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…
- What was your purpose in making this video?
- When you showed it in your church services, what did this video introduce or lead in to?
- What reactions did you get from the folks in your church? After the laughter, did anyone express concerns?
- You’re giving away our tricks! Didn’t you agree to the magician’s oath? Wait, that’s not a question, sorry, moving on…
- 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.)