By Joe B
While thinking of my xian experiences yesterday, I was struck by the similarity between American high schools and American megachurches. I had a sudden understanding that the way kids are shaped during their basic 12 years of education has a lot to do with the way evangelical churches are taking in their effort to "minister in a culturally relevant" way.
I'm not talking so much about the weekly pep rally, structured curriculum, extracurricular activities or summer camps, although those certainly bear structurally similarity. The more striking thing for me is the function of small group ministries and peer pressure that these churches employ in conforming adults to their model of behavior. See Thomas Hines "The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager" for an insightful history of how the experience of youth has changed with the social and economic dynamics of the last two centuries. The normalization of the High School experience from the 40s and 50s is an informative thread in his book
The church has its finger on the pulse of these changes. Not that they're all that clever. It's more of a natural selection process where those that figure out how to plug into the current psychological levers will thrive as others go extinct.
Obviously, New Life, Sovereign Grace, and the other megachurch variants, are among the success stories of this decade. One of the common features I have observed is the way they use the high school peer group model. In a variety of ways, the church leadership identifies who the "cool kids" are. They are trotted up on stage now and again and recognized for their coolness in whatever they're doing for the church, and that popularity makes them useful tools. One church I belonged to would pick a cool individual or couple each week and included a mini MySpace page in the bulletin: Favorite hobby (giving out PB&J and xian tracts to homeless people, or some such), favorite book (by some approved apologist), which small group clique he/she/they belong to, and of course favorite food (the minor worldly indulgence that makes them "real"). These were clearly well aimed at a church membership, in which individuals are deeply conditioned by the informal conformity pressures of their formative years.
"Want to be popular? Be like Brett here. God loves what Brett is doing, and he'll love you too if you can be like that." Just as xianity morphed its messages and methods in the 3rd-4th centuries to get control of peasants and merchants, and continued to do so to grab the masses of each age, it has learned how to leverage the psychology of the modern American. Now they call it "Culturally relevant messaging." Sounds nice. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.
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