Youth Market Research: Reddit

Let's Be Real...

Youth culture is, by definition, a fast-moving target. Ever since it became "a thing" (probably in the 1950s) legions of ad-men, marketers, demogrpahers, and sociologists have been trying to separate the youth from their disposable income. They fail more often than they succeed--but they succeed enough to keep the youth marketing industry (and their associated products) alive and kicking.

One of the big reasons people embrace "Commercial Worship Music" is because they believe it helps them "reach out" to people/youth in our culture, by "meeting them where they are" artistically. Moreover, the potential to tap into a new market (especially in troubling economic times) represents a temptation too big to pass up. Thus the commercialization of anything "Christian," and for our discussion, "Christian Music."

Enter the praise(d) bands.

Do Youth like this music (Commercial Worship Music), that the industry works so hard to sell? As a former youth myself (and speaking only for myself at the moment), I would have to say "no." During my Junior High and High School youth bible studies, we were asked to consider CWM as an alternative to radio rock. At the time I recall feeling that the music put forward by that camp was infantalizing and condescending. Michael W. Smith never did sound as good as Van Halen, and while I cannot endorse the lifestyles advocated by groups like Van Halen, I can say that they certainly knew how to "Rock and Roll." None of the CWM artists did--though they came close--and their music represented/represents a type of Uncanny Valley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley) where it sounds close enough to rock and roll, but it's "off" by just enough to be repulsive to folks conversant in the secular genres.

Youth Ministers and DCE's: I Got News For You

Nothing's changed. A sizable segment of your "target demographic" view this type of music with considerable disdain and disgust. Oh, they may appear to be engaged or intrerested during singalong time or Bible studies, but the odds are good there are more than a few of them who secretly despise the music.

Reddit.com (normally a wretched hive of atheists and worse) had a telling discussion thread on CWM about a year ago. I would not recommend visiting reddit.com unless you're really interested in seeing how bad it is "out there" for our children. The subtext of this (and many other) sites represents an aggressive, hard atheism, and you can find discussions of abortion, drug use, casual sex--the whole deal.

Hey, don't blame me--this stuff is out there, and I'm bewildered and amazed by the level of shrill, hateful commentary I find.

Here's the "cleanest" thread I could find on CWM (by "clean" I mean the "F Bomb" is dropped only once and there seem to be relatively few attacks on the faith):

http://www.reddit.com/r/Christianity/comments/ou1p7/am_i_the_only_christian_who_absolutely_hates/

Some of my favorite comments--remember, these are young, hip "internet culture" youth. The ones sitting in your pews.

  • If I hear another song that i can replace Jesus/god with "baby" and it makes sense. I may vomit.
  • Teaching at a private school the worship in chapels alway frighten me. My favorite is the one that says something like "I feel Jesus welling up inside of me" it makes me cringe. Gotta love the hymnal for saving my sanity.
  • There has been a growing trend in the last decade or so to dumb down the music to "basic chords" and dumb down the message to "Jesus loves you" or conversely "you love Jesus," keeping the entire congregation on a constant diet of milk with no spiritual meat, as Paul puts it. This stifles spiritual growth and hurts us all in the long run.
  • The thing is, not only are the chord progressions and musical structure dumbed down, but the lyrics. And as educated Church goers, we should definitely be pushing for deeper lyics.
  • You're not alone, at all. I may be biased due to my heritage (Wisconsin Lutheran), but there always feels to be just a shallowness to it that makes it really feel worthless. This is why the Liturgies can't afford to be abandoned. There's actual "meat" there, as opposed to the lightweight "frosting" of the contemporary scene.
  • I think that music especially designed to be Christian has no need to be good, since stupid Christians buy it regardless of the level of creativity.
  • Thus Christian music is likely to be absolute crap, while music made by bands whose members are christian, but that don't profile in that way are more likely to be good.
  • Seriously. Too much Boyfriend Jesus out there. Need something real. And I also hate the phrase "Family Friendly".

What Does This Mean?

Although I will not deny there are youth who honestly enjoy the CWM/CCM scene, it is an oversimplification to say that all young people will or do. For a genre that presumably gains its validity by "being the music of the people," it's telling that "the people" themselves reject it quite vigorously at times.

Frankly, I'm encouraged by the comments above. These are unsolicited statements made by the 'next generation' of Christians, young people connected to the internet with enough discernment to see through the veneer of the CCM industry to understand what's missing in the style. As ministers and church leaders, let us not forget that these folks are out there, and recognize that what we've accepted as the normative standard for youth Church Music may in fact be the wrong approach.

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