The emergence of “hipster Christianity” is creating a new space for young evangelicals in urban areas seeking to break out of the Christian subculture, but such believers may have trouble reaching out beyond their demographic.
Christianity Today magazine (September) features a cover story on “hipster faith,” reporting that this “subculture of young evangelicals” is in rebellion against the Christian youth culture marked by contemporary Christian music, entertainment-oriented megachurches and Christian right politics in favor of authenticity, strong community and social activism. If all of this sounds familiar, it is because the younger generations, starting with Generation X in the mid-1990s, have sought alternatives to baby boomer-oriented churches for similar reasons (with some calling themselves emergent or postmodern).
Today, many of these young evangelicals have gravitated from the campus and small towns to urban areas and are attracted to churches that serve their age group and sometimes strive for nonconventional settings and shock value. Brett McCracken writes that the tendency to upset religious conventions can be seen in holding services in a bar or, in the case of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, offering frank sermons on sex. McCracken notes that the drive for authenticity in these churches can also take a traditional and nofrills approach. Resurrection Presbyterian in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY—the international center of hipster culture—conducts a quiet and dignified service with classical Protestant hymns, even if almost the whole congregation is under 35. In contrast, some churches are also appropriating “hipster sensibilities in a utilitarian ‘staying relevant’ way. These wannabe hip churches—largely of the suburban, megachurch, and ‘contemporary evening service’ variety—dress themselves in the accoutrements of hipsterdom not because they understand or value it, but because they are terrified of being … left behind,” McCracken adds.
The impact of these churches in their neighborhoods is uncertain. The article cites theologians and observers questioning whether the hipster and emergent churches can reach out beyond their white middle-class demographic. This point is confirmed by research by RW’s editor on the impact of gentrification on the churches in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The evangelical churches, most of which were established by church planters to reach the hipsters, have grown faster than other congregations. Yet these churches had difficulty attracting unchurched hipsters, not to mention those from the neighborhood—such as Hispanics—outside of the predominant young adult, white demographic. These congregations mainly grew by drawing on the network ties of evangelicals moving into this neighborhood.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)