Meghan’s story is thorough, well-written and even more it unmasks some of the strategies and inner realities of the music industry. Was this your experience?
Lifehouse’s “Hanging by a Moment”—which topped the Billboard 100 for the year—is a more well-known example of this trend: “Desperate for changing / Starving for truth / Closer to where I started / Chasing after you.” Although singer/songwriter Jason Wade identified as a Christian and was embraced by the CCM market—his band met playing in a worship team at church—he claimed that Lifehouse was not a “Christian” band. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said, “We don’t want to be labeled as a ‘Christian band,’ because all of a sudden people’s walls come up, and they won’t listen to your music and what you have to say.”
Basically, CCM caught on to the number one rule of coolness: don’t let your marketing show. The best bands—the successful ones, at least—learned to gloss over the gospel message the same way TV producers camouflaged corporate sponsorship. Explicitly Christian lyrics prevented DC Talk from crossing over to the secular market in the ’90s; today it’s difficult to imagine their unapologetic faith making it in the Christian circuit.
This trend spreads beyond CCM into many areas of evangelical culture. The church is becoming increasingly consumer-friendly. Jacob Hill, director of “worship arts” at New Walk Church, describes the Sunday service music as “exciting, loud, powerful, and relevant,” and boasts that “a lot of people say they feel like they’ve just been at a rock concert.” Over the past ten years, I’ve visited churches that have Starbucks kiosks in the foyer and youth wings decked out with air hockey tables. I’ve witnessed a preacher stop his sermon to play a five-minute clip from Billy Madison. I’ve walked into a sanctuary that was blasting the Black Eyed Peas’s “Let’s Get it Started” to get the congregation pumped for the morning’s message, which was on joy. I have heard a pastor say, from a pulpit, “Hey, I’m not here to preach at anyone.” And yet, in spite of these efforts, churches are retaining only 4 percent of the young people raised in their congregations.
Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.