Millennials Can Leave Evangelicalism. But Not Its Pop Culture.

Does the cottage industry around Christian subculture nostalgia reveal the church’s failures — or successes?

Across the country, those who came of age during a golden area of evangelical pop culture are now introducing their kids to their favorite childhood mementos and experiences. “The older people who were once part of the Adventures in Odyssey universe are returning to it,” said Bob DeMoss, Focus’s vice president of content development.

 

Last fall, Baltimore Ravens player Benjamin Watson had a surreal moment. The 36-year-old tight end walked into Focus on the Family’s recording studio to lend his voice to an Adventures in Odyssey (AiO) character.

“It’s kinda like, if you’ve been, I don’t know, watching Mickey Mouse for your whole life and then all of a sudden they say you can be one of the characters,” Watson shared in a video recapping his experience.

Watson’s five children are big fans of the 30-minute kids’ audio drama—an affinity they picked up from their father.

Across the country, those who came of age during a golden area of evangelical pop culture are now introducing their kids to their favorite childhood mementos and experiences. “The older people who were once part of the Adventures in Odyssey universe are returning to it,” said Bob DeMoss, Focus’s vice president of content development. DeMoss reports that the AiO has seen a surge in letters and emails from longtime fans now sharing the show with their children.

Sometimes there’s even a celebrity shout out. Owl City’s Adam Young posted an Instagram picture of the AiO’s protagonist, Mr. Whitaker, with the caption “Raised Me.” The post garnered more than 1,200 likes.

Evangelical nostalgia has also impacted other Focus brands. After its tween girls’ publication Brio Magazine announced a return last summer after an eight-year hiatus, the news was picked up by The New York Times, NPR, and Jezebel. Since its return, the magazine has attracted more than 60,000 subscribers. Who gets the credit for these numbers?

“The Brio girls of yesteryear are now moms,” said DeMoss.

The nostalgia for Christian pop culture is part of a larger millennial phenomenon, says culture writer Ruth Graham, pointing to reboots of Full House and Will and Grace and Buzzfeed pieces with headlines like “39 Signs You Grew Up in the ’90s.”

“Pop culture nostalgia is often for things that, on the one hand, are easy to make fun of, that seem corny now or simplistic or aesthetically out of date. You get a little bit of a buzz of feeling superior to what you thought was cool a few decades ago,” said Graham, who wrote about Brio’s comeback for Slate. “But it also has to be stuff that we have genuinely good memories of.”

It also helps to have contemporary media that celebrates this heritage.

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