The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 3: The Culture of Cool

Catalyst manifests the coolness-pursuit of being “in the world” in a myriad of ways.  First, the music used in the interims, rather than being your typical slate of Christian worship or even Christian rock, was rather a mix of popular secular hits.  Live bands in hallways, outside and from the mainstage played songs including: Jack Johnson’s “Waiting on the World to Change”; U2’s “City of Lights”; Maroon 5’s “All I Need”; Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”; Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away”; Boyz 2 Men’s “End of the Road”; Enimem’s “Not Afraid”; Michael Jackson’s “Beat it”; and B.o.b’s “Airplanes”.  Tweeter @jasongrant777 expressed a common sentiment: “Best Christian event ever. Yesterday an Eminem cover and today the band just covered Kanye West's gold digger now MJ's beat it #cat10 #fb”.   While I believe an in depth analysis of the lyrics and themes of these songs would yield profitable insights (for I am sure these songs were not thoughtlessly selected), this is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this project.  Suffice it to say that Catalyst embraces popular music as a legitimate means of coolness.  
      Second, Catalyst, its exhibitors, and its attendees are sold out on popular technology.
The clearest evidence of this was the ubiquity of iphones.  I’d approximate based on my observation that half of all people present were carrying the devices.  There was enough iPhone use that I noted several comments, both on Twitter and on site, about the resultant slowing of AT&T’s 3G network.  For example, this one from @SiteOrganic: “Skinny jeans, plaid shirts, black glasses and iPads (with really slow wireless). Welcome to #cat10!” 
In fact, so many people were posting tweets on Twitter with the #cat10 hashtag that it showed up as a “trend” on the site throughout the duration of the event.[25]  Apple iPads were being used both used from the main stage (as a music mixing device, for example) and offered as promotions from exhibitors (I counted seven different exhibitors giving Apple products away).
Other illustrations of the Catalyst’s tech-progressive atmosphere are seen in the slate of recent and upcoming keynote speakers.  Catalyst West 2010 featured Charlene Li, an expert on social media and Catalyst East 2011 will host the Founder of Twitter.  Seth Godin, who called “a demigod on the web,” has become a regular feature.[26]  In addition, as mentioned above, Catalyst, like a New Religious Movement, makes adept use of the various technology channels such as blogs, podcasts and iphone and android apps.[27] 
Importantly, Catalyst views technology as a means to an end, the end being their mission of impacting the world through reaching young leaders. 
The Catalyst brand was initiated for the 20 something and 30 something audience.  Over time, it has always allowed for others with a similar mindset to participate. This will continue, however, the core target audience for all new products developed and environments created must stay true to this target audience.  The mediums for learning and content distribution will be defined by the relevance to this group.[28]

The place of technology in Catalyst’s mission of cultural engagement was mirrored by one memorable exhibitor’s banner announcing that “Your unreached people group is one app away” and another that suggested an iphone app for your church was a way of “Making the truth of Jesus incredibly accessible.”[29]  Thus, Catalyst promotes technological saavy for a missionary purpose. 

               A third witness to the “coolness” of Catalyst was obvious appreciation for beauty and the arts.  During the keynote addresses and singing, Catalyst had artists creating original work in an area visible to all (pictured).   Another manifestation of the arts, and it’s mingling with social action, was the celebration of an independent film that had been created to raise awareness regarding human sex trafficking.[30]  Webber notes that younger evangelicals characteristically “Advocate the resurgence of the arts”.[31]  McCracken explores this phenomenon rather deeply, concluding that Christian hipsters have a lot to say about art such as: art is messy and morally complicated, non-Christians can make Christian art, we should let art work on us (not the other way around), art should never be didactic, and we are created to be artists.[32]

The posts in this series include:
The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 1: Anonymous Evangelicalisms Hip New Hub
The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 2: Engaged Orthodoxy and Hipster Christianity
The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 3: The Culture of Cool
The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 4: Hipsters in the Kingdom
The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 5: Trying to Change the World


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Christiano, Kevin J., William H. Swatos Jr., and Peter Kivisto. Sociology of Religion: Contemporary Developments. Second Edition. Lanham: Rowman and Little Field Publishers, Inc., 2008.
Griel, Arthur L., and David R. Rudy. “Social Cocoons: Encapsulation and Identity Transformation Organizations.” Sociological Inquiry 54: 260-78. 1984.
Kandell, Steven. “How Looking Poor Became the New Status Symbol.” Details, May 2009.
Kimball, Dan. They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2007.
Kinnaman, David and Gabe Lyons. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why it Matters. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997. Lyons, Gabe. The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America. New York, NY: Doubleday, 2010.
McCracken, Brett. Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010.
Smith, Christian and Michael Emerson. Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Smith, Christian. American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
_______. Christian America?: What Evangelicals Really Want. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.
Webber, Robert. The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002.

[25] Interestingly, at least a few Twitter users who stumbled upon the #cat10 trend found all the all the quotes about Jesus and Christianity off-putting and called for it to be blocked. 
[27] Though I here note a shared trait between Catalyst and New Religious Movements, I do not intend to assert that Catalyst is an NRM but as a renewed expression of evangelicalism. 
[29] The exhibitors with these slogans were and, respectively. 
[30] See
[31] Webber 54.
[32] McCracken 161-170.

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