Bon Iver is playing on the house speakers. I am sipping a cup of glorious, locally roasted, V-60 brewed coffee. All around me are men and women, 18 to 35 years old, wearing high-wasted jeans, Doc Martins-style boots, five-paneled hats, flannel shirts and skinny jeans. Where am I?
I would not call you crazy if you think I am in Seattle, WA, but I am far from Seattle. I am in a much smaller city, hardly known to Westerners at all, called Ternopil, Ukraine. In fact, of the 20 or so coffee shops, in which I have experienced this type of environment in the past year, almost all of them were outside the United States. This is the experience I have had in coffee shops in places like Bistrita, Romania (yep, that is in Transylvania); Belgrade, Serbia; Ternopil, Ukraine; Debrecen, Hungary; Cork, Ireland; and more.
Though located in different cities and countries, that have extremely varied histories, cultures and socioeconomic profiles, the clientele at select coffee shops in these places are often close in age, look like they walked out of an Urban Outfitters advertisement and share an appetite for amazing third wave coffee.
To put it in trendy terms, each of these places is home to what many refer to as the hipster subculture. To be fair, the term "hipster" is generally only used by outsiders as a label for people they think fit the description. Most people who are called hipsters probably would scoff at the term or the idea of being labeled at all. If you are not sure what a hipster is I would point you to the Urban Dictionary for a fair, working definition.
How Did “Hipster” go Global?
In the Pacific North West and other areas of the United States, people have been enjoying the particular tastes and styles, and gathering in the kinds of coffee shops associated with the term "hipster" for a long time. Because so many people share common aspects of self-identity that qualify as hipster, I believe they could softly be defined as a people group. I see the global hipster trend as one recent example of how some groups begin as a subculture only to become the new mainstream.
How did these culinary and stylistic preferences come together to create a truly global subculture that transcends borders?
We all know that for decades the Internet has been making the world an increasingly smaller place. With the vast availability and portability of technological devices, the ease of connectedness of people throughout the world is mind-boggling. Globalization, through means of the Internet and continuously developing technologies, has made the predominant elements of first world pop culture viewable, and accessible, to those living in other parts of the world. This has contributed to the global reality that a growing and significant number of people in the 18 to 35 age-range are much more culturally alike than in times past, though they call very different countries home. This is in contrast to older generations, which seem more likely to retain varied expressions of style and community that are historically akin to their particular culture.
What does this mean for cross-cultural missionaries and church planters? Here are a few thoughts I have had as a result of experiencing first-hand the global spread of the hipster subculture:
1. Simplicity Is The Future.
We may need to think more simply about gospel contextualization.
Reaching a large portion of younger segments of society in diverse global settings (particularly in first/second world contexts) may be less complicated than it used to be. Especially with younger demographics, pop culture’s influence flows forth from the headwaters of global cities down to any place in the world that has a moderately reliable internet connection. What is the result? Many young people have less in common with the cultural traditions of their own country and more in common with the pop culture of America. American trends in the arts and entertainment may, surprisingly, tell missionaries a lot about the youth they hope to reach in non-U.S. contexts. If this is true, elements of pop culture used as connecting points for developing evangelistic relationships by U.S. based Christian workers may also be helpful for engaging those in younger demographics in places in Europe, the U.K. and beyond.
2. Save The Hipsters.
The so-called hipster subculture is a specific group missionaries in urban centers around the world should consider when praying about target groups to engage with the gospel.
This is not about missionaries transporting American culture to other parts of the world. We do not want to be culture-destroyers, and our mission is not to make the world like America. This is about recognizing the cultural elements that locals are voluntarily importing to their own communities, of their own accord, and asking how we can use those as connecting points for the gospel.
So, I am not necessarily saying that a foreign missionary needs to establish a trendy coffee shop or start shopping for clothes at Urban Outfitters (or their online store) if they want to reach people for Jesus. However, this subculture is so prevalent at the moment that it may be a vibrant part of your local community, and a valid group to pray about strategically reaching with the gospel.
What can you do?
If it does exist in your community, are there practical things you can do to build a bridge to this dominant subculture? As you answer that, here are some questions you may want to consider:
. Would you allow believers from within this subculture to speak into your life and ministry or serve on your leadership team?
· Would you allow musical styles that connect with people from this demographic into your congregational worship?
· Would you allow elements of visual arts into your church communication efforts, graphics or social media presence that would be respected by people from this demographic?
· Would you allow third wave coffee brewing methods to be incorporated into your church coffee shop, coffee pots, community outreach coffee carts, etc.?
· Would you allow yourself to become a regular at a third wave coffee shop for the sake of developing evangelistic relationships?
3. The World Needs Apostolic Hipsters.
Maybe you are reading this knowing you fit the demographic that many people call "hipster." First, I apologize for labeling you. I am just not a good enough writer to come up with a better way to describe people with your particular tastes.
Joking aside, I also want to challenge you as a friend! Maybe you did not realize that your love for great coffee, great music, and fashion could be the very thing that makes you invaluable in what may be a foreign mission field to you. I hope reading this has given you some encouragement. Your enjoyments and entertainments do not need to be narcissistic ends in themselves. Your personality and affinities can be used for God’s redemptive purposes in places you may have never imagined they would be relevant.
If this sounds crazy or you are feeling skeptical, skip to the bottom of the article for some living proof that hipster coffee missionaries are part of God’s plan for reaching the nations with the gospel.
My prayer is that people like you would get lit up with the gospel and reach hidden pockets of your community with the gospel of Jesus Christ, not just in Seattle or London, but in places like Belgrade, Serbia, Constanta, Romania, Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Krakow, Poland.
Is all this Necessary?
Maybe your thinking it seems distracting to put this much effort into finding ways to connect with specific subcultures that are budding throughout the world, or the implications for ministry in your own community. Why should we spend our time thinking about this stuff instead of just preaching the Bible and inviting people to our local church gatherings?
Cultural exegesis is important.
I believe it is part of the hard work of the missionary call. Commenting on his own missionary approach, Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:22b-23, ESV)
So, maybe you do not have any third wave coffee shops in your community, and nobody around you cares about vinyl records. Regardless, there are scores of subcultures all around you. Each of them is full of people for whom Christ died, who share common interests, styles, artistic preferences, and self-expression. All of these things are inroads for relationship development for the sake of the gospel. Whether the subculture in front of you is full of hipsters, punk rock kids, the white-collar elite, ranchers, farmers, factory workers, or some other group, lets work together to reach them. Lets be prayerful and strategic about building bridges of relationship and communication with them.
The redemption of human beings and the exaltation of Jesus among the nations demand no less from us.
Principles in Action:
Want to see the principles of this article effectively put into practice? Check out how our friends at A Jesus Mission are deploying Coffee Missionaries who are using third wave coffee to reach people with the gospel in Mexico.
Or check out how our friends at Calvary Waterford are building bridges into the community of Waterford, Ireland, through Portico Coffee, a third wave coffee shop staffed by church volunteers and missionaries.