Monday, July 18, 2011

Pop Religion: A Church Dropout Tells Her Story

Meghan O’Gieblyn's article, "Sniffing Glue: A Childhood in Christian Pop" is a long, effective and ultimately sad piece, detailing as she does her youth in the "contemporary church" with its emphasis on emotional experience, popular music forms and preachers who want to be more hip than holy. Never being clued in to the CCM scene (I only have a half dozen Christian artists I've listened to over the years), I couldn't altogether understand her journey. But I could certainly understand -- and weep over -- the disillusionment and rejection it brought her.

Would to God that every pastor, youth leader, "worship team" member and para-church worker would carefully read this testimony and heed its lessons.

Meghan concludes her essay with these paragraphs:

The church is becoming increasingly consumer-friendly. Jacob Hill, director of “worship arts” at New Walk Church, describes the Sunday service music as “exciting, loud, powerful, and relevant,” and boasts that “a lot of people say they feel like they’ve just been at a rock concert.” Over the past ten years, I’ve visited churches that have Starbucks kiosks in the foyer and youth wings decked out with air hockey tables. I’ve witnessed a preacher stop his sermon to play a five minute clip from Billy Madison. I’ve walked into a sanctuary that was blasting the Black Eyed Peas’s “Let’s Get it Started” to get the congregation pumped for the morning’s message, which was on joy. I have heard a pastor say, from a pulpit, “Hey, I’m not here to preach at anyone.” 

And yet, in spite of these efforts, churches are retaining only 4 percent of the young people raised in their congregations.

Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. 

Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.

(Thanks to Gina Dalfonzo over at BreakPoint for alerting me to this compelling piece.)