Scott Hodge


keeping a pulse on culture

May 28, 2008

Received this email last week.  Thought I'd post my reply in case it might be helpful to anyone else.

"I’m in the process of reading through tons of blogs, which incidentally, is how I happened on yours.  I’m a 45-year-old white guy who is the “minister of music” at a 50-year-old church.  Our church is in the beginnings of what is going to be a painful change in terms of trying to become more “relevant.”  My question for you is how do I “catch up” culturally on a personal level?  I have a 19-year-old son who has done a pretty good job of keeping me from fossilizing (I have a Facebook, do Twitter, and I’m about to be blogging myself) but I was wondering if there are some books you could suggest, some activities to engage in, or some other magical pill that would aid me in the process.  Any thoughts you can give me would be most appreciated."


Great question man…  How do you "catch up" on a personal level.  I'm not sure I have a real black and white answer for that, but I guess if anything, I'd suggest that keeping yourself fresh on a cultural level can happen a number of ways….  Here are a few off the top of my head:

  1. Read blogs!  Subscribe to a number of blogs that seem in touch with culture (and not just ministry blogs…): Ragamuffin Soul, Eric Bryant, Ethur Blog, Joe Thorn,
    Steve McCoy, Arts & Letters Daily, Boing Boing, Jordon Cooper, Seth
    , Tim Stevens, Church Marketing Sucks, Tony Morgan, Dave Ferguson, Kem Meyer, Tallskinnykiwi, Johnny Baker,
    Catalyst Leader Feeder.  (Gosh, there are so many more….but there's a start.)

  2. Subscribe to some magazines that are in touch with current culture.  Here are a few I subscribe to: Fast Company, Wired Magazine, Relevant Magazine, Collide Magazine
  3. Subscribe to some podcasts.  Here are a few of my favorites: This American Life, VH1 Best Week Ever, The Relevant Podcast, TED.
  4. Get rid of the PC and buy a Mac.  :)  Ok, I'm sort of kidding.  (keyword: sort of…)
  5. Twitter and Facebook.  Everyone's doing it and it's a great way to keep a pulse on a lot of different cultural conversations.
  6. Read a lot of books.  A few recommendations:

    Pop Goes The Church by Tim Stevens

    The Reason for God
    by Tim Keller

    Everything Must Change
    by Brian McLaren

    A New Kind of Christian
    by Brian McLaren

    Velvet Elvis
    by Rob Bell

    Made to Stick
    by Chip and Dan Heath

    Prophetic Untimeliness
    by Oz Guinness

    The Forgotten Ways
    by Alan Hirsch

    by Gabe Lyons

    They Like Jesus, But Not The Church
    by Dan Kimball

  7. Browse new and most popular music in iTunes.  This is a great way to
    hear what's happening musically in our culture.  The 30-second snippets
    are great!

  8. Go to some conferences that will stretch and challenge you.  A few recommendations:

    Catalyst Conference – it's BIG, but you'll get a good feel for what's happening among young leaders.

    – none will be as good as last year's (that's when I spoke,
    ha, ha…), but this is a great conference put on by my friends from
    Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana.

    – Expensive, but DEFINITELY a unique conference that asks the question, "How can the church begin INFLUENCING culture?"

  9. Visit some churches who are DOING IT.  A few that I have my eye on:

    Imago Dei – A beautiful missional church in Portland.

    Community Christian Church
    – Naperville, IL (The best at reproducing I've ever seen)

    Granger Community Church
    – Granger, IN – Using pop culture to their advantage in a HUGE way.

    Mosaic Church
    – LA – Creating culture.

    NewSong Church
    – LA – Love the global thinking at NewSong.  The more I
    learn about Dave Gibbons, the more I want to crawl inside his brain.

    Dang, there are so many…  I can't even begin to list out all the ones who are making it happen. These are just a few.

  10. Listen to your son.  Like you mentioned, he will keep you up on what's
    happening.  Since teens CRANK at technology and media, they are up on
    what's going on culturally better than anyone.

  11. Be yourself.  No matter what, be yourself.  Don't TRY to be like anybody else.  Our culture can sniff that a million miles away. Doesn't mean there won't be room for improvement or opportunity to have a better grasp on culture, but you will be at your best when you are being who God made you to be. 

The question I'm asking right now is how do we move BEYOND imitating culture and into CREATING culture?  That's my dream.  To create, impact and move culture in a way that makes our churches irreplaceable. 

BUT….before we can do that, we have to make sure we are in tune with where culture is at right now.  The church hasn't always done a great job at that – proven by the fact that MOST churches are CHASING culture (because MOST are years BEHIND it.But the church's best days are when we are no longer chasing or imitating culture, but actually shaping it!

20 Responses to “keeping a pulse on culture”

  1. anne jackson says:

    this is must be what it felt like when i accidentally un-followed you on twitter. ::wipes tear:: :)

  2. Alastair says:

    I think your most important point is #11.

  3. Jason Gordon says:

    great post. I got a note from a student struggling with this very thing this morning. How do we balance the “in not of” thing. Answer…the Church creates culture.

  4. excellent post! If you have a breakthrough on the church defining culture let me know and I’ll do the same for you. I will be on your doorstep with work boots and energy if you can find that out.
    Keep it up!

  5. Chris says:

    Great ideas! I’ll second the magazine subscription point. One that has become a not-to-miss for me is Entertainment Weekly and their website –

  6. I agree and I’m believing for your very last sentence!

  7. I always try to see the top five of the week. Most newspapers list this stuff. Top 5 albums, songs, movies, DVD rentals, and concert tours. Gives us a good idea of what people are watching and listening to.
    Great post.

  8. Peter Carino says:

    Great stuff here! I am another guy in his 40’s and while I’ve always been a techno-geek (I cut my teeth on an Apple II back in the day) and I blog and twitter and have a facebook account and read blogs and watch conference webcasts I still find it hard to keep up with certain aspects of culture. I think that we can only do so much via reading books, blogs, etc., but the most effective way to keep connected to youth culture is to be involved in it. I spend a good amount of time at Peet’s Coffee getting to know the staff and the regulars. Some are hip and cool and some are not. The point is to be out in the culture and being in conversation with non-church people. That is how one affects culture and plants seeds that will ultimately shape the culture.

  9. Darrin Johnson says:

    Great question and great post. I think you are “spot on.” It is exciting to see the church starting to see the need for cultural relevence.

  10. Scott, you asked “How do we…create culture.”
    I would offer that our greatest impact in society has and always will be love. When we love we transcend culture and become instantly relevant. It doesn’t require all the books or magazines. It requires relationship with our Father.

  11. AJ Rinaldi says:

    “But the church’s best days are when we are no longer chasing or imitating culture, but actually shaping it!”
    Excellent! Amen–how do you shape culture (as the Church)?—by reaching individuals within the culture; one person at a time. That’s the job of every one of us…

  12. Jenni Catron says:

    Great post Scott!

  13. Joni says:

    I couldn’t believe how much I had fallen out of touch with current culture until I started hanging out in blogworld. Having a part-time job where my co-workers are 19-23 yrs old is a HUGE help too. So I’m kind of getting the hang of it although I’m still nerdlike.
    As an encouragement to creative churches I have to say having done programming for around 15 years, I notice some of what is happening in music now(videos, stage performances, etc)was done first (or dreamed of in budget meetings) by a couple of innovative churches that had no worldwide exposure as we do today.(at least I didn’t say “back in my day”) So arts in the church may have, at one time been ahead of the culture but it certainly wasn’t widespread nor influential.

  14. Creating culture! Indeed.
    The church might someday regain that stature. Thanks for you post about this.

  15. Tom Rawls says:

    Awesome post Scott,
    Good advice to one of us oldies. I am 51 and pastor a church full of Millennials. You can imagine my playing catchup. LOL
    Actually I’m loving it – the creativity, the imagination and the fun! We started 3 years ago with a 100 people [including about 15 university strudents] and today we’re 600 [more than half under 30!] and it is just so dynamic. I love my church.
    My associate pastor is 24 – my other associate is a medical doctor – 1st year and they are both outstanding communicators. They lead alongside of me in our church. There is no contest they are the best and god is using them powerfully in our church. We are cultural Architect absolutely – we are creating a culture so powerful people are coming to Christ every week!
    My secret has been to just be ME full of the Holy Spirit. You’re right this generation can sniff out a fake a mile away. I love my team – also mostly Millennials – we are so enjoying building with Christ. Our church is truly a 21st Century church in ancient England.
    Love your blogg and read it regularly, this is my first “left comment”. I know Alan Hirsch too – we’re both Aussies from Melbourne; though I am now living in the UK!
    Great work Scott – go for it.
    Tom Rawls
    Senior Leader
    Proclaimers – Norwich, UK

  16. pollyh says:

    Your subscribe to me seems to be sick!

  17. Johnny Laird says:

    Great post, Scott! Really interesting stuff. The thing I’ve been rolling around in my head, though, is so much of the stuff you mention is such familiar territory to me – kinda my lingua franca, if you will: stuff that stimulates me, excites me, encourages me and forms the basis of much of my thought about BEING Church…. BUT, if I transplant it to my local Church situation, does it get lost in translation for those who I spend my waking days with, off of the cyber-grid I spend so much of my existence hooked in to?
    Am I an early adopter because I read the blogs and the mags…and the books, or am I inhabiting a world that it foreign those folks I serve & minister with and to?
    This is not in any way meant as a criticism of your post, but rather I’m just rolling out a little bit of self analysis it has stimulated.
    I’m going to answer my own questions to a degree, with the upbeat conclusion that all this stuff DOES help me, because – at least in my own little world – people are sharing the stuff, networking, breaking down denominational and cultural barriers, learning from each other’s experiences…the list goes on.
    Keep it going, Scott! Really appreciate all the great posts on your blog, bro’.
    Peace & blessings

  18. Wow – best post all week, for sure. Great job, Scott.
    One suggestion:
    Read the book Jim and Casper go to church by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper. Matt is an atheist who goes on a journey to “critique” churches with Jim, a former pastor. Must-read for anyone hanging out in church world.

  19. heather E. says:

    Great input! I liked #11…to be yourself and shape culture. Very awesome!

  20. Scott,
    Nice job bridging the generations. The final reminder to be yourself was perfect to seal the list.
    This was not sent from an iPhone.

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