Hipster vs Polyester Christianity and the Cultural Trap


Every church movement in America, and around the world for that matter, has its share of critics. Friday morning I read a Wall Street Journal article by Brett McCracken on the perils of what he entitles “Hipster Christianity” . In this summary of his recently-released book, which I have not yet read, Mr. McCracken condemns Christian leaders for trying too hard “to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant.” He even names a few churches as examples of what he calls “cool churches,” saying at the close of his article that “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.” I’m glad Mr. McCracken knows what he and his generation want, but whose job is to define what a “real” church looks like? Mr. McCracken and his generation of anti-hipsters? The Baby Boomers and their love of big churches? Program-driven denominational leaders?

Hispter vs Polyester Christianity Maurilio Amorim

In my work as a church consultant over many years, I have visited hundreds of churches services from high-church, liturgical to barking-in-the isles pentecostal and everything in between. I even experienced a few liturgical/pentecostal services. Yes, such a thing does exist. Interestingly, I’ve heard arguments from church leaders and critics about “methodology vs theology,”  “seeker vs sacred,”  about “conservative vs liberal” and on and on until I’m really not interested in such discussions any longer. They lead nowhere productive.

I’m sure most of us agree with Mr. McCracken that we all want our church to be “real.” The problem is that unless we have a Biblical perspective of what God wants from us, then “real” is defined by the most persuasive critic, by popular vote, or even by young thinkers challenging the status quo; none of them necessarily biblical options. When considering the role of the church, I often think about the last words of Jesus before ascending into heaven:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matt 28: 19,20

It’s clear that Jesus wants his followers to pursue those outside the faith with intentionality, to go wherever they are, even in foreign lands, and not only to understand their new-found faith, but also to become something more than Christian thinkers: to be identified with the Christ they claim to follow by their actions and lifestyle.

The ultimate test of an effective church cannot be measure by its style, size, hipster quotient, or even biblical knowledge of its members, as important as that might be. The mark of a “real” church, regardless whether its preacher wears skinny jeans or a polyester suit, is that of a transforming agent for God. “Are we creating true followers of Christ and not merely fans of Jesus? Is life transformation part of the DNA of this church? How can we be salt and light to this community and to the world?” These are the important questions to me.

If you want to leave your current church because the music is too loud or your pastor has begun shopping at the Buckle, than that’s your prerogative. But before you exchange it for a choir and pipe organ, or for the ultra smart double PHD preacher down the road, make sure the byproduct of membership in your new church is not just a better experience tailor-suited to your tastes, but by a transformed life–one that’s characterized by a radical devotion to a man named Jesus.

What compels you to continue attending your current church? or if you’re not attending anywhere, what would it take for you to visit a church?

  • Rachel Wojnarowski

    Christlike living and Bible teaching. Seems tough to find these days.

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  • Jeff Lewis

    Thank you for writing this post. For years I stopped attending church because I didn't see the point in it. But thanks to the unconventional approach ( dare I say hipster?) of a church in my community, I'm now engaged in a life group and really enjoying church.

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  • Great post. As someone who has been away from the mega church atmosphere for a year now, I more of an observer now. I see churches now almost making TOO much of the method for method's sake. Frankly I can be as touched by the Holy Spirit with a stirring choir anthem as I can with an acoustic praise song done with excellence. As far as preaching goes, I want a messenger who is more concerned with my salvation and encouraging me in my walk than with how many services and activities I attend, how often my children are there, and how much I give. I don't care if he's smooth or clever or bookish or wears a suit or jeans…I can tell if he's the real thing or not. How does he treat his wife and children? Does he treat all church members and guests as if they are important? How does he treat his staff? In a nutshell, is his ministry more about Jesus or more about himself?

    As a visitor of churches these days, these are the things I am taking note of.

  • Steve Shantz

    Excellent response to the WSJ article Maurilio. I think you have gotten to the key issue.

    Brett McCracken Says “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”.

    While Jesus definitely rings true, his message is not always appealing. Take the response of the "rich young ruler" in the New Testament. I think he was a fan of Jesus, but clearly not ready to be a follower of Jesus. You address this issue in your response. People should come to Christ if they want their lives to be radically changed. It’s the same reason we take the gospel to the remote areas of the world. More than a ticket to heaven, the transformation Jesus makes in us means our lives on earth are better. Now that's cool!

  • Excellent follow-up to Brett McCraken's article.

    It has also been my privilege to work with many churches and ministries in the area of media and marketing. I've seen churches trying to be "too-cool," and the other extreme of thinking they need to be "anti-cool," to serve God

    A common characteristic of strategy driven churches is that they put the focus on what they want to do or can do. As my friend Will Mancini teaches, it's God that gives the assignments. He has set each body of believers apart for a specific work in their community. It's leadership's responsibility to get with Him to determine what that is.

    And as you rightly point out, when God's clear mission for the church results in followers that are "united with Christ," the methods become secondary.

    • It's always tempting for church leaders to adopt the latest gimmick and try to emulate someone who's finding success in ministry. I remember telling a client: "you're not Bill Hybels and you shouldn't be. God has given you unique gifts for an unique calling. Don't exchange those for an inferior imitation."

  • Well said, Matt, "the body of Christ is wide, varied and beautiful," and any attempt to define what it should be is fraught with peril. Even as a tree is judged by its fruit, so is any church. Ultimately the fruit has to stand on its own merit, no matter the style.

    • I always saw the church as a place where I would go to learn from other more mature Christians so that I could 'go therefore' into my day-to-day realm of activities and live out what I had learned. This view has helped me focus on the fact that buildings, methods, denominations etc are not sacred and not even God instituted. To me they are tools by which older and more mature Christians gather with younger ones to impart knowledge and wisdom. As the tools vary for each profession, so do the buildings, methods and denominations… I do believe we need to find the one where we feel more comfortable and truly Bible centered, so we can learn and go out into the world to live out Christ.
      It is not the institution's job to reach out but rather each Christian's job as an individual.

  • I was going to write a response to his article. But you wrote something way better than I ever could have.

    GREAT GREAT thoughts and a great response.

    I ordered his book (although I was mad at him when I did).
    I came to find out by reading some of the reviews on Amazon that his article doesn't exactly convey the message of the book.

    So I repented of my anger and judgment:-)

    However, I agree 100% with you on this and I found his article (the sensationalist anti-stance required to get published anywhere these days) to be silly, trite, and overly-simplified. The article basically stated: You can be either real or hipster — not both.

    Well, I work at a "HIPSTER" church and they reach thousands for Christ.

    Anyways, sorry this is rambling (I'm in a rush), but I love this article. Well said.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post. Wear your skinny jeans proudly. 🙂

  • Great post. I tend to agree with you, though I am constantly surrounded by critics who question the theology of a church based on it's music or dress code. Theology and doctrine are important, but life transformation is key. I've experienced a great number of styles and denominations in my life. I have come to love and believe the doctrine and teaching of the PCA church, but when we moved two years ago the local PCA church had a very traditional worship style, so we visited a local non-denominational church instead. I had always shyed away from "seeker-friendly" churches, but this one felt right. Turns out they are pretty much Baptist, but my life has been transformed through this church in profound way, so we've decided to be re-baptized and become members.

    • I'm glad you found a place that has impacted your life in such a profound way. That's such a blessing.

  • Ashley Jensen

    What compels you to continue attending your current church?

    Bottom line, leadership with integrity. Our pastors have the strongest integrity and character from any Christian leader that I've ever seen up close. The choices they make, they make with the utmost care and concern for the people they lead. They are real. For real. I could go on & on but it's a pretty amazing place. http://victoryatl.com

  • Maurilio,

    I found your blog today via Michael Hyatt's tweet on this post and I'm very grateful for your thoughts. You are right on with the conclusion drawn about being an agent of life change.

    This topic is very timely for me. I've known no other life than church culture and admittedly have no insight or perspective as one who is unchurched entering the doors of organized religion. This is a good struggle for me and I appreciate your sharing these thoughts. I look forward to reading your posts regularly.


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  • Thanks for this. I couldn't help but think of Chuck Swindoll's newest book, The Church Awakening, which deals with these issues head-on. See http://www.amazon.com/dp/044655653X?tag=waynestil

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  • Well done. This is an excellent post. Seems too often that we get caught up in the wrong things, measuring with the wrong stick, and asking the wrong questions. Pretty sure Jesus made it much more simple than what we do.

    Love this line… "The mark of a “real” church, regardless whether its preacher wears skinny jeans or a polyester suit, is that of a transforming agent for God."

  • Maurilio,

    Excellent insight. I attend a church that is very modern, and (dare I say) a lot of the people that go there I would classify in the "hipster" category. But the discussions, not only with the pastor, but also with the other congregation members, have led me further into an understanding of who Jesus is. I feel at home there. I've gone to churches like that all my life, and I think there's many a way to marry the cool with the canon, as it were. Doesn't Christ call us to be "in the world, and not of?"

    I think it's a matter of style. You wear a fedora if you want the look associated with it. Same with a baseball cap, and same with a sock hat. Different styles for the people who want them.

    "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, diversity. In all things, love (or charity)"

  • Really well stated response, Maurilio. I attend a church (somewhat local to you, actually, in Spring Hill) that manages to combine extremely contemporary worship with biblical truths. We're unabashedly unashamed of -not- being a "seeker" church and sticking to what the Bible tells us is true.

    The problem, as I've seen it, is a church (in the people are the church aspect) that is looking for transactions versus relationships.

    Transactions are momentary, and they work great to inflate overall numbers. But without the following relationship, people will never understand the "what's next" answer to their questions. Many times, the church is so focused on getting people into the doors that they lose sight of the true charge that we're given as you quoted from Matthew.

    Again, great insight and a really enjoyable read. Glad to know that people like you are just down the road from me.

  • jacobriggs

    Hey Maurilio,

    Help me out here. What didn't you like about McCracken's article? Is your blog stating that church leaders should try to make church cool so that people will want to attend?

    Thank you sir!

    • Jacob, my problem with any criticism of the church is that it often focus on stylistic preferences such as hipster vs traditional vs pentecostal. These are very subjective and are generational as well as personal. However, my main point is that the church should be defined by the fruit it produces. I'm more concerned that a church's strategy produces true followers of Christ whose lives have been radically changed by the gospel than by the fact their pastor wears a robe or make the church "cool" to attract people.

      Making the church cool for coolness sake is no better than making the church boring. But from my experience, a biblically-focused church that's producing followers of Jesus is far, far from boring.

  • TheSpinman13

    Dude you nailed it….Right On and good job putting it out there for others to read and talk about. Too much goes on inside churches today about what people should or should not be doing, what they should wear, how they should talk, should they be allowed to have a beer, should they be allowed to utter a curse word…and at the end of the day none of that means anything. Souls for Christ is what matters, how we get there or how churches get there should not matter…the fact they are getting there and getting them is what should be the topic of conversation. If my church is winning souls then I want my pastor up front with a PBR in his hand, a Huge Belt Buckle on his Banana Republic pants with his TapOut Shirt, podcasting and broadcasting online, blogging and holding court in a nightclub, or a bar, or on a street corner wherever & whenever! Right on Maurilio keep up the good work and the great writing….

  • jackwbruce

    Great post.

    Two thoughts come to my mind: First, "God looks on the heart." Second, one of the primary reasons we come together for "church" is to encourage one another–it's not just about what happens on stage but in places such as the seats, the hallways, around the water fountain, & in the parking lot.


  • Church comes in many forms. If you are someone that wants to go to church it should not be too difficult to find one. There are churches with tall steeples and stain-glass windows and there are some that meet in barns, bars and peoples yards. Church community is crucial for growth. The goal is not to find the perfect church for you, because you won't find it. Just when you have finally found the perfect church for you, it became imperfect for someone else. Instead the goal should be to find a church family where you can contribute whether that is a "hipster" church or not…..there is just not enough time in the day to criticize each other and do God's work. Pick one.

    • Unfortunately, there's a bigger audience and more notoriety and therefore more money when you become a critic instead of an encourager.

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  • KKS

    I absolutely loved this article Mr. Amorim! I am actually that "twenty-something" hipster that is being studied by SBC organizations trying to blame their lack of young adult church attendance on whatever trends Ed Young Jr. or Erwin Mcmanus is setting. However, I myself wrote a paper and did a study on this when I was 21 and found that young adults are DYING to see life change. Whether that life change happens at a "hipster" church or at a liturgical church. The 20's and 30's generation are dying to see passion and authenticity because 6 days out of the week they are robbed of it via social networking and lack of face to face time. Church services in bars and trendy sermon series titles "Twilight" show me passion to win the souls of a world we are "in" but not "of." And you know what- I see lives changing from "trendy" Christianity. I know that I am young, and don't have all the answers, but Mr. Amorim is correct when he sides with what Jesus taught us in Matthew 28. The pastor might being playing a Coldplay song or quoting the great theologian Lady Gaga, but when I see souls coming to Christ all around the world I can't help but think that the pastor in the skinny jeans, Burberry scarf, and the pinky ring has a good grip on the instructions that Christ gave us.

    • Thanks for sharing KKS. It's interesting to see that all twenty-somethings are not the same and no one can speak for everyone. Now where can I get one of those Burberry scarves?

      • Michael

        your too funny! Thanks for getting this blog going. Enjoying the read and saving thousands of dollars from stufffy uhhhem, semitaries ooops I mean seminaries….nnno offence but brother Billy got his Ph.D honorarily from his efforts to keep the gospel coming and relevant to the generations of his time.nnand of course we are still reaping from his sowing faithfully so many years …in each continent that invited him……nn

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