“Contemporvant” church video goes viral, touches a nerve

May 11, 2010

comedy / tragedy masks

Photo by Jenn Calder (license)

The “Contemporvant” church video I shared recently is going viral. People see it as hilarious, or a sad indictment of churches …or both. What makes the video all the more curious is that it is produced by the (quite talented) media team of North Point Community Church, an evangelical megachurch. I have noticed a variety of reactions:

Bill Kinnon argues that the video is not satire. “Do any of you really think the North Point media team meant to expose the ‘stupidity or vices’ of their Christotainment Sunday morning services which no doubt follow the very pattern shown in the video?” Bill voices something I’ve feared (but states it more eloquently): what we win them with is what we win them to. Bill isn’t laughing. (Please see Bill’s comment below about this quote.)

Andrew Jones, a.k.a. Tall Skinny Kiwi, simply laughs (with no anger), and writes about “why I gave up on that model and shifted over to organic/house church and what used to be called ’emerging church.'”

Chad Estes raises several good questions, but concludes with a pointed statement aimed squarely at us, the readers: “It isn’t enough to laugh knowingly, cringe at the satire, and go back to doing the same thing next weekend.”

My friend Roy Donkin pastors a church and expands on a comment left here: “Now here’s the really sad part… if my church had money, staff, equipment, etc. to pull that off every Sunday, our service would probably look pretty much like that.” In his post, he examines the question, “What is the line between manipulating folk and opening a door for them to enter through?”

Finally, though Jamie Arpin-Ricci was not talking about this video, his important point applies. Their community has a way of protecting themselves from the dangers of criticizing “institutional church” through something called “The Rule of We”: “Essentially, it says that we must intentionally identify ourselves with any criticism we make of others in the Church — be it in the past, other churches or our own community.”

Added May 15: Brett McCracken is coming out with a book called Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. This video almost seems designed to accompany such a book… but maybe not in the way that seems most obvious: he directs his attention not at the producers of the video, but at us, the consumers. “It’s not the subject matter of the video that represents hipster Christianity, but rather the way in which the video was consumed, processed and passed along.”

Added May 18: Bob Kauflin offers an extremely balanced and wide-ranging list of thoughts, from “1. It’s a good practice, and even humble, to poke fun at ourselves,” through “7. Excellent production, seamless transitions, and well-planned meetings are no substitute for the power of the gospel.”

Added May 19: Elijah Davidson at the Brehm Center of Fuller Theological Seminary examines the dangers of ironic self-mocking: By creating a straw man, “we create a hyperbolically faulted Other that we measure up well against. As a result, there is less impetus to change.” Elijah does not stop at mere criticism but presses on, suggesting two specific starting points as examples!

Added May 23: Joshua Bovis uses the video as an opportunity to discuss “the dangers of Chameleonisation – which is what happens when contextualization is taking too far.”

…I don’t know if North Point’s media folks will respond, but if they would take the time, I would love to hear from them. Hey, North Point Media! I wonder if you might answer a few questions…

I just have a few questions…

Photo by Drewdlecam (license), adapted by Jon Reid

  1. What was your purpose in making this video?
  2. When you showed it in your church services, what did this video introduce or lead in to?
  3. What reactions did you get from the folks in your church? After the laughter, did anyone express concerns?
  4. You’re giving away our tricks! Didn’t you agree to the magician’s oath? Wait, that’s not a question, sorry, moving on…
  5. Some say that instead of challenging the practice of religion as consumerism, this video actually promotes it by being tongue-in-cheek, a sort of postmodern advertisement. What would you say to these critics?

(If North Point Media really would like to respond, please contact me so that we can work together on a blog post that you’d be happy with.)

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

22 responses to “Contemporvant” church video goes viral, touches a nerve

  1. Thanks. I think they are laughing at more than themselves, they are laughing at those that say they cannot …

  2. Nice post Jon.
    Well approached post and drawing external influences in by other comments / whatever about the video. And a great set of questions – those are the sort of things I always want to know being a media lover.
    But it is interesting to see how this is causing reactions.

  3. Jon, I think the video is satire, but Bill Kinnon and others are missing the point. The video isn’t satirizing all megachurches or “Christotainment.” It’s satirizing the sameness and the lack of innovation in many “contemporary” churches.
    Many churches portray themselves as being “edgy” and non-conformist but in reality they are pretty much copying other churches and then relying on the same formulas week after week.
    It’s kind of like high school kids who try to stand out as non-conformists in the way they dress, but then ironically they end up dressing the same as all their other non-conformist friends.

  4. Thanks for the shout out. Great round up & thoughts on the topic.
    Peace,
    Jamie

  5. I found Bill K’s critique pretty convincing, but thanks for the reminder about the “Rule of We.” It’s easy to criticize the slick production version of consumer Christianity and think that I’m not there Sunday morning looking for what I can “get out of” the service. Makes me want to sit somewhere quiet and have a long think about the meaning of the word “worship” because honestly I don’t think I know anymore…

  6. Jon,
    Thanks for the link and for adding Jamie’s piece to the discussion – which helps a lot – as Maria so well points out.
    My concern with the quote from my post is that if folk only read the quote (rather than my rather too-long post), they miss the fact that it comes after a definition of satire from the Oxford American Dictionary in this paragraph:

    People mistakenly want to call this “satire.” But the definition of satire is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices.

    The “stupidity or vices” comes from the definition rather than me just being mean and nasty.
    I look forward to a North Point response to your good questions. (Well, not necessarily to Question 4, but…)

  7. I’ve been talking with some friends recently over this very issue… but from a different perspective. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I am currently part of a small, diverse church. We’re gospel-centered, community and culture-focused. We don’t have much money at all…and we’re not a house church.
    Many of us have experienced exactly what North Point is satirizing/showcasing here, and were searching for something else.
    What I have had to watch for in myself is my own pride in my new church. I have heard myself make statements along the lines of…
    …we don’t need a light show to share the Gospel.
    …that kind of performance would never happen at our church…even if we could do it, we wouldn’t want to.
    …Our services might not be as impressive, but Jesus is the focus, and not the people on stage.
    …and the unspoken end to all these statements is “…unlike everybody else. We’re different!”
    Lately I have been struck by my own words (for the record, none of those are DIRECT quotes), and I wonder about some of the scathing comments here. Is my desire to be different just more of the same, in a different way?
    Do I agree with the method (satire or not)? Not really.
    Does the fact that I disagree mean that my church has some sort of superhold on the gospel unavailable to larger churches with bigger checkbooks? Absolutely not.
    In short, I’ve had to check myself. So, thanks, Jon. I knew I liked this blog.

  8. i shared this with the youth worship “team” and we talked about what we saw. the 12 year old drummer said it looked like the “best church ever.” he didn’t see any satirical edge in it, which was surprising and refreshing.
    most of them agreed that is seemed more like youth conventions than sunday morning, which is definitely true in the sake of our church. they also agreed that while it matched up with what they see at convention, it also seemed exciting and affective.

  9. Chuck, there is certainly a place for laughing at yourself. So you think it’s just good fun? I hope they see this and tell us more about their intent, their approach, and what they think of the ensuing brouhaha.

  10. Thanks, Stuart! We’ll see if they notice and respond. One thing’s for sure: the video is quite successful in terms of going viral, thanks to the wide range of reactions.

  11. Paul,
    Love your thoughts on the lack of innovation, and your high school metaphor. And really, another point to skewer is whether things need to be innovative and flashy. …But my thoughts are straying from your theory on what the video is satirizing. Maybe if enough people come through this page, the North Point media team will tell us! 🙂

  12. Jamie, thanks for speaking out to correct, as you always do. Although yours is the oddball here because it’s not about the video, I thought it was important to add. Seems others thought so, too.

  13. Maria, if I have helped lead you to rethink “worship,” I count that as a success for this whole blog! (I do hope you’ll let us into your wrestling at some point.)

  14. Bill,
    I edited the post, adding a note to see your explanatory comment, because it is important. So you’re not just a grumpy guy! 😉 Seriously, I’m glad this video led us to cross paths.

  15. Heather,
    I don’t know how to respond to your comment without gushing.
    Once again, you have added a lot to the conversation by being so open.
    Thank you.

  16. nstryker,
    My 12-year-old daughter had a similar reaction: “I would totally want to go that church, at least once!” I doubt the age similarity is a coincidence — perhaps a child developmental thing where irony is not yet fully processed? Also, junior high kids want to be part of something big, where they can be part of the crowd.
    And there’s nothing wrong with those things.

  17. I also think it could simply be an indoctrination (um… I mean training) video for new recruits.

  18. Hi. Although I attend Northpoint, I am in no way able to speak on behalf of the church. I didn’t see this video until it went viral.
    But, I can answer a couple of questions I read in this blog:
    I don’t believe it was ever shown during a church service. So there isn’t an answer to how the congregation responded.
    I believe that this was done for a large conference. Not sure if it was a northpoint event (ie Catalyst or Drive), or as a contributionto a conference by another organization. I don’t know if it was held at a northpoint campus or in an arena. I’m not sure if it was purely entertainment, or a lead-in to a particular session.
    I do know that it’s a characture of northpoint and other churches that follow their model. Probably less Willow Creek and more Hillsong, but essentially a combination of elements from many churches like northpoint. I’ve never seen someone in a t-shirt welcoming to expose a tatoo, for example.
    btw, I’m not completely sold on the NP worship/music strategy, but I am sold on the teaching that comes after the singing. My biggest gripw is pointing moving lights at the crowd and blinding anyone with their eyes open.
    but, I think Louie Giglio said it best. He said something like (paraphrasing him)It’s not about what you get out of church, and it’s not even about what you put in to it. It’s not about you, it’s about God. The goal of worship is that God should be glad he was there, and pleased with what He got out of it.”
    I try to think about that instead of the light show.

  19. well, as soon as I finished my previous post, I found this post from northpoint:
    http://insidenorthpoint.org/media/2010/05/19/sunday-morning-video/

  20. I wish Christians would stop putting so much thought, money, time, strategizing and effort into church. It’s annoying. The slicker churches get, the less relevant they become.

  21. TIm,
    Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughts as a Northpoint member, I really appreciate it! And to the extent that it got everyone talking about “What are we doing, anyway?” I’d say the video was a huge success.

  22. Jeff, there are plenty of alternatives out there. Unfortunately, because of the nature of things, they’re not the attention-grabbers — so they may not be as well known outside of their immediate community.