The Cool Factor

People don't buy things any more because they work. They buy them because them because they are cool.

I upgraded my Bible software recently from Wordsearch 5 to 7. It is not about functionality or features. It is about cool. The icons are a little smoother and not so clunky and, well, cool.

I went into Best Buy to replace my ailing MP3 player recently. I had been happy with the Creative MP3s and had in mind to buy one of those. But, they had an open box IPOD NANO so I decided to look at it. It does the same thing as my old MP3. Same functions. Same features. But, boy is that IPOD cool! There is a reason Apple is making more money on music players now than they do on computers. They are cool.

My next phone is going to be a Razr, or something like it. (By the time my contract is up, they will no doubt have something even cooler.) It is not that it has features my phone doesn't have--I don't use half the features my phone has now. It is all about cool.

Now, cool without the features we want won't work. I use an old version of WordPerfect (version 9) because in subsequent, and more cool versions they changed the way they convert a document to HTML (web-speak). I won't give up features I need for cool, but, in most cases, the features are all there. It is not about cool. The game belongs to the cool.

Should churches try to be cool?

Well, not at the price of giving up something deeper, more important. Of course not. Not cool at the price of giving up our faith, our beliefs, our integrity, or who we are as Christians. No. No. In spades, no.

But, we are told to "make the teaching about God our Savior attractive." (Titus 2.10) The modern word for attractive is cool. Being cool is about making the gospel of our Savior attractive. Apparently, it is possible to make the gospel of our Savior not attractive. We don't want to do that. We want to make the gospel of our Savior attractive.

There is a whole generation of very conservative churches that have learned to minister effectively by being very, very cool. They haven't given up their heart or their soul or their theology or their conservativeness. They have not given up anything. But, they are very, very cool.

West Ridge Church in greater Atlanta is an example of a cool (and fast growing) church. There current sermon series on the book of Ruth is pretty much old-fashioned expository preaching. it reminds me of a classic Chuck Swindoll sermon. They are very conservative, daughter church of First Baptist, Woodstock, GA. Less than ten years later, they have busted the 3000 barrier and planted a number of growing churches in the Atlanta area and beyond. Their dream is not so much about being a mega-church as much as it is about playing a significant role locally, nationally, and globally. Just look at their web page. It exudes cool.

Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 Church Planting Network is an extremely cool and extremely conservative group of folks. They are a part of a rapidly multiplying generation of churches reaching the next generation.

Cool is not about one particular style. The Acts 29 folks are very cool but they are very different in style and approach than, say, either Willowcreek or Saddleback. Southeast Christian in Louisville is cool. But, they are a Christian Church and act like it. They are cool without being particularly hip. Their music is somewhat subdued by today's standards. No hard driving rock and roll at Southeast Christian. Still, there is that unmistakable mark of being very cool. And growing? We had to go up five escalators to find a seat in the top balcony when we visited a few weeks ago.

Cool is an amazing thing. Once you are cool you can do anything and whatever you do is cool. We visited Fellowship Church a few weeks ago. This is a very cool and hip and contemporary and edgy and creative church. When we visited a few weeks ago, the service started with an old hymn sung by a solo female voice and accompanied by a single acoustic guitar. Kind of of old-fashioned in a way. It would have fit in just fine at the 11.00 services in the church I grew up in. Very simple. Very beautiful. And very cool. When you are Fellowship Church, everything you do is cool.

What is cool?

It is like humor, if you have to explain it, it is not funny.

It is like beauty, if you have to explain to someone why it is beautiful, it is not that beautiful.

When it is cool, you just know it.

Cool, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What is cool to some would be downright dippy to others. Dippy is the opposite of cool. There is a scale:

  • Very cool

  • Cool

  • OK

  • Dippy

  • Very dippy

Although some things would be cool to some and not to others, other things would be cool to almost everyone and some things would be dippy to almost everyone. And, here is the point: if you want your church to grow, you better be cool to someone. It may not be cool by Ed Young Jr.'s standard, but it better be cool to someone. Make the gospel attractive. Every church I know of that is growing has that unmistakable mark of coolness. The only possible exception is a church in an area that is growing so fast that they would have to be down-right dippy to not be growing.

There is, of course, a thing such as trying too hard to be cool. That is very uncool. Trying too hard to be cool is uncool. No one likes the person who tries too hard to be cool. Coolness must come from the inside, the fruit of a cool heart.

What is cool today may not (in fact, almost certainly will not) be cool tomorrow. Cool is about being fresh. In fact, that is the new word for cool among my teenagers and their friends. The word cool is dippy to them. The word fresh is in. Anything that is good and positive is fresh. A car is fresh. The meal is fresh. Going to Orlando is fresh. Fresh is cool. But, to them, cool is not fresh.

Words change over time. The word cool may not be cool at all for some. They may prefer "a class act" or "fresh."

Name

The name of a church can be cool or not. Pick up a Yellow Pages and look through the list. What names are cool? There is a church in my city, Las Cruces that I have always thought has a really cool name. To get the coolness of the name you have to know that the name Las Cruces means, "The Crosses." Apparently, there were some early settlers who died in this region, they buried them and marked their graves with some crosses. The area came to be known as "The Crosses" in Spanish--"Las Cruces." Anyway, picking up on this, a local church in town is called, "Church of the Crosses."

Names tend to take on generational cycles. You can often guess a person's approximate age by their name. In a similar way, new churches all have similar sounding names: Saddleback, Willowcreek, Crosspoint, Harvest, Fellowship.com (the .com is actually part of the name). These names are very different from the names of the churches of a generation before. Very cool.

Some older churches have adopted secondary names that come to replace, in time, the real name. I was in The People's Church a few weeks ago. That is a very cool church. It is also First Baptist Church, Franklin, TN. Gradually, they transitioned to the more cool name, The People's Church. Eastwood Baptist Church in Tulsa becomes Exciting Eastwood. Emmanuel Baptist in El Paso becomes Exciting Emmanuel. Second Baptist, Houston was known as the Fellowship of Excitement.

Building and location

One of the rules on the mission field is that a church building ought to be at about the same level as the banks and schools and shops and restaurants in the community. Now, try this little test. Visit ten banks, schools, or restaurants in your town and visit ten average churches in your town. Which ones are cooler?

My wife and I were talking about this at Copeland's the other night. "Look around this place," I commented. "It looks very different from the average church we are in. The atmosphere is just cool." Could you say that of your church, that the atmosphere is cool?

Kids and cool

Generally speaking, the younger the audience, the more sensitive they are to the cool factor. Youth are especially sensitive, and younger kids are sensitive as well. Youth groups have learned to be cool or die. We have run into several churches that are putting up elaborate children's church sets, Northpoint style. One company that does this for churches can be found at http://www.wackyworld.tv/studio/themed/themedchristian.htm

Everything cool

Nearly everything can be cool or not:

  • PowerPoint can be cool or not

  • Graphics can be cool or not

  • Group life can be cool of not

  • Music can be cool or not

  • Websites can be cool or not

Titus 2.10 from the Message says, "adding luster to the teachings of our Savior." The Living has it, "They will make people want to believe in our Savior and God." The Amplified has it, "so that in everything they may be an ornament and do credit to the teaching [which is] from and about God our Savior."

That is what being cool is. It is just an ornament. Think of a Christmas tree. Being cool is an ornament. It is not the main thing. God and his grace and glory and all the rest--that is the main thing. Being cool is just an ornament on the tree. But then, what is a tree without ornaments?