Is 'Cool Christianity' the Best Way to Evangelize?

At a recent party, I wound up chatting with a young Protestant mom who described herself as an evangelical. She told me that she was surprised when, at a recent service at her church, their new young pastor had the congregation pull out their cell phones to participate in an online poll. He then had a graph of the results of the poll projected, in real time, on the wall of the church.

“I watched all of this and I thought to myself, ‘Now here’s a new kind of pastor,’” my new friend smiled at me as she shook her head in disbelief.

This young pastor is not alone in his use of new media as an attention-getting scheme. There is a widespread attempt to “re-brand” Christianity as young, cool, and hip:

“There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated “No Country For Old Men.” For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.‘s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).”

While these efforts appear to have varying degrees of success in attracting and holding onto young Christians, I think the author of the Wall Street Journal piece makes a valid point when he notes the dangers of such schemes.

“But are these gimmicks really going to bring young people back to church? Is this what people really come to church for? Maybe sex sermons and indie- rock worship music do help in getting people in the door, and maybe even in winning new converts. But what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?”

While this article happens to be about evangelical churches, I think the lesson here applies to Catholics as well. I am all in favor of Catholics “re-branding” and keeping up with technology in order to bring Christ to wider audiences, but we do need to follow up the “branding” and “cutting edge” with something solid.

Fortunately, our Church has that. Over 2,000 years’ worth of the “real deal” of Catholic teaching and tradition, to be precise. It’s easy to get caught up in the “cool” ideas of tweeting, facebooking, and otherwise broadcasting a “cool to be Catholic” message to the masses, but we need to be sure that we follow up the flash and the fluff with substance.

As Brett McCracken astutely points out:

“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.”

Matthew Heidenreich, one of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s Perpetual Pilgrims, walks in prayer along the headwaters of the Mississippi River at the May 19 start of the Marian Route. Heidenreich and 23 other young adults will be praying on behalf of Catholics across the country on the two-month journey to Indianapolis.

Midwest’s Marian Mark and True Confessions (May 25)

Pilgrims are trekking on four different routes for a National Eucharistic Pilgrimage that covers more than 6,000 miles. The Marian Route traverses the Midwest. And Jonathan Liedl, who hails from Minnesota, gives us highlights of Midwestern Catholicism. Then we get a broader glimpse of Catholicism in America as told through Fran Maier’s new book True Confessions: Voices of Faith from a Life in the Church.