ones with flat-ironed hair and guyliner. It's important that they look sincere when they sing, but scarves, vests and grommet belts help. Okay, so. What are some edgy names for an epic sermon series? What will get the most people in the door? We have to get our numbers up and grow this sucker or else it means God isn't blessing our ministry! Numbers! Tithing! Relevance! U2! Discipleship models! The reformation! Leadership! Authentic! Contextual! Twitter! iPhone! Sick website! Innuendos from the pulpit about sex with my wife! In the world, but not of it!

Their mission statement sounds solid and they say they're all about Jesus but some churches seem awfully impressed with themselves. Being hip and raising money for new buildings seems like the focus instead of being broken by the message of the Gospel. But if Jesus loved the sick and the poor and drew near to the brokenhearted, and if he was a servant to the least and walked into their lonely worlds, and if his love went to their dark corners when they did not expect it or even ask for it, is he harder to find in churches where image is king?

Monday, December 28, 2009

#113 Tim Tebow

American evangelicals revere Tim Tebow. They can't resist a player with Bible verses on his eyeblack.

Born to missionaries, Tim homeschooled his way to win the Heisman trophy and a dozen Player of the Year awards. In American Christian culture (especially the south), it's roughly the equivalent of being the reincarnated Dalai Lama.

I'm sure Paul was talking about football in that letter to the Philippians:

Even Nike bows down.

This post originially appeared on Beliefnet. The original post and its comment thread can be seen here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

#112 CHRISTmas instead of Xmas

The campaign to override Xmas with Christmas is brought to you by the aforementioned Keeping Christ in Christmas movement. It's never more frenetic than at this time of year.

Pro-Christmas campaigners very much dislike Xmas. They will call you out if you use it and they are sure to write CHRISTmas on their Ugly Christmas Sweater Party invite (often in papyrus font, as above). Although X has been used for centuries as a sanctioned abbreviation for Χριστός (Greek for Christ), Christian culture has a sneaking suspicion this is really a calculated method to nudge Christ out of his own holiday.

Even their beloved C. S. Lewis endorsed the use of Xmas over Christmas for brevity's sake, but Christian culture insists that you should write the word in its entirety. The reasoning they commonly cite is that "Christ made room for you, so you should make room for him."

Their logic follows that writing five extra letters is the least you can do in exchange for his grisly crucifixion. And so once again, in a pitfall of Christian culture, a superficial patch job is substituted for inventory of the heart.

This post originally appeared at Beliefnet, the original post and its comment thread can be seen here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

#111 Oral Roberts

With the passing of Oral Roberts, so dies a tiny piece of televangical history which played such a part in creating the manifold Christian culture we all enjoy today.

At least Oral Roberts University is still going strong, and with it the delicious irony of earnest Christian parents sending their kids to a college with the word "oral" in the name.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

#110 Saying "God is moving"

This is a popular saying with hazy meaning. Taken literally you might think God has abandoned his ancestral seat and is swanning about, but you infer from the context that can't be what they really mean.

"God is moving!" is said frequently in Facebook status updates, pastors' Twitters and Christmas/prayer letters. It is often cited prior to announcing record attendance numbers at their church or that another state has outlawed gay marriage.

Friday, December 11, 2009

#109 Keeping Christ in Christmas

Christian culture is alarmed by all things politically correct. They say the increasing use of the phrase happy holidays is an affront to keeping Christ in Christmas and it's just one more sign that this country is headed for hell in a handbasket.

The chance that Christ could actually be somehow removed from Christmas would seem impossible, yet Christian culture is urgently concerned it could happen. If anyone has a problem with their saying Merry Christmas they insist that person should respect their constitutional rights, but when other people say Happy Holidays the evangelicals don't take too kindly to it.

Rather than show some Christlike goodwill to people with different beliefs than they, Christian culture tends to go on the offensive so that they can feel like they're standing up for Christ. But the Christ of the Bible wasn't threatened by disbelief. For his followers to take up this cause with such rabid fervor seems to be a contradiction.

For a bit of seasonal fun, wish the evangelical in your life a happy holiday or perhaps a blessed Kwanzaa. If you really want to get their dander up, ask them what they think of the American Humanist holiday ad campaign. The intensity of their reaction is a definitive gauge of how invested they are in the notion that Christ's deity is inherently tied to a seasonal formality.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

#108 Relevant interpretation of the dress suit

When a pastor desires to be relevant he does not wear a suit when he preaches. Depending on which region of the U.S. he is in, he will dress in one of two ways.

If he lives on one of the coasts a relevant pastor will preach in a hoodie + ironic t-shirt + Chuck Taylors. Tatted sleeves or otherwise visible ink is preferred. Pumas or New Balance may be substituted for Chucks.

In the midwest and in the Bible belt a relevant pastor will have a soul patch + $200 jeans + sculpted hair that appears crunchy to the touch. A smattering of Ed Hardy frequently appears, and whitened teeth can be counted upon. Both demographics are prone to abuse hair product, but in the midwest/southern vector the abuse is somewhat more pronounced.

The method of expression differs between the regions but their motive is the same: the pastor doesn't want to be like the PC guy, he wants to be like the Mac guy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

#107 Overcompensating

Christian culture feels they are at a disadvantage when it comes to being cool. They want very much to be cool without being worldly, but it seems an impossible balance to strike.

As we've discussed here, Christian culture is stunted when it comes to knowing what is cool to people outside of their microcosm. This presents an obstacle when it comes to evangelism, and they vigorously set about making up the difference.
But in trying so hard to be cool they often don't seem very genuine, which is sort of what being cool is. This creates quite a vicious cycle indeed.