I have not been following the story, but Matt Pitt, a youth pastor in Alabama, who started a church called Basement, is in jail for resisting arrest (and before that, impersonating a police officer — anyone willing to jail him for impersonating a minister?) and he has generated a large following from Alabama’s young faithful. You can read about this here.
But what I found striking was this commentary:
When Willow Creek introduced the seeker-sensitive model in the 1970s, the Basement could not have been what it had in mind. The Basement is the ultimate example of seeker-driven services targeted at a very particular audience with an emphasis on the commercialization and commodification of religious practices. As a youth ministry run by a younger preacher, the Basement may signal the next step in the megachurch, seeker-sensitive movement. Combined with new reality TV programs and internet ministries . . ., popular religion is adopting more secular tools to reach larger audiences—and it’s working. Perhaps a better signifier would be plastic religion (rather than seeker-sensitive) for what’s going on at the Basement. In Chidester’s Authentic Fakes, he describes plastic religion as a commodified and flexible, a way to think about popular culture that is “biodegradable” and “shape shifting.” The Basement is unabashedly plastic while also claiming authenticity, which is a cunning way to reconcile the conflict inherent in its MTV/tent revival meetings. Drawing on the televangelist trends described by Bowler in Blessed, with emotional pleas that “ebb and flow” throughout the meeting, Pitt’s ministry takes the appeal one step further and amps up the revival atmosphere with smoke, lights, loud music, hip videos, and a liturgical call and answer that sounds more like a club chant.
If Bill Hybels, who started out as a youth pastor himself and forged a megachurch that would cater to those youth once they became suburbanites, could not have envisioned the Basement, it was only because he was limited to the programming of the three networks and various UHF channels available to U.S. television viewers in the 1960s. But youth culture has always forged a separate religious Christian identity, going all the way back to Jonathan Edwards and Gilbert Tennent, whose revivals drew followers precisely from the adolescent demographic. Sunday School was just another endeavor that isolated a group of Christians (or not) defined by age and tried to cultivate a Christian identity distinct from existing congregations and communions.
This is one case where I am no splitter. Lumping Tennent, Sunday school, Bill Hybels, and Matt Pitt makes perfect sense.