During his studies in Rome, seminarian Christopher Kerzich takes some time to reflect on the "hipster" culture and what it means to evangelize this generation of young people. He streamlines the approach down to five bullet points. Read them here.
My personal ricerca exploring the hipster movement continues in the midst of looming papers and exams. As previously explored on this blog, Hipsterdom is a reality that not only has spread throughout society, but also influences the beliefs of many in my generation. Catholic News Service’s Chaz Muth recently explored the growth of secularism among young adults in his recent article, “Secularism in America: Growing American movement raises concerns.” Muth cites a Pew Research Center study which finds, “a quarter of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 surveyed said they were atheists, agnostics or had no religion.” While finding any statistical facts about hipsters is probably a fruitless endeavor, we must assume a portion of these young unbelievers are hipsters. This begs the important question: how can the Catholic Church evangelize the men and women of Hipsterdom? In an effort to spark this conversation, I propose these five keys to evangelizing hipsters.
1. Be authentic and rooted in Catholic belief.
Hipsters do not want a watered-down, mass-produced version of anything. The Catholic Church is alive, rooted in tradition, vibrant and growing. In order to evangelize hipsters, we must present Catholicism in an authentic and vibrant way. The divine beauty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in its proper form should be enough to bring these youth and young adults to Christ. Hipsters are attuned to what is beautiful, and we should be courageous in showing the beauty inherent in Catholicism. Additionally, priests, seminarians and women religious can be on the forefront of evangelizing this movement by being strong and confident in their faith. The hipster will sense this strength and confidence and be drawn to the Catholic Church.
2. Be present and accessible.
Stopping one day at a local coffee house popular with hipsters, I found a young man dressed in clerics ordering coffee. Coffee in hand, he started talking to many in the shop and eventually made his way past my table, causing me to ask, “are you a Catholic priest?” He was a Lutheran minister, and I was impressed with his use of the act of getting a cup of coffee to casually speak to hipsters about his church. As this man showed me, one of the best ways to evangelize this subculture is simply to be present in their local community. Coffee shops and morning brunches are the casual hangout spots for hipsters. What would happen if a priest spent an hour every Saturday morning reading or working on his homily in a local coffee shop frequented by hipsters? First, he might be met with skepticism but eventually would be accepted as a regular by his presence and accessibility. While the average priest is quite busy, this simple act of presence will bring some hipster souls to Christ.
3. Don’t become a hipster
No one likes someone who tries to belong to a group unnaturally. Therefore, those evangelizing hipsters do not need to act like a member of their subculture. This movement focuses on being “original” and “different”; thus, one should communicate how the message of Christianity is different than the messages emanating from society. For priest and seminarians remember your ministry is different, so confidently accept this reality. Therefore, one key to evangelizing this group is to become accepted by them without trying to become one of them.
4. Hipsters use technology to communicate, why don’t we?
Hipsters belong to the most connected generation known to man. If they are juggling smartphones and tablets with Kindles and Nooks why can’t these devices be used to bring them to Jesus Christ? Some Catholic leaders are already utilizing these technologies, i.e. the tweeting bishop, in order to bring people to Christ. Many evangelical churches have been successful in reaching this subculture and bringing them to Christ. This has been realized in a book called Hipster Christianity which explores, “When Church + Cool Collide,” previously reviewed by Word on Fire’s Rozann Carter. Author Brett McCracken explores these “Christians who seek to cultivate a strong aesthetic sensibility and intellectual rigor, things that were largely put on the back burner in the church of their youth.” Thus, we should use the tools they are using to spread Christ’s message.
5. Teach Christ
As my Fundamental Theology professor stresses, we must “always be ready to give an account [apologia] to whoever would ask you for a reason for the (faith and the) hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Like many of my generation, Hipsters are looking to belong to something greater than themselves. That is why they are focused on the environment, buying local produce or fair trade coffee, while expressing their uniqueness through photography and travel. The core of any evangelization has to be bringing people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, this is especially true when evangelizing hipsters. In the end, our evangelization efforts must be about teaching these young men and women Jesus Christ in order for them to grow in relationship with him through his Church.
Christopher Kerzich is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago studying at the North American College in Rome.