All the cool kids in the NYTs

Another day, another article about a religious group trying to be hip. It's the third article in about a month that The New York Times has noted hipster and religion trends. Again, the premise of its latest piece is that religion is not hip so it's noteworthy when a group finds a way to pull it off.

Heads in the congregation nodded: young men in untucked T-shirts and jeans and insouciant 20-something women, a crowd that otherwise might be seen pedaling fixies in the Mission or sipping brewed-by-the-cup coffee at a trendy cafe.

At Ikon, hipsters — the city’s latest bohemian generation — have found religion.

The piece had potential with the start-up angle, since it's interesting that other churches around the country would help finance it with no apparent denominational ties.

Ikon has what Mr. Monts called “angel investors” — 22 similar churches from across the nation, including ones in New York and Miami, that have contributed to the church’s initial financing.

Reunion Christian Church in Boston, itself just five years old, gave money to start Ikon, according to its pastor, Hank Wilson. He described the donation as “modest,” and said it was part of his congregation’s mission to help new “church plants,” its term for these start-ups.

Does Reunion Christian Church give to just any church plant? How did the two churches get connected in the first place? Otherwise, it's not that unusual for people to plant churches, so it's unclear why this one is so noteworthy with just 120 members.

Ted F. Peters, a professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, said that new churches were rare not just in San Francisco, but in most of the country. “Over the last decade it’s been very difficult,” he said.

Since 2006, Dr. Peters said, there has been an “explosion” of atheism nationwide, perhaps, he added, in reaction to the Roman Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals and extremist right-wing positions taken by some Protestant churches.

Successfully attracting young adults to a church is unusual. “Most mainline denominations have really lost that group,” Dr. Peters said, adding that a church would need to have “liberal social ethics.”

It's a little strange that he would say churches really need to have "liberal social ethics" to attract young adults, considering the mainline churches probably fit that category and lost the young adults. Why does he think mainline churches losing young adults and having liberal social ethics and correlate? I'm guessing this writer just called up some professor and took his word for it. I asked Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research about whether church planting has decreased and whether atheism has increased. Here's what he said:

About 4,000 churches are planted a year in the U.S. (my stat, from Viral Churches book). Most observers would say that there has been an increase (see articles in Christian Century about mainline and Christianity Today about evangelical). So, I see more church planting, not less. Perhaps not in San Francisco, but I can list several there off the top of my head.

The "atheism explosion" is a common idea, but the Baylor study has debunked that--and it has been widely reported. Atheism remains about 4%--not much change. Atheists may be more aggressive, but they are not more prevalent.

So did the reporter ask: what data is Ted Peters using to demonstrate that there has been decrease in church planting and/or an explosion of atheism? Back to the original article, it seems like reporter is fascinated by all the tech. You can read the Bible from iPhone? Who knew?

But little of it seems traditional: Sunday readings were from an iPhone, contemporary songs replaced hymns, a video screen showed a popular YouTube clip during the sermon and techno music thumped for the recessional. Ikon uses Twitter, Facebook, sleek Web sites and advertising campaigns in transit stations to promote its message.

Has this reporter ever been to a megachurch? Because gosh, these "hip" elements seems pretty traditional for any booming church, eager to adapt to any new media.

The church’s tenets include a devotion to the arts, openness (gay men and lesbians are welcome), environmental causes, and addressing tough social issues, like outreach to the city’s sex workers.

I'm not seeing anything about what this church believes, mostly about what it emphasizes. For instance, what does it believe about the Bible, Jesus, heaven and hell, etc.?

Another member, Mabi Knittle, 34, put Ikon’s message more succinctly. “Love saves people,” he said. “Love rescues people.”

The above summary is perhaps too succinct that it tells us nothing. Love, generally speaking, saves people? Perhaps he could have asked her to go into more detail? If the church members love each other, they will be saved from what? Otherwise, what sets this apart from any other hipster Christian church? As we noted before, they're kind of all over the country.

Hipster photo via Shutterstock.

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