Membership, by definition, connotes exclusivity. Country Clubs, American Express, even Boy Scouts — being a member of an organization signals that you are in and others are out. Maybe because of this exclusivity (since exclusion as a concept is out of fashion), membership is on the decline in America. Continuing the trend of other civic organizations over the last several decades, the Boy Scouts are still losing members. Churches are following the same trajectory, with a steep decline in membership from 2007 to 2014, especially among the more mainstream branches of Christianity. All sorts of factors have contributed to this cultural shift, one of which is that people don’t want to affiliate with institutions anymore — it’s too confining, not inclusive enough.

If this is truly the case, it doesn’t seem to make sense that Christ and Pop Culture follows a membership model. Readers are asked, expected even, to join Christ and Pop Culture, to move beyond the typically casual approach to consumption of content of the internet and invest, with real dollars, in the work we are doing. It almost seems regressive: a digital enterprise, with all the agility the medium affords, behaving more like an old school institution, asking constituents to actively support and engage in the work. So why do the site’s editors actively solicit members who will donate monthly to keep Christ and Pop Culture going? The truth is, Christ and Pop Culture could take a different approach in seeking primary funding the work of creating content for the website, podcasts, and magazine, and the organization’s management does spend time considering various options for developing the long-term prospects of Christ and Pop Culture. Still, even after careful consideration, the editors always return to the membership model as central to Christ and Pop Culture’s funding.

This is the culture of Christ and Pop Culture. It is not a monolith. It is not a place where the us in us vs. them fortifies a shared sense of belonging at the expense of those outside the group.

This has more to do with culture than anything else. Not the culture at large, but the culture found inside the Christ and Pop Culture community. The website, podcasts and magazines are all powerful tools for commentary and analysis, but each of these mediums have their limits. The comments section at the end of each article notwithstanding, there is a passive aspect to reading the content found on Christ and Pop Culture.  But this passivity, the posture of the consumer sitting back to take in whatever the producer creates, utterly changes once these same consumers become members of Christ and Pop Culture. The site’s writers, editors, and producers converge with its membership in a meeting of the minds, a pop culture/Christianity mash-up that brings together people from wildly diverging professions, educational backgrounds, locations around the globe, and all corners of Christendom.

One of the most amazing aspects of this community is that it takes place on Facebook. It is hard to believe that anything good can come out of Facebook, but CaPC members can testify otherwise. Heading over to the Members forum after logging on to Facebook is the equivalent of finding a quiet room during a holiday gathering with extended family. All the shouting, the excess food and drink, the cousin ranting and the uncle telling the shockingly inappropriate joke — all this is left behind as one enters the Facebook CaPC members forum. Ranting may still occur — members are only human after all — but the rants are usually offered more as laments than anything else, and there is always a cloud of witnesses at hand, ready to comfort the lamenter.

A lot happens in the CaPC Members group. The conversations range from intense discussions on the theology of the human body to the place of single Christians in the life of the church to a new addition: the CaPC Lip Sync Battle.

In the inaugural run of the latter, CaPC member Benjamin Fort, who, it turns out, is wickedly talented at lip syncing among other things, organized a contest for the subset of members (and anyone else willing to watch and vote) who are fans of the musical Hamilton. Members posted videos of themselves belting out songs, or rapping, or staring wide-eyed at the camera, trying to keep up to the official Broadway Cast Recording of Hamilton: An American Musical.

The Winners: “The Schuyler Sisters”, lip-synced by Beth Hall Mitchell, Amanda Wortham, and Abby Holcombe

The Runners-up: “Non-Stop”, lip-synced by Bob Sparks and Tyler Glodj

And Peggy (3rd Place): “You’ll Be Back”, lip-synced by Connor Joel Park

The Organizer: “The Room Where It Happens”, lip-synced by Benjamin Fort

If you would like to see the other videos submitted for the CaPC #GunsAndLips contest (those brave enough to go public, at least), follow this link to our YouTube playlist.

The most fascinating part of the #GunsAndLips Hamilton Lip Sync Battle, besides that of seeing your fellow members in another context (like watching your boss lurch around the dance floor at your co-worker’s wedding: a sight both amusing and a bit disturbing), is that it represented just one corner of the forum. The forum is broad, it contains multitudes, and there is room enough for a lot of subsets: places in which people are huddled on a thread discussing the release of Fallout 4, or whether or not Star Wars: The Force Awakens deserves its place as a cultural juggernaut. At the same time, the forum is narrow and deep, representing a consistently orthodox point of view when it comes to Christianity, even as members offer theological pushback and questions as part of the communal give-and-take.

This is the culture of Christ and Pop Culture. It is not a monolith. It is not a place where the us in us vs. them fortifies a shared sense of belonging at the expense of those outside the group. In fact, it is not a place with the mindset of us vs. them at all. The community found at Christ and Pop Culture fosters organizational affiliation as affirmation, not alienation. It is a place of civil discourse, of agreeably disagreeing, of warmth, and warmly-resolved hostility — an abundance of good will, with dueling limited to the history of Hamilton and Burr and a Lip Sync Battle in their honor. To borrow from The Big Lebowski, as seminal a movie as can be found in pop culture, the dude abides, and he abides in the CaPC Members Group.

About that Lip Sync Battle: a real prize was given to the winners, a prize of a six-month subscription to Christ and Pop Culture. It was the only thing that made sense, the only reward worthy of the lyrical and musical genius found in Hamilton. And if you don’t agree with this assessment of Hamilton, then you have all the more reason to become a member of Christ and Pop Culture. You may never come to see the value of Hamilton, but you will see the value of everyone else who does, and that is as much as any of us can hope for in the search for community.

capc_become-member_hover-300x300Do you want to participate in the next impromtu madness in the Christ and Pop Culture members group? The continuation of this site and the insightful cultural analysis our writers produce is only possible through your generous support. Consider becoming a member for as little as $5 per month. You’ll get free stuff each month, full access to CAPC Magazine (including all back issues), entrance to our exclusive members group on Facebookand you’ll help us keep the lights on. Join now.