As I walked through the doors of a new church in my hometown a few years ago, I expected “different,” but not quite the “different” that I experienced. Some of our friends invited us and my wife and I were open to a change of pace from the traditional church we were attending.
As the lights dimmed and the worship experience began, I immediately felt out-of-place. Lights blazed across the room and a stereo system pumped up-tempo tunes so loud I could feel it in my chest. It didn’t feel like a church; it felt like a club.
Image source: Flickr/Mor
Surprisingly, we kept going to that church and eventually dove headfirst into the community. I won’t say that the “cool-factor” is what convinced us to stay because it wasn’t. It was the people and God's presence.
I will say, though, the cool-factor caused me to re-evaluate my view of church, community and even God. I was at a place in my life where I had hardened my heart towards the idea of church. I was bored and burned out. I had reached the conclusion that since I didn’t like wearing “church clothes,” singing hymns, or going to Sunday school - then something was wrong with me.
Going to a church where people dressed the same on Sunday as they did on Monday was shocking, but at the same time, refreshing. The concert style experience was also different, but it fascinated me that church could be fun, casual, and similar to the culture I participated in the other 99 percent of my week.
Walking into a worship environment that didn't feel so culturally foreign to me not only opened my heart to a church, but to God himself.
Not everyone shares such a favorable view of cool, hip churches, though. In fact, there is an ongoing wave of criticism and negativity directed at contemporary church cultures.
Slurs against skinny jeans and hipsters abound. Terms like "rock concert worship” and "celebrity culture" are found in critical opinion pieces across the Internet. Mega churches like Hillsong are among some of the easiest and most common of the targets.
While I don't believe that “cool churches” are the singular answer to a world that desperately needs the Gospel, I do think that we would be foolish to assume that they aren't part of the answer.
Cool and Hip Isn't the Enemy
One of the most common accusations made against cool churches is that they care more about being “cool”, than they do about being "Christ-like.” Fingers are pointed at hairstyles and ripped jeans as if these fashion statements are ruining our pulpits and witness.
However, last time I checked, Jesus never addressed fashion or clothing style. I’ve never read anything about Jesus telling John he should wear something more reverent or respectful. Nor did I read about Jesus rebuking Peter for cutting his hair a certain way.
There is no doubt you can elevate style or hipness above your worship, but the same is true for any superficial human practice. There is a multitude of things you can use to fit in externally while simultaneously hiding internally.
Besides that, if “contemporary” or “cool” is wrong - what is right? If Christians aren't supposed to be "cool," are we supposed to be awkward?
I have to think that the reason Jesus never addressed fashion or "coolness" is because it doesn’t really matter. I don't think Jesus cares what you wear, I think He cares how you worship. His concern is the spiritual, not the superficial.
Haters and Spectators
Another one of the most common complaints about cool churches is that it is creating a congregation of spectators rather than active, Christian participators. The idea is that rock concert worship style and fun, entertaining environments are causing churches to become a consumerist, me-first affair.
My question to that is, where is the evidence?
The evidence I’ve seen says that the modern mega-churches that are receiving so much criticism are doing pretty well. They are reaching their cities, preaching the Gospel and multiplying in numbers.
There is no doubt modern worship is entertaining, but to assume that everyone is more focused on the entertainment than they are worshipping God is an entirely unfair assumption.
Where should the line be drawn? Is a southern gospel quartet too entertaining? Or is an on-stage choir too much?
You can't draw a line because it is entirely subjective.
A Creative Awakening
God has given us creative ability and to put limits on it is counter intuitive. We’ve all been given different personalities and passions - and to exclude that diversity from church would be a grave mistake. I’m afraid that what many fundamentalists perceive as a façade of coolness invading the church is an awakening of art, expression, and creativity within God’s people.
There is certainly nothing wrong with traditional church services. I have nothing against hymnals, organs or wearing your “Sunday best” to church. A denominational church that uses religious tradition and ritual is not wrong, just as a non-denominational that uses spontaneity and popular culture is not wrong. We need different styles of worship experiences because there are different cultures throughout this world that need to be met right where they are.
As long as the worship is going to right place - Jesus Christ - could we not celebrate both the church that sings along with Hillsong as well as the church singing from hymnals? Could we not encourage the church embracing popular culture as well as the church that is embracing reverent traditions?
Jesus didn’t limit the delivery of the Gospel to a certain style, a certain people group, or a certain place – and neither should we.
Tyler is a husband, dad, serious coffee drinker and blogs regularly at tylerspeegle.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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