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Is Your Church “Goth Friendly”?

goth-friendlyThis 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?


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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Tim George May 20, 2013, 6:55 AM

    Does sub-culture friendly mean the same worship team can include: a hip-hop loving, tattooed adorned, neon green sneaker wearing singer; a classically trained, former local symphony flautist, Martin Luther hymn loving pianist; a Saturday night blues guitarist; and a worship leader who is a retired 27 year Marine master Sergeant that once played in a Styxx tribute band?
    If so, then yes our church is sub-culture friendly. If that means adding to our church sign, we specialize in worship services for hip-hop loving, tattooed adorned, neon green sneaker wearing, classically trained flautist who love blues guitar, Styxx and the Marines, then no.

  • Jerusha Wheeler May 20, 2013, 7:05 AM

    The fundamentalist Baptist wishes to speak: In the 1950s it was not so! Besides, you can get written up for it at Pensacola Christian College, so clearly it’s a sin!

    • Tim George May 20, 2013, 7:29 AM

      Since I drink coffee with a few friends once a week in the shadow of Pensacola Christian College, I can attest that no goths are in sight.

  • Jill May 20, 2013, 7:53 AM

    Seriously, Depeche Mode? Why don’t they create a real Gothic ambiance, since we’re all play-acting parts, here. They might look to Gothic cathedrals for inspiration. That’s what Horace Walpole did when he created all his Gothic facades and pretend ruins.

  • Jessica Thomas May 20, 2013, 8:37 AM

    This confuses me. “Goth friendly” churches. I want to say something intelligent but…I just…can’t.

  • Jessica Thomas May 20, 2013, 8:53 AM

    I’ll try again. The whole “goth” friendly church thing strikes me as pandering. Yes we need to welcome the lost, but the lost has to be willing to be welcomed. If they aren’t willing to wipe off their eye liner for God, than…how authentic is the worship and conversion? The patient side of me says…they’re young Christians, be gentle. Then another part of me says, “Grow a backbone, surrender that backbone to God, and get over yourself.”

    Regarding Depeche Mode in a worship service, I’m a fan of the group (and have been for a sadly large number of years), but the thought of it makes me gag a little. It’s not because I don’t welcome diversity, it’s because, while the group has faith messages in their songs and they “seek” the God, they are constantly searching for the sake of “art” and that becomes pretentious after awhile. You don’t have to be angsty and confused to create art, for goodness sakes. I’ve been watching the band’s faith progression and I’m a bit tired of them, frankly because there is no progression. While I enjoy 60-75% of their music, it’s not the type of thing that belongs in church. Leave the perpetual questioning outside of the church doors, at least for a few worshipful hours. Anyway.

    This uber sensitive humanistic approach to ministry seems more and more oppressive to me, and so I imagine it is for others as well. “Hey, let me fool you into believing in Jesus.” It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. People need to grow up, and letting them stay within their comfort zone tends to lead to stagnation.

  • Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) May 20, 2013, 9:34 AM

    Thank you again for giving me something to think about.

  • Bob Avey May 20, 2013, 10:56 AM

    My church, Asbury United Methodist, offers both traditional, and contemporary services. I’ve never attended the contemporary service, so I don’t really know how different — from the traditional — it is. We need to remember that Jesus didn’t go for the mainstream during his ministry on earth. He reached out to common people, tax collectors, and even lepers.

  • Lyn Perry May 20, 2013, 1:10 PM

    Mike, you assume (maybe correctly, but times have changed, thus my comment) that there is a super-culture in which Christian faith and expression resides and that sub-cultures are exceptions to this mainstream rule. But is this the case? Aren’t we in an era where Christianity is no longer a cultural given? Maybe our faith is now simply a collection of sub-cultures. Or, put another way, should the church be pandering to the all-white, boomer-oriented, post-WASPish sub-culture? Should we be Euro-Friendly?

    • Katherine Coble May 20, 2013, 2:09 PM

      Excellent comment.

    • Bob Avey May 20, 2013, 4:41 PM

      Times may have changed, but God has not.

    • Mike Duran May 20, 2013, 7:12 PM

      Oh, but there is a Christian “super-culture”! It resides in whatever culture you find yourself. For the Jews, it was the Jewish culture. For Africans, African culture. For Americans, American culture. The church should only “pander” to an “all-white, boomer-oriented, post-WASPish sub-culture” insofar as that’s where she finds Herself.

      • Lyn Perry May 20, 2013, 7:19 PM

        I don’t think there is such a thing as “American culture” – or if so, it is marked by diversity and division.

        • Mike Duran May 20, 2013, 7:40 PM

          Well, if there’s no such thing as American culture, what do we do with… Abraham Lincoln and Google and Jay Z. and the Declaration of Independence and the Golden Gate Bridge and the Great Depression and the New York Yankees and Bill Gates and Rocky and Saddleback Community Church and Watergate and Martin Luther King Jr and the World Trade Centers and Stephen Spielberg and…?

          • Lyn Perry May 21, 2013, 5:01 AM

            I think you proved our point – American culture is too diverse (and always has been) to claim monolithic status. Probably off topic, but I’m always a bit perplexed when commentators say something along the lines: “We Americans are known for our (fill in the blank: resiliency, courage, etc).” Well, don’t citizens of other countries exhibit these traits? They aren’t uniquely American – and although culture can have certain traits, aren’t all cultures a mix of their people and history? I don’t know where I’m going with this… lol. Good stuff though! Thanks for starting conversations, as usual. 😉

  • Katherine Coble May 20, 2013, 2:15 PM

    I’m troubled by all these posts/articles/tweets in the Evangelosphere about whether a Sunday congregation is “X Friendly”. As Lyn mentions, this presupposes an initial culture as being synonymous with Christianity. It’s essentially saying “Church is about white, married with children, middle class. But we will be “friendly” to everyone else. Maybe.”

    This sort of talk comes from having branded Sunday Congregations as a marketing technique and then needing to redefine the brand periodically.

    It has little to do with the Gospel and is one major reason why Sunday Congregations are increasingly unable to retain members.

  • Kat Heckenbach May 20, 2013, 2:16 PM

    As someone who was quasi-Goth (more punk, really, but I hung out with a lot of Goths), this just makes me scratch my head. I can’t really quite formulate a full response….I just keep feeling that this is all so superficial. Goths are more than just the music they listen to or the clothes they wear. Light some blood-red candles and play Depeche Mode and suddenly you’ve got a “Goth church”? Pffft.

    I suppose a list like the one on the website could help if a Goth were trying to find a church and didn’t want to waste time trying places full of people who are going to freak out when they walk in the door. But to advertise a church as “Goth friendly”–it feels like pandering.

    Don’t get me wrong–I’ve experienced first-hand the prejudice one can feel if you don’t fit the norm of a given church–and I think Lyn brings up a good point about whether or not a super-culture exists. Most churches are of a certain “type”, but that is generally a result of natural tendencies within a congregation. When the church is in the middle of a farming community, it’s going to naturally lean toward a more traditional, country church. Churches in big cities will be more contemporary. And those can feel exclusionary whether they are trying to be or not. The last church I went to was really contemporary–and huge–and I felt like an outsider because I actually don’t have tattoos and don’t wear stiletto heels.

    The church I go to now is much more diverse even though it’s way, way smaller than the other one. I feel completely at home because there are rednecks (self-proclaimed, so don’t go pointing fingers), classic rockers, and middle-class families. There’s a youth minister that referenced the band Suicidal Tendencies during his last sermon, a main pastor who frequently quotes fantasy novels and sci-fi movies, and a worship team that consists mostly of teenagers who range from preppy to cheerleader to pseudo-hippy to pierced and tattooed.

    I love the church I’m at, but I’ll admit that when I start hearing talk about trying to “reach” certain demographics, I cringe. Church needs to be genuine, not some kind of show that is meant to “appeal” to people.

    • Lyn Perry May 20, 2013, 6:17 PM

      “Church needs to be genuine, not some kind of show that is meant to “appeal” to people.” Yep.

  • Mark Carver May 20, 2013, 7:55 PM

    When I was a teenager in the late 90’s, the new wave of goth was in full swing (Marilyn Manson, NIN, etc. For the purists out there, I know that’s not “true” goth, just a more mainstream/commercial version). It was kind of a skater/goth/punk hybrid, and I went to a megachurch with a very large youth group. We had the whole spectrum, from jocks, to nerds, to urban/hip-hop, to preppies, to punks, and to goths. My church didn’t specifically target any particular sub-culture, but they made a welcoming environment for everyone to join, and once they did, they would find their clique and feel comfortable in a larger group setting. That’s not to say that a pentagram t-shirt would have been accepted, but at least for the teenagers, their appearance really wasn’t here nor there. This was in suburban Atlanta too, firmly rooted in the Bible belt.

    If a church wants to target a group or subculture, especially if there is a significant presence of unreached people from that group in the community, then that’s fine, but they don’t have to bend over backwards to accommodate their every nuance. When goths go to church, they know they’re going to church, and they’re not going to be totally bummed out if the lights are bright and the stain glass windows have pretty colors. A goth who wanders into church is going to be much more impressed by genuine love and acceptance from the congregation rather than ambiance and theatrics.

  • Melissa Ortega May 21, 2013, 8:26 AM

    My problem with any “Brand-X” church is that it is exclusive. So is the Goth ambience going to seem inviting to that homeless guy off the street that just wandered into the church? Or is this going to seem freaky? I’m guessing the latter.

    I have no issues with eyeliner. Thanks to a recent costume party, I’ve discovered that my husband looks good in it. It is the same to me as someone wearing any other form of makeup. It’s makeup. And if you ever feel the need to wear makeup before you can leave the house or be yourself, you have issues from which only Christ can set you free.

    If I was a member of any subculture and stumbled into this type of setting I think I would feel more like a coon in a trap than suddenly welcome and loved. It would feel superficial – and frankly, insulting. As if the people in that congregation had just reduced this important, psychological element of who I am into a caricature. “LOOK! We dressed up like you! See?? We understand everything about you because we can mimick you so well!!” ERM, the other people that do this are politicians. They change how they pronounce words, insert cultural references into their speeches, and kiss our babies, and patronize us wee, stupid, little citizens to death, when all we want is for someone to be real.

  • D.M. Dutcher May 21, 2013, 9:40 AM

    I don’t see an issue with Goth services, so long as doctrine isn’t changed. Just about all denominations sort themselves out pretty narrowly, and when you add regional culture into the mix, you end up with narrow slices of people in narrow churches. Some even become more ethnic identities than religious ones. Breaking this up wouldn’t be bad at all.

  • Forest (D&D Preacher) Ray June 12, 2013, 5:04 PM

    I would like to recommend the book God Loves the Freaks by Stephen Weese. He addresses this issue very well. My church family does not care if you dress “goth” are a gamer, a biker or whatever. See John 4:23 New International Version (NIV)
    23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
    I don’t have to dress like anyone just be myself and love who God sends through into my life. As to believers staying Goth see 1 Corinthians 7:17 17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.

    I don’t worry about Goth friendly I work on being friendly to all people groups. see
    Acts 10:34-36 New International Version (NIV)
    34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

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