This list of “goth friendly” churches (directory header –>) suggests that “a list of ‘subculture friendly’ churches should not even be necessary. All churches should be friendly & loving to ALL people.” One of the churches listed describes their target group as individuals who are:
…unique, interesting, industrial, gothic, atheist, lost, oppressed, possessed, agnostic, disbelieving, fallen, in a void or think religion messed this whole world up
Aside from being hard to read (black backgrounds tend to do that) and having numerous broken links, it provides a fascinating glimpse into an age-old problem facing the Christian Church.
Just how far should the Church go to reach outsiders and sub-cultures?
One church answered that by crafting a service specifically aimed at goths. From Church Tries Goth Liturgy:
Churches continually strive to attract fresh faces into their flocks, and one of the challenges they face is getting the attention of younger people who may have turned their backs, according to the Rev. Lou Divis, deacon in charge at St. George’s Episcopal Church.
To address this quandary, the church on Main Street in Nanticoke embraced a new approach called the Goth Liturgy on Saturday night at 9. Unlike the traditional Sunday-morning service in which an organist, choir and congregation join in energetic hymns of praise, the Goth Liturgy is more “meditative,” Divis said.
The church is dimly light, lined with candles and full of the aroma of burning incense. Gregorian chants from the 12th century and faith-based music from techno bands such as Depeche Mode and Love Spirals Downward played softly during the hymn segments.
The servers were dressed in black robes and the guest celebrant, the Rev. Peter D’Angio from St. Luke‘s Episcopal Church in Scranton, was clothed in a flowing white robe. The sanctuary had a noticeably more intimate ambiance.
About 30 worshippers participated, some manifest with the Goth look.
Divis called the service a “different kind of spirituality”…
If you remove the specifics — black eyeliner, trenchcoats, and hymns by Depeche Mode — this isn’t much different from the dilemmas faced by the early church.
Jewish Christians struggled to assimilate Gentiles, tried to impose Jewish laws, and ban all remnants of paganism. Isolation, not assimilation, was the result. Church history is marked by such tensions. For instance, Christian mission organizations are continually debating the most effective ways to introduce the Gospel to unreached people groups. Should they condemn tribal myths and pagan practices or use them as bridges to a “greater reality”? Should they introduce “alternative worship” or integrate the locals’ customs? The Jesus Movement was pummeled by conservative pastors for allowing hippies in the house of God. After all, everyone knows organs and zithers are more “spiritual” than stratocasters and bass drums.
But culture and credo are two different things. That’s true for the goth subculture. Wearing black is not equivalent to living in the dark. Unless we’re prepared to say that goths cannot be saved, we must concede a middle-ground. It’s why sites like ChristianGoth.com exist and explore such issues as “Obsession with Death” and “The Proper Christian Goth Attire.” Different, I know. But isn’t such internal jimmying how the Gospel gets assimilated in new sub-cultures?
So is a Goth liturgy so far off?
Of course, evangelism has its limits. We need not become pagan to reach pagans. But in the end, the real question is not whether a person sports black eyeliner, tongue studs, and army boots, but whether or not the Gospel is preached and embraced.
But there’s a flip side to this.
Ideally, the Church is better off when sub-cultures are integrated, not separated. I doubt that the heavenly multitudes will be partitioned based on their musical tastes, clothing, and accessories. As such, goths should worship alongside straight-laced middle class suburbanites, and vice-versa. I mean, being friendly to goths is one thing. But structuring a church that caters to the goth subculture — or ANY subculture for that matter — is another story.
In his book Generation Ex-Christian, Drew Dyck suggests that one of the reasons that Christian youths grow up and leave the Church is because they don’t develop significant relationship with other, more mature Christians. They are segregated with other youths and isolated from the church at large. Thus, Dyck advises:
One of the major reasons they [Christian youths] drifted away is because the relational bonds to committed Christians were weak or nonexistent. In order to win them back, we must rectify that destructive isolation. When you bring them to church, seek to widen their circle of Christian friends. Don’t let them settle into secluded pockets of the congregation. Introduce them to older Christians, and younger ones. Ask them to serve. Invite them to small groups, prayer meetings, and fellowship times, places where they can grow in the faith and form lasting relationships with mature Christians.
…Those young people who had relationships to older Christians were far less likely to abandon their faith.
A similar principle applies to any sub-culture. It’s as we connect with others outside of our demographic and spiritual comfort zone that our faith grows. So while crafting a “Goth Liturgy” may attract and engage goths, in the long run it potentially sequesters them from other believers and allows them to “settle into secluded pockets of the congregation,” producing a “destructive isolation.”
One of the great blessings of the Christian Church is its ability to find different expressions in different cultures. But whether or not the Church should integrate or segregate sub-cultures is another story.
So is your church sub-culture friendly? And should it be?