Unlike any other mission field, Hip Hop proposes a different set of problems for the church. They are a complex group that has many embedded problems attached to their makeup. Bob Hepburn reports, “Here’s a people group the church-at-large has found difficult to reach and as a result appears to be disinclined to get involved with.” Hip Hop presents a challenge because it transcends culture, race, religious affiliation, and gender and the church at large has not developed an effective approach to reach the people in this culture. Highlighted by poverty and crime, Hip Hop runs rampant through many of the inner city dwellings. Hip Hop has become a culture that is synonymous with many of the ills of society and unfairly/rightly so. Fostered by the proliferation of violence, Hip Hop has become the monster that they so eloquently spoke against from its inception back in 70’s. Once considered to be a voice for the community it now has become the enigma of deluge, promulgating self-righteousness. Subjugating itself with a “Get Rich or Die Tryin” motto, they have placed themselves in major jeopardy. Dr. Cornel West states,
“The Afro- Americanization of white youth…this process results in white youth-male and female- imitating and emulating black styles of walking, talking, dressing and gesticulating in relations to others. The irony in our present moment is that just as young black men are murdered, maimed and imprisoned in record numbers, their styles have become proportionality influential in shaping pop culture.”
Through the practice of globalization the same big city dilemmas that were once housed in the inner city have been transplanted to the suburbs and around the world. The mindless pursuit of crime as a legitimate form of employment is embedded in the Hip Hop psyche. The mishap that has befalling the church is that it has become enslaved to the very same message that it deems evil in Hip Hop. Dr. Lamont Hill asserts,
“My point here is not to excuse the troubling condition of the hip-hop generation. Clearly, we have moral and ethical issues that must be resolved in order to approximate the level of service rendered by our foreparents. I also do not intend to isolate or vilify the …Church, as they are not the first nor the only institution that fails to fully practice what it preaches.”
In context Hip Hop has refused to connect with an organization that they identify as being just like them-the church. That is why it is not uncommon to hear, “I love God but hate the church.” In hypocritical fashion they have viewed the Christian church as “no better than them.”
The church in an effort to respond to the woes of this community tries to conform those in Hip Hop, to the climate of church. The Ambassador, a former member of the Christian rap group Cross Movement laments,
“Missionaries have been known to go to other countries to transmit Christianity only to transmit more than their theology, but also their cultural preferences. The church is in danger of doing the same thing with regards to Hip Hop. They are trying to give a new generation their Christian faith as well as their “church” culture. Even worse, this narrow-mindedness often leads to a failure to accept the hip hoppers who are in Christ and their ministry contributions. This is a sad commentary, but even sadder, it’s not new.”
This ethnocentric behavior is counterproductive and ineffective. The church has failed to take the time to really become integrated into Hip Hop. Due to the lack of integration the church has developed a misunderstanding about this culture. Though vile at times, insensitive of women and glorifies violence the Hip Hop Nation has in effect become the “baby” being thrown out with the bathwater. It would suggests that these misunderstandings are based out of ignorance rather than being intentional and missions.In disagreement Ambassador asserts,” The hip hop community is one the most needy, yet one of the most neglected by the community of faith (the church). Sadly this is often justified in the name of holiness, because at first glance it would seem noble to flee from such a godless people… Sometimes it seems like the church wants Hip Hop destroyed, not cleaned up…”
Hip Hop has been left out in the cold to die from the stance the church has taken. The church has required Hip Hop to make a change prior to becoming a part of the community of Christian faith. This adds to the frustration of trying to reach a community that has disengaged from the church.
The church has sought to project Christianity from afar without being immersed in the context of the Hip Hop. Donald Larson addresses the need for the missionary to be inside the community in order to affect change. The church has neglected the importance of these encounter models when it comes to mission work in the Hip Hop. They have remained outsiders for which Larson declares has “negative connations.” There have been no models of approach to reach this people group. They have been mix within the totality of other cultures or groups. Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10- 15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.
Herein rest lies the problem for Hip Hop as it relates to mission-new churches have a greater probability of reaching the lost in comparison to churches 10-15 years in age.(per Tim Keller) It is imperative that new church plants and missions be launched. In most of the cities where the Hip Hop community resides the response of mission work in little to none.
Allen Thompson discloses 8 reasons for such slow response:
- religious climate,
- social climate,
- cultural learning,
- financial cost for ministry in the city,
- limitations of worship venues in the city,
- use of inappropriate models,
- premature timing of public launch, and
- difficulty of developing leaders in high-turnover urban context.
George Hunter made a comparison of the year 1870 versus the year 2005. What he found was that the urban cities in America alone would be where 90 percent on the population would be housed.
Though few in number, there are some churches that have taken the challenge to reach Hip Hop. Some of those churches are Epiphany Fellowship (Philadelphia), The House (Chicago), Calvary Chapel (Philadelphia), Redeemer Presbyterian Church (New York) and Lifeline Bible Fellowship (Denton, TX). These churches have developed infrastructure in urban cities where those of Hip Hop are located. They have been successful in reaching Hip Hop and have thus started planting churches within the same context. Epiphany Fellowship states,
“Most of those born after 1965 (especially African-Americans) have been exposed to western American Christianity. So many of us have become disgruntled with the gap of relevance which exists between this current generation and the past generations. Because of this great chasm, this generation has denied the historic Christian faith and its forms of expression that is distant from their present day experience. Postmodernism and hip-hop have developed a strategic partnership as a means of cultural expression and identity, for those without identity and meaning.”
Many of the missional minded churches echo the same tone as it relates to the Hip Hop. They are a people group that are left out of the sphere of the fellowship of churches and deemed unreachable. Though Hip Hop is settled in the same cities as major Christian ministries, they still have remained unreached. Churches and the society as a whole have failed to develop major statistical data on this unique culture. With an estimated 500 billion dollars in revenue and 37 million people projected in the culture, the church has missed an amazing harvest.