The crowd — including several A-list celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Hailey Baldwin, the Kardashian-Jenner clan and Nick Jonas — is going wild as the band finishes its final song. It continues to applaud as a man in a leather jacket, skinny jeans and designer shoes takes the stage. No, this is not a high-profile concert or an award show; this is New York City’s trendiest new church, Hillsong.
In this modern church, the parish imitate the pastor and his wife, and the congregation consists of celebrities who often promote the service.
In past years, millennials have been leaving the church and organized religion in general. Modern churches are determined to bring them back, mainly through an aspect that has not been associated with religion in the past — on-trend fashion. What do millennials think of this new, modern take on church services?
For some students, the idea of a trendy church is completely new. Others really noticed that fashion has a presence at their own church. CAS freshman Tommy Cefalu described his pastor as laid back and said that his more relaxed persona makes religion more relatable and inviting. Cefalu said encouraging involvement at the church is positive, but appearances are not everything.
“What people wear or who shows up shouldn’t be the main focus,” Cefalu said, adding that there definitely is a line that should not be crossed.
Some churches may be in danger of crossing that line Cefalu describes, venturing into a mindset that is more corporate than pious. Several pastors have begun to sell personalized merchandise, similar to what you would find at a concert. Some even bring in professionals — Pastor Veach Zoe uses the same guy that Kylie Jenner uses for marketing her lip kit line.
Overall this idea of marketing does not sit right with some students, whether or not they are religious. Tisch freshman Alexa Mareka described it as a bit weird, and Cefalu said the venture made the church sound more like a business than a mission.
After learning what Hillsong was, Mareka’s reaction was likely the opposite of what the pastors are trying to go for.
“That’s really weird and kinda culty,” Mareka said.
Mareka grew up going to church, but no longer affiliates with a religion. While she agreed that the celebrities and fashionable atmosphere might make young people keener on the idea of religion, she expressed that the image the church is putting out is kind of messed up. This stance only intensified when she was told that the modern church still holds to its biblically authoritative stance against homosexuality, women’s reproductive rights and evolution.
As a student who is involved in events at the Bronfman Center, Gallatin frehman Sophia Gallagher describes her experience with modern religion as not really needing gimmicks. Growing up with a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, she does not attend regular services at her synagogue, but still celebrates holidays and her Jewish culture. She said that of the people she knows who also practice Judaism, she does not know anyone who attends synagogues that use contemporary tools to draw people in, as it’s very culture driven. Gallagher said people will stay attached to their religion in some way because it is a big part of their cultural identity. Due to this, she found it a very strange phenomenon to make church trendy.
Modern and trendy churches like Hillsong keep Christianity afloat, but fast-paced churches could be a fad amongst this generation’s spiritual youth.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 11 print edition. Email Amelia Reardon at [email protected]