The other day I spent 10 minutes deciding what to wear for the Alpha course launch. There’s some degree of old-fashioned vanity there, for sure, but also tucked into my motive was the idea that the slobby jeans I wore on Sunday just wouldn’t cut it as an evangelism outfit. Only my most hipster get-up will make people want to join the Church.
I put this strange attitude partly down to my teens spent in a trendy London mega-church. Pastors in button-up shirts with light displays made altar calls that had people falling over themselves to become Christians. Atheist friends came to youth nights because of the worship mosh-pits; my 60-year-old father bought skinny jeans. I migrated from my hotch-potch village church and started wearing an ill-fitting trilby hat. I had found the solution to revival in Topshop.
Many of those friends still have faith and are stuck into churches and living for God, but an equal amount left church behind after the novelty wore off. This isn’t to say that the church lacked substance, the teaching was great and the leaders passionate, but that wasn’t what we came for.
Trendy Christianity might bring people to church but friendship keeps them there, and sometimes friendship does not look trendy. It looks messy. It looks like hearing about someone’s in-growing toe or listening to a boring story about the office. It means bearing with people in their socks and sandals and when they’re suffering from mental health problems and on the days when they have to Febreze something out of the washing basket to wear to the Sunday service.
When harder times struck I found myself ditching the trilby hat and the light-shows and drifting back to the local church; a smaller church where I could become known easily and my absence was noted after a few weeks attending.
I embraced the half-attempts, the 90s hymns and the 70s teacups, the carpet gaffa taped over the baptismal pool and the friends who brought round casseroles. It wasn’t cool but hey, neither is grief or in-growing toe-nails. People aren’t going to follow Jesus because they come to my hipster event and realise that he’s not just for pensioners in anoraks – that might bring them back but they will want to be a part of the church because they experience the character of Christ in his body, because they find belonging.