High school or mega-church?

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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DUG853 said...

SO sad is right-!

I find it 'interesting' that if 'any-OTHER' group/"religion/s" were to do the 'exact-same-thing/s' as 'they' do,... 'they'd' be the FIRST to roundly (and loudly) condemn the 'other-group/s' as using "Brainwashing", accuse them of 'Being-"EVIL"', 'Preying-on-Children' etc.

The obvious 'blindness' of their (lack-of) 'critical-thinking-skills' never fails to ASTOUND me, even after all these years-!

Jamie said...

I hadn't thought of that before. Now I'm kind of pissed off!

Epicurienne said...

I've come to the conclusion that this whole country (the U.S.) is one big high school. I see evidence of a collective high-school mentality everywhere I look.

Especially within Christianity. The mega-churches are a very good example. Excellent post!

Nvrgoingbk said...

Christianity IS just like the highschool experience. I never thought of that, but now, looking at the thousands of denominations (cliques), I can't deny it.

I never felt that I belonged in the church. My whole life, I felt like I was living a little to the left. AT home, I was the black sheep of the family, at school, I was the school slut, and finally, when I became a Christian, I would look around at the clonish women with their perfect hair, their attractive husbands in suits collecting money, all the people reciting those drone phrases like, "I got the victory", "Praise God", "Glory to God", Name it and claim it", "Speak it into existence", etc. and I would watch them lay hands on eachother until one would actually have to fake recieving the gift of tongues just so that they could go sit down. Now they were REAL christians. Now they could be accepted, because they were "filled with the spirit". WTF!

I never would let them bully me into pretending. I never stopped asking questions, challenging their knowledge of the scriptures. I would scour the scriptures, research, and call them on their bullshit doctrines. People do not get rewarded for their honesty in church. THey are shunned, just like in highschool.

Never mind the thousands of denominations. Even within each church, there is gossiping, backbiting, extra-marital affairs, teen sex, drugs, homosexuality, etc. Sounds just like highschool or Corporate America to me.

Anonymous said...

High School Never Ends Lyrics
Artist(Band):Bowling for Soup

Four years you think for sure
That’s all you've got to endure
All the total dicks
All the stuck up chicks
So superficial, so immature
Then when you graduate
You take a look around and you say HEY WAIT!
This is the same as where I just came from
I thought it was over
Aw that’s just great

The whole damn world is just as obsessed
With who‘s the best dressed and who‘s having sex
Who‘s got the money, who gets the honeys
Who‘s kinda cute and who‘s just a mess
And you still don’t have the right look
And you don’t have the right friends
Nothing changes but the faces, the names, and the trends
High school never ends

Check out the popular kids
You’ll never guess what Jessica did
How did Mary Kate lose all that weight
And Katie had a baby so I guess Tom’s straight
And the only thing that matters
Is climbing up that social ladder
Still care about your hair and the car you drive
Doesn’t matter if you’re sixteen or thirty-five

Reese Witherspoon,
She’s the prom queen
Bill Gates,
Captain of the chess team
Jack Black, the clown
Brad Pitt, the quarterback
Seen it all before
I want my money back!!

The whole damn world is just as obsessed
With who’s the best dressed and who’s having sex
Who’s in the club and who’s on the drugs
Who’s throwing up before they digest
And you still don’t have the right look
And you don’t have the right friends
And you still listen to the same shit you did back then
High school never ends

High school never ends

The whole damn world is just as obsessed
With who‘s the best dressed and who‘s having sex
Who‘s got the money, who gets the honeys
Who‘s kinda cute and who‘s just a mess
And I still don’t have the right look
And I still have the same three friends
And I’m pretty much the same as I was back then
High school never ends

High school never ends

High school never ends

Here we go again

TheJaytheist said...

Thanks to the churchschool I attended until I was eleven, I was unprepared(huge understatement!)for public shool. The emotional truama of being thrown in the mix with kids more worldly and emotionally stable than I, was exascerbated by the onset of puberty, and after effects of sexual abuse.

High school, for me, was a study in how to disappear in a group.

After all that It's a wonder I can function at any level. My brain Is oatmeal and I still don't like meeting new people. I have no friends other than my wife. It's not comforting for me to know I'm just as fucked up as other people. The thought makes me sad and pissed.

Perhaps I should put all this down in a anti-testimony?

Joe B said...

Stronger Now,

Being as fucked up as other people also means that you're just as well as everyone else. You have the same right to be loved and respected. Your worth is the same as any other person's. The church told us that we had to be cool with their god to deserve a good life now and hereafter. That simply isn't so.

The number of friends you have doesn't measure your worth. If you think that putting your testimony on the site will help go for it. You won't be judged or criticized on this site for failing to make your exit from xianity as gracefully as you might have liked to. It's a fucked up religion that bends young minds to its purposes. Freeing yourself at all is a wonder. The fact that you did it is evidence of the strength and health of your mind.

I wish you peace and strength in the journey ahead.


TheJaytheist said...

Thanks joe.

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