CreativityEngaging CultureChristian Media

Why Can’t Christians Be More Original?

Filmmaker Jesse Bryan, creative director at Mars Hill Church in Seattle sent me this interesting article from USA Today.  The question is the $4.6 billion dollars in Christian merchandizing – most of it rip offs from the outside culture.  As the paper says, “American retailers sell about $4.6 billion worth of Christian products annually, and some are spoofs or spinoffs of commercial logos or brand names. Many such goods are illegal, trademark attorneys say, but companies often are unaware their names are being copied or don’t put up a fight for fear of being labeled anti-faith.”

We wonder why Christians don’t make more of an impact in the culture, when so little of what we do is really original and innovative.  When it’s easier to copy ideas from the non-believing culture, what attraction is that for them to consider our perspective on faith?

When Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” on the church door at Wittenberg Germany, it sparked an explosion that resulted in the Protestant Reformation.  I think it’s time for a new 95 Theses style document that calls Christians to a higher standard of innovation and original thinking.  After all, we worship the ultimate creator.  So why do we prefer to rip people off?

Let’s have a “Creative Reformation.”  Anyone else in?

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  1. I am in. Originality has fallen prey to the need to be relevant for the sake of relevancy; we have pimped out the our legitimacy and uniqueness to reach people for what we think they want in a god…when ‘the God’ meets them where they are.

  2. Exactly.  This topic literally makes me angry.  Churches say “We want to be relevant to culture.”  SO STOP LOOKING LIKE IT.  I find non-believers not wanting to come into something that looks like what they are in already…We are not of this world, so why is the Church trying to look like it…

  3. Is worship a few songs on Sunday, NOT! Is it giving 10% of the money you have in your pocket, NOT! Is it following every word of the celebrity, er, pastor that is ‘hot’ at the moment, NOT! Maybe if someone, anyone, actually did worship with their whole life, everyday, their impact would be, well, supernaturally creative…not only creative, but if a word, logo, message is actually, directly from God, then the Holy Spirit will make is so impact the recipients’ hearts that they will have to respond. That’s just the truth, like it or not…when He speaks through a person, regardless of the delivery medium…it will not return void to the Creator…without Him we can do nothing, so we just copy the world…

  4. Do Christians, Christ Followers, whatever the latest title is REALLY “worship the ultimate creator”…maybe this answers your question! If people REALLY “worship”, then why do they lack creativity??

  5. I am totally in.  As an artist I want to create new an innovative material for the Church, but my ideas are constantly being turned town in an effor to copy other churches or to make commercials for church events that really aren’t ministry to begin with.  Every day I see that worship pastors and senior pastors comb the internet looking for things to copy for their services.  I hate working on this stuff, and as an artist its insulting me and them to do it.  Its like we are afraid to try something new because we are afraid of failing at it.  I understand the want to be relevant to the culture, but our culture dictates originality, and sadly churches don’t stand up.

  6. One of the first things I heard/learned when I started working in student ministry many years ago was- “The first rule of youth ministry is-if it’s a good idea, steal it!” I can’t say that I’ve seen an original idea since…sadly.

  7. Holy Crap I totally agree.

    I was *this* close to kicking over one of these displays, Money-Changer-Table-Style the last time I was in a Love’s gas station.

    Faithbook, MySpace (“…IN HEAVEN! WOO!”), Tomy Hellfighter. *slaps forehead*.

    Once I master the art of being more like Christ in a few more relevant ways, maybe I will go back and hone my “Upturning Grotesquely Offensive Things” skills.

  8. I couldn’t agree more with you Phil (and Jesse). It has always aggravated me to see the church play off popular culture. We have sort of pigeon-holes ourselves into thinking that ripping-off popular culture is effective and makes us relevant. The change needs to start at the top. When church leaders want marketing materials and content that is a knock-off on secular culture it stifles the artists ability to create. Christian artists need an outlet and the freedom to create original work.

  9. I had always thought the the spoofs were pretty creative.  I still think they are–but “spoofing,” as it is described, has been around for more than a decade.  It was cute at first, but it has run it’s course.  Time for some new creativity!!

  10. Is this a rhetorical question?

    Seriously, I was at the beach this last weekend and saw one of these church youth groups doing skits without dialog and was totally moved. Really, Just after the crowd started yelling at me; “Get out of the way!” I was pushed aside by some skateboarders.Sheesh!

    I just think that is so rude that no one is paying attention to the efforts of our very talented youth. Isn’t skateboarding illegal?

    Then they started singing some top 40 covers, with all the words changed to Christain lyrics. Lemme tell ya, American Idol’s got nothin’ on this stuff.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much it.



  11. The truth of the matter is that those who profess G-d as their G-d, can’t come up with an original idea if their life depended on it.

    I’ve seen enough ‘Christian’ movies that suck, it’s not even funny.

    It is really tragic when the creatives of the world outdo the those ‘connected’ with the Creator.

    How is that those with the greatest story ever told, can’t tell their way out of a paper bag. There is so much self adulation out there that leads people to believe that mediocre is great.

    But there is good news folks! People are being called up. People are learning the craft of the ‘master storytellers’, and very soon you will begin to see more and more of the return of the arts. In fact, it’s called ‘The L-rd’s Renaissance of The Arts”. I am meeting more and more people who are preparing and training for this next great wave of the Spirit of G-d.

    This isn’t as good as it gets, it gets better.

  12. Thanks for the word of encouragement, Kurt.  It is easy to criticize…but perhaps the solution is for us to take seriously the call to “get on our knees” for some extended times per Martin Luther and see what new ideas the Spirit of God shows us… ;-).

  13. And to top it off, anything Officially CHRISTIAN (TM) has to be censored, bowdlerized, and sanitized so as not to offend any Professional Weaker Brethren or Church Lady.  There’s even a “list of words you can’t use” from one CHRISTIAN (TM) publisher that’s been posted and snarked extensively on the Web, and another account of a publisher having a knock-down-drag-out over whether to allow the “B-word” (Breasts).  They said “No”.

    I joined the Lost Genre Guild to get AWAY from that CHRISTIAN (TM) mentality!

    (The guy over at Marcher Lord Press used to work in the CHRISTIAN (TM) publishing industry.  Their target demographic is “Just like Harlequin or Twilight, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!” i.e. Born-Again Bored Housewives.  (Not coincidentally, this was the same demographic that made Left Behind (Volumes 1-22) a CHRISTIAN (TM) Bestseller.)  He started Marcher Lord Press to give other Christian-themed F&SF  — the Not Officially Approved stuff — a chance at publication.)

  14. P.S. Knox?

    GO MAINSTREAM.  Leave the CHRISTIAN (TM) market to their sanitized knockoffs and Oh-So-Clever pop-culture Christianizations.  There’s a lot bigger market in the mainstream, and you don’t have to jump through all the censorship hoops.

    The only hurdle you’ll have in the mainstream is getting past the resistance to anything overtly Christian, a resistance built through vaccination-by-vaccination of CHRISTIAN (TM) Crapola.

  15. One man told me the value of something is determined by its unique qualities. If this is true than the I believe the christian world must strive to find it’s unique qualities and creatively show them to the world.

  16. Nothing gets stale faster than Over-Relevance.

    (Anyone seen Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In recently?)

    Except Pretentious Over-Relevance.

  17. Thank you for raising the call.

    We hear you loud and clear and are giving it our best shot with

    The truth is, we need increasing support and more people to know we are answering the call for high quality original work.

    Though we can make the very best short films based on Jesus’ parables we know how, if more people want “truelight” t-shirts(…Twilight), the next iteration of Purpose Driven, or can’t get beyond Nooma as the definitive answer(and Nooma is great work!) then it may be some time before others answering your call will have the support needed to continue.

    Regardless, you’re right! A consumer driven culture is just that… and so if the Christian consumer will change what they buy then voila! and the content you are calling for is out there and ready to spread onwards and upwards out of the substream and into the mainstream.

    Merry Christmas and here is to a creative reformation in 2010!


  18. I’m reading the original post and the replies the day after Christmas. What’s is so striking to me is that I was thinking about this very subject just a few days ago. We Christians do an extremely good job of copying the culture, and a really bad job of leading the way.

    As you all know, we are supposed to live sanctified lives, set apart from the ways of the world. With that in mind we should be creating things that the world has never seen.

    I do think that we have to realize that many of the products that copy the world and are sold in Christian stores are probably not even designed/made/manufactured by Christians. They come from people who see a guilble Christmas market and take advantage of that.

    Still,  this copying of the prevailing culture touches every aspect of Christian life and few seem to care, especially our so-called Christian leaders. Some of them are the worst offenders.

    We  need to take the thought of “Set Apart” very seriously if we really want to impact the world for HIS sake.


  19. Marcus

    Interesting you should mention Christmas, perhaps the original “unoriginal” Christian idea.  Just take Saturnalia and rename it, rebrand it, sanctify it and voila, it belongs to us. and woe to a world that dares to reclaim it, or voilate the sanctity of it in any way.  It appears that Christians borrowing from the world goes back a lot farther than we think.

    Am I wrong, or have we lost something since the golden age of symphony composers who composed to the glory of God, and whom the world listened to with an awesome, reverence?  The secular world continues to listen, learn and copy their genuis to this day.  What wells did they draw from that we have neglected and forgotton?

    We are the children of a God, of whom I believe it is safe to say, is the originator of creative originality.  His creative genius should flow freely, like a river, out of our hearts for all the world to hear, and see and take notice of.  Hopefully, as we realize this, take our eyes off the world and focus on Him as the source of our creativity, thing will begin to turn around.

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