US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Will "hipster Jesus" bring young people to church?

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

In an effort to try to attract young people to the church, last month the Diocese of Brooklyn launched a “hipster Jesus” ad campaign, trying to portray the son of God as “the original hipster” in an effort to connect with the people living Brooklyn’s countercultural lifestyle.

This week Global Post discusses Brooklyn’s PR move to try to figure out if it will have the desired effect of drawing a younger crowd to the church.

The diocese’s communications director, Msgr. Kieran Harrington, said the new marketing push is “geared towards reaching a younger, more diverse demographic by showing the cooler and more welcoming side of the Catholic Church.”

Though it’s open for discussion on how best to exactly define a hipster, I imagine that trying to convince hipsters that something is cool is probably going to have the opposite effect, as part of the hipster identity often seems to be “liking something before it’s mainstream.” Still, you can’t fault the diocese for trying, and they do report that web traffic has gone up 400% on the diocese’s website, even though it’s hard to measure if there’s been an increase or change in demographics in parish attendance.

In the Post article, one professor with plenty of big-name marketing experience cautions that “the product must live up to its expectations in order to create anything more than short-term buzz.” And here’s where I see the problem. It’s not so much that word needs to get out about the product—in this case Mass, or the Catholic Church in general—but that the product itself needs to be deemed worthy of consumption by younger crowds.

Harrington says himself, “Most Catholics see the church as archaic and not relevant, nor valuable, to their everyday lives.” You can market the church however you want, but if this is the overarching narrative that people are taking away from their experience with the product, in the end it’s the product that’s going to need an overhaul, instead of the advertising.