Thinking Out Loud

February 20, 2014

NBC News: Elevation Church Manipulates Baptism Call

Steven Furtick 3If you want to be the first one in the baptism tank at Elevation, middle-aged people need not apply. According to a report from the local NBC affiliate in Charlotte, hometown to Steven Furtick’s church,

Volunteers are instructed to “pick young energetic people” to go on stage first to be baptized and “not necessarily those who are there first.”

But the entire crowd response is manipulated from the very outset. The report notes,

…the first people instructed to respond to Pastor Steven’s call to baptism were not converts suddenly inspired but Elevation volunteers carefully planted in the crowd.

The guide instructs, “Fifteen people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when Pastor gives the call. Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk.”

“They had people in the crowd stand up who never intended to be baptized,” said James Duncan, a communications professor at Anderson University and critic of Furtick. “They were shilling for Steven and the intent was these shills stand up and everybody else follows.”

Duncan blogged about the baptism guide in a post he titled, “How Steven Furtick engineered a miracle.”

Furthermore the church instructs other churches on how to stage the same type of response,

Elevation produced a document to show other churches how they could do likewise.

It’s titled “Spontaneous Baptisms – A How-To Guide” and the church shared it freely on the Sun Stand Still website.

But the church categorizes the great response it gets as belonging in the realm of the ‘miraculous,’

“Although Furtick says this is a miracle, it’s not a miracle,” Duncan said. “It’s emotional manipulation.”

The spontaneous baptism how-to guide describes its purpose as to “pull off our part in God’s miracle.” Church leaders have repeatedly referred to the mass response as a “miracle.” But the guide reveals plenty of human staging.

And what are people being baptized into? The Body of Christ, hopefully; but it’s also a Baptist baptism as the report states at the beginning,

You wouldn’t know it by the name, but Elevation Church is Southern Baptist. Its Pastor Steven Furtick graduated from a Southern Baptist seminary. Elevation was planted with seed money from Southern Baptists. And Elevation gives money to Southern Baptist missions.

But you won’t find the Baptist name on Elevation… There’s not even the traditional cross on the outside of Elevation buildings.

and at the end,

…brand loyalty is to Elevation and not necessarily to the Southern Baptist Church. Rev. [David] Key says the Southern Baptist church runs a risk investing in Elevation.

“A church like his does not create any denominational loyalty,” Rev. Key said. “Because every member of Elevation Church will not necessarily look for a Southern Baptist church when they move away.”

Elevation Church video via WCNC

Elevation Church video via WCNC

I encourage you, if you’ve come this far, to read the entire WCNC report in full. (Or watch the 5-minute video at the same link.)

How widespread is this technique of ‘priming the pump’ at altar calls? If Furtick shares the strategy with other pastors, you can bet many of them avail themselves of Elevation Church’s methods.

I have to also say that on a personal level, this is disappointing. I was quite impressed with Furtick’s writing and preaching style, and gave glowing reviews here to Sun Stand Still here when it was released, and also Greater the follow-up title that is in many ways a sequel. (I won’t be reviewing Crash the Chatterbox.) But then the $1.7M house scandal tainted Furtick’s ministry, and now this revelation.

What is the role of WCNC here? Are they the enemy of the Church of Jesus Christ? Far from it. I think they’re simply doing their job, and I think they’re doing us a favor. I’ll go further and say that I believe media reports like this are part of the purification process the capital-C Church needs. If anything, we should be thanking WCNC’s Stuart Watson for the investigative work he is doing. (The report concludes with various offers he made to the church to respond.)

I don’t believe Watson’s aim is to see the church’s doors locked and the windows shuttered. I believe that he, myself and everyone reading this yearns for Elevation Church — and all churches — to operate at the highest standard, above suspicion and above manipulation.

The bottom line is that Furtick doesn’t need to resort to tricks like this; he is pulling in the crowds just fine and he will with absolute certainty, get a response to a baptism altar call.

To resort to this is simply insecurity.

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. (I Thess. 2:3 NIV)

Thanks to Flagrant Regard for making us aware of this story.

  • Elevation’s own statement on church metrics, see The Code, item #9, “We are all about the numbers.”

October 7, 2013

Head Counting at Worship

Every summer I attend camp meeting where one of the ushers not-so-surreptitiously does a headcount during the sermon. In most churches we count heads. The apologetic goes like this, “God likes Numbers, he has a whole book of them.” (People seriously say that.) But didn’t King David get in trouble for doing that sort of thing? Anyway, this week, I did some studying of the churches in the U.S. and Canada with the highest attendance, and thought I’d share the top 20 for both, as well as links where you can access this information and sort it by state (or province) and denomination.

First, for the U.S.:

Church Name City State Average
Attend.
Denom
Lakewood Church
Joel Osteen
Houston TX 43500 NONDENOM
North Point Community Church
Andy Stanley
Alpharetta GA 30629 NONDENOM
LifeChurch.tv
Craig Groeschel
Edmond OK 30000 EC
Willow Creek Community Church
Bill Hybels
South Barrington IL 25743 NONDENOM
Fellowship Church
Ed Young
Grapevine TX 24162 SBC
NewSpring Church
Perry Noble
Anderson SC 23055 BAPT
Church of the Highlands
Chris Hodges
Birmingham AL 22184 NONDENOM
Saddleback Church
Rick Warren
Lake Forest CA 22055 SBC
Southeast Christian Church
Dave Stone
Louisville KY 21764 CHRISTIAN
Gateway Church
Robert Morris
Southlake TX 21403 NONDENOM
Central Christian Church
Jud Wilhite
Henderson NV 21055 CHRISTIAN
Phoenix First Assembly of God
Tommy & Luke Barnett
Phoenix AZ 21000 AG
Second Baptist Church
H. Edwin Young
Houston TX 20656 SBC
Christ’s Church of the Valley
Don Wilson
Peoria AZ 19931 CHRISTIAN
Christ Fellowship
Todd Mullins
Palm Beach Gardens FL 18965 NONDENOM
Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale
Bob Coy
Fort Lauderdale FL 18521 CAL
Woodlands Church
Kerry Shook
The Woodlands TX 18385 SBC
Eagle Brook Church
Bob Merritt
Centerville MN 17091 BGC
Cornerstone Church
John Hagee
San Antonio TX 17000 NONDENOM

Second, for Canada:  (by province) (which is basically the entire list)

Crossroads Church
NONDENOM
2000
Red Deer County
AB
www.crossroadschurch.ca
Dan Cochrane
Sherwood Park Alliance Church
CMA
2000
Sherwood Park
AB
www.spac.ab.ca
Greg Hochhalter
Beulah Alliance Church
CMA
2400
Edmonton
AB
www.beulah.ca
Keith Taylor
Centre Street Church
EVAN
7000
Calgary
AB
www.cschurch.ca
Henry Schorr
First Alliance Church
CMA
3000
Calgary
AB
www.faccalgary.com
Scott Weatherford
Broadway Church
NONDENOM
2100
Vancouver
BC
www.broadwaychurch.com
Darin Latham
Trinity Baptist Church
ABC
2200
Kelowna
BC
www.trinitybaptist.net
Wayne Alguire
Willow Park Church
MEN
2000
Kelowna
BC
www.willowparkchurch.com
Mark Burch
Northview Community Church
MEN
2700
Abbotsford
BC
www.northview.org
Jeff Bucknam
Willingdon Church
MEN
5000
Burnaby
BC
www.willingdon.org
John Neufeld
Springs Church
NONDENOM
7500
Winnipeg
MB
www.springschurch.org
Leon Fontaine
Church of the Rock
NONDENOM
2500
Winnipeg
MB
www.churchoftherock.ca
Mark Hughes
The Meeting Place
MEN
5000
Winnipeg
MB
www.themeetingplace.mb.ca
John Neufeld
Southland Community Church
NONDENOM
3300
Steinbach
MB
www.mysouthland.com
Ray Duerksen
Agincourt Pentecostal Church
PAC
2200
Toronto
ON
www.apchurch.com 
Keith Smith
Bramalea Baptist Church
EVAN
1800
Bramalea
ON
www.bramalea.org
Stephen Sheane
Rhema Christian Ministries
NONDENOM
2000
Toronto
ON
www.rhemaonline.ca
Denise Blagrove
Richmond Hill Chinese Community Ch.
EVAN
2800
Richmond Hill
ON
www.rhccc.ca
Daniel Splett
The Peoples Church
NONDENOM
3800
Toronto
ON
www.thepeopleschurch.ca
Charles Price
North Park Community Church
NONDENOM
2500
London
ON
www.northpark.on.ca
James Bekkers
The Meeting House
NONDENOM
4401
Oakville
ON
www.themeetinghouse.com
Tim Day
Eglise Nouvelle Vie
AG
3600
Longueuil
ON
www.nouvellevie.com
Claude Houde

Finally, as a sample of the global information — since I can’t figure out how to merge the various continents, Africa:

Attendance Church Name Continent Country State or Province City Church Website
75000 Deeper Christian Life Ministry Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.dclm.org/
6000 Jesus Celebration Center Africa Kenya Mombasa http://www.jccmombasa.org
50000 Living Faith Church (Winner’s Chapel) – main campus Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.davidoyedepoministries.org/
50000 Apostolic Church Africa Nigeria Lagos (Ketu) http://www.tac-lawna.org
40000 Redeemed Christian Church of God Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.rccg.org/
35000 United Family International Church Africa Zimbabwe Harare http://ufiministries.org/
32000 Christian Revival Centre Africa South Africa Bloemfontein
30000 Word of Life Bible Church / International Gospel Center Africa Nigeria Delta state Ajamimogha Warri http://www.ayo-oritsejafor.org/tav/index.php
30000 Lords Chosen Charismatic Revival Church Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.thelordschosenworld.org/
30000 Christ Embassy (Believer’s Love World Fellowship) Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.christembassy.org/pilotsite/
30000 Doxa Deo Africa South Africa Johannesburg http://www.doxadeo.co.za
25000 Rhema Bible Church Africa South Africa Johannesburg http://www.rhema.co.za
22000 Christian Life Church Africa Uganda Kampala http://www.christianlifeministries.org/
20000 Eglise Protestante Baptiste Oeuvres et Mission Internationale (The Works and Mission Baptist Church Int’l) Africa Cote D’Ivoire Abidjan
20000 Light House Chapel Africa Ghana Accra http://www.lighthousechapel.org/
20000 Mountain of Fire and Miracles Africa Nigeria Lagos http://www.mountainoffire.org/home/index.htm
20000 Dunamis International Gospel Center Africa Nigeria Abuja http://dunamisgospel.org/aboutus/index.html
15000 Winners’ Chapel International Nairobi Africa Kenya Nairobi http://www.winnersnairobi.org/
15000 Christ Is the Answer (formerly Nairobi Pentecostal Church) Africa Kenya Nairobi www.citam.org
2000 Parklands Baptist Church Africa Kenya Nairobi http://parklandsbaptist.org
2000 Nairobi Baptist Church Africa Kenya Nairobi http://www.nairobibaptist.co.ke

July 16, 2013

Bad News / Good News for American Evangelicals

If it bleeds it leads.

So goes the adage among newspaper and television reporters when constructing the front page or the evening newscast. We tend to become more engaged by bad news stories, and for statisticians who manufacture and sell reports on everything from the consumption of soup or soap or the latest revelations of sexual trends among youth, shock sells.

The Great Evangelical RecessionThe book The Great Evangelical Recession (Baker Books, January 2013) by reporter-turned-pastor John S. Dickerson is this type of shocker. Forget the thrillers in the Christian bookstore fiction section, this book is far scarier.  The full title is The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare. The book describes the challenges that the Evangelical church faces over the next few years. It’s a message that Canadians have been hearing recently through the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Hemorrhaging Faith report, which I covered in this article; and Americans made aware of via a recent Pew Research Forum report which I discussed here.

The book is arranged in twelve chapters, six deal with isolating the particular urgent challenges faced by Evangelicals, and six offer hope and direction, but offered in the shadow of that same urgency.

Of the six issues there are two that I gravitated to in reading the book this weekend. The first has to do with the longstanding suspicion among many that the number of Evangelicals in the United States is grossly inflated. The author, no stranger to interpreting statistics — is more comfortable pegging the numbers at 7% or 22 million. Toward the end he states that while these numbers will be disappointing to some, there is a lot that may be accomplished by 22 million people.

The second issue concerns the financial health of churches and parachurch organizations. With each successive generation, people are becoming more stingy. Worse for local churches, is the tendency among the younger generations to prefer supporting parachurch ministries over local assemblies.

We often tie the drop in giving to the drop in the economy. But a larger undercurrent is also at play. The generation that gives almost half of total donations began passing away about three years ago. Nearly one thousand of them are called home every day. Their funerals and memorials are quietly held every morning, afternoon and evening in rural churches and metropolitan chapels across the country. Nobody seems to be noticing.

Over the next twelve years, this faithful and reliable generation will pass away. As they do, total giving will decrease by as much as half for typical evangelical ministries — nationally, regionally and locally. (p.82)

More specifically,

The older generation accounts for only 19 percent of our national church, but they give 46 percent of our donations. A combining of figures reveals that approximately 361,000 of these most generous Americans die every year, or 969 per day.  (p. 91)

And

Some optimists reason that as the younger generations age, they will become more generous. And certainly, some of them will. However, the Purdue study compares how today’s older folks gave when they were younger folks. It tells us that a 75-year-old giver today was, at age 35, far more generous than his 35-year-old counterpart today. (p. 93)

Perhaps it’s wrong on me to focus on the ‘money chapter’ especially in view of chapters that deal with the erosion of belief that accompanies the drop in church attendance. But in a book that takes its title from an economic event — recession — it seemed an appropriate section of the book to serve as example of what it is the church is facing in the long term unless some of these situations turn around.

Bradley Wright’s unofficial counterpoint to unChristian, titled Christians are Hate Filled Hypocrites, reviewed here, still must have dealt with enough potential negatives that his follow up had the more buoyant title Upside, reviewed here.  In John Dickerson’s case, the half empty glass and the half full glass are presented in a single volume. In a way, the first part of the book grabs us more, the frightful news story does indeed command the front page. But the second half — each chapter a response to the conditions described in the first — while more familiar to us, preach against a background of statistics that give their prescriptive advice much greater meaning.  Of those, I found the chapter on pursuing unity across denominational lines one of the most powerful.

The Great Evangelical Recession released in January in paperback at $14.99 US and is available from a Christian bookstore near you. Though the book deals exclusively with U.S. stats, I believe Canadians would benefit greatly from reading it as well. A review copy was provided by David C. Cook, Canada.

  • Watch a 6-minute interview with the author at Fox News

June 28, 2013

Church Sucks

Church Sucks

Okay, like you, I got really nervous when I saw the above phrase in a book review at Church Central.  Nothing like being provocative, I guess. Here’s a fuller explanation:

Scott Oldenburgh is Campus Pastor for The Church on Rush Creek Mansfield West (Texas).  His new book is entitled Church Sucks: But it Doesn’t Have to Stay that Way, (Fort Worth: Austin Brothers Publishing, 2013).

To fully understand Scott’s heart, you need to read the first paragraph of the Introduction:

“Let me start by saying that I am well aware the use of the word ‘sucks’ is a turnoff for many people in the church world.  However, after several attempts at rewording and rethinking the possible title of this book, I decided to keep it.  Let me explain my thinking.  There are times in life when the only phrase that seems to fit is, ‘Well, this just sucks!’”  (p. 1)

The reality is that those of us who have served churches for very long completely understand what Pastor Oldenburgh means either through our own experiences or through observation.

Pastor Oldenburgh begins with some of his own negative experiences in church.  Scott says, “I gave my life to Christ at age 15 and God began to quickly reveal two things to me: First, I had the spiritual gift of leadership and second, there were things about church that just didn’t make sense” (p. 5).  He recounts his experiences of how churches he served veered off mission and how leaders sabotaged the effectiveness of those churches.  He goes on to explain how damaging this is to churches, to the Kingdom of God, to church leaders, and to those leaders’ families.

The third chapter of the book gets to the heart of the matter: Church Isn’t Supposed to Suck.  Scott says, “When you are faced with a situation in life that just sucks, you will be forced to make some difficult and life changing decisions.  What is clear is that God does not desire for you to continue to have the life that He gave you simply sucked out of you!”  (p. 27)

Pastor Oldenburgh builds his thesis with these chapters:

Church Sucks When . . .
Vision Gets Sucked Out by Tradition
Joy Gets Sucked Out by Busyness
The Joy of Serving is Sucked Out by a Sense of Duty
“Serve Me” is More Important than “Serve Others”
Spiritual Growth Gets Sucked Out by Entertainment
Trust Gets Sucked Out by Bad Leadership
Grace Gets Sucked Out by Legalism
Authenticity Gets Sucked Out by Make Believe

continue reading here

The book cover image was sourced at ChurchSucksConsulting.com — It’s not every day that life hands you both a provocative post title and a hilarious book cover.  132 paperback pages from Austin Brothers Publishing; US SRP $15. 9780985326395

May 6, 2013

Chasing Francis: 2013 Meets the 13th Century

I don’t want to toss out cheap superlatives like, ‘Best book I ever read,’ but 24 hours after finishing Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron, I definitely feel that this is one of best written books I’ve ever read. With equal parts contemporary ecclesiology, church history, and Italy travelog, You can practically taste the Italian food. Chasing Francis is an excellent work of fiction that’s more about facts than fiction.

Chasing FrancisSome explanation is necessary.  For me, this book fits in with the type of fiction that I’ve been attracted to over the past few years; what I call Socratic dialog. Think Paul Young in The Shack and Crossroads, Andy Andrews in The Noticer and other titles, David Gregory in the Perfect Stranger trilogy; books that use story as a motif for teaching.

But the publisher, Zondervan, didn’t see it that way, identifying the advance copy I received in the Christian Living category and avoiding the category thing entirely on their website.  Here’s their synopsis:

Pastor Chase Falson has lost his faith in God, the Bible, evangelical Christianity, and his super-sized megachurch. When he falls apart, the church elders tell him to go away: as far away as possible…

Falson crosses the Atlantic to Italy to visit his uncle, a Franciscan priest. There he is introduced to the revolutionary teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and finds an old, but new way of following Jesus that heals and inspires.

Chase Falson’s spiritual discontent mirrors the feelings of a growing number of Christians who walk out of church asking, Is this all there is? They are weary of celebrity pastors, empty calorie teaching, and worship services where the emphasis is more on Lights, Camera, Action than on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit while the deepest questions of life remain unaddressed in a meaningful way.

Bestselling author Ian Morgan Cron masterfully weaves lessons from the life of Saint Francis into the story of Chase Falson to explore the life of a saint who 800 years ago breathed new life into disillusioned Christians and a Church on the brink of collapse.

Well that’s about right, though the weight of the book rests more in its thoroughly researched study of Assisi’s Francis than today’s Chase, but without ignoring the connection to the modern church in North America.

In an afterword, Cron says he struggled with committing his picture of the classic saint to something in the modern fiction genre. His struggle does not evidence itself. There are characters here to identify with and, unlike the way you might think Socratic dialog works, a surprising number of plot turns. (For the record, Cron prefers the term wisdom literature.)

Who should read Chasing Francis? Anyone who wants more meat in their Christian fiction. Pastors and church leaders for whom it should be required reading. Local church adherents and members concerned with the direction of the contemporary Church and/or evangelism.  People with a passion for social justice who would benefit from a refresher course on St. Francis’ approach to poverty and injustice.

I mentioned The Shack earlier. While this book doesn’t have the same general market crossover potential, I believe that in the right hands it does have the potential to make a major impact on the capital C Church; but first both brick and mortar bookstore and online vendors need to settle whether it goes in the church history section or church growth section or the fiction section. Books that land between categories often languish in either or fall between the cracks altogether.

So I’ve got a section for Chasing Francis: Recommended Reading.

April 13, 2013

Book Review: The Faith of Leap

The Faith of LeapI am a huge fan of missional church planters Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, and even though The Faith of Leap isn’t a new title, I asked our friends at Graf-Martin (a book publicity agency) if they could track one down for me

There is a particular paragraph that I wish I had marked because Michael and Alan say it so much better, but essentially the message of this book is that local church congregations can move beyond simply gathering once a week to sing songs and listen to a sermon; and can actually team together in partnership to accomplish greater things.  This life of risk they call liminality, and the result is the church moves from community to communitas.

Late in the book, they also suggest that every person in every church can follow the command to “go” because “go” might mean “go deeper” into the heart of the neighborhood where that church is located. Either way, the book is a call to adventure; a call to churches to take a leap of faith driven by possessing the faith of leap.

…I mentioned that I was reading this to a local pastor who noted that Hirsch and Frost repeat a lot of material from book to book. This is true here, they do quote previous works frequently. However, I would recommend this book for anyone who has never read their material before, it is absolutely certain to challenge pastors, church leaders, and people like you and me.

March 27, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Forgivenall

Our opening image this week apparently dates back to the mid ’90s and was sourced on a Dutch website whose name translates approximately as End Time Space. Click the image to link.

Several possible links for this week were important enough to become their own posts here. Be sure to check back at topics covered since Thursday.

  • First, please consider following my Twitter feed; not because of my great wisdom, but because I’m following some other really cool people. 
  • The radio host of “Canada’s most listened-to spiritual talkback show,” Drew Marshall takes to television this weekend. 
  • Is the Pope Catholic?  This blogger dares to ask: Is the Pope born again
  • Here’s a good breakdown of pastor blogs fitting into ten (or eleven!) categories. Actually, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Just in time for Passover, the Maccabeats are back.
  • If you or someone you know has been involved in a marital affair, here’s a reminder to skip the what questions and look at the why questions.
  • This week the Dictionary of Christianese defines Godincidences. (They’re like God Winks.)
  • This has been around for awhile, but if you haven’t watched this timely 3-minute video, check out Peter Rollins’ I Deny The Resurrection
  • A Canadian Mennonite pastor is dealing with a couple of strange baptism requests: “They don’t know much about Jesus, but they want to come to him, to sign up to follow, even though they don’t have much of an idea what they are getting into.”
  • One hundred and eleven podcasts later, and you can still listen to episodes of A Christian and An Atheist.
  • Here’s a good analysis on how the church should multiply (real growth) instead of simply poaching (transfer growth) from other churches.
  • And on that same blog we found a link to a piece on how tradition(s) can trump what Jesus explicitly taught
  • Know a single who is saving their first kiss? You might identify with this video trailer, but trailer for what? (Found at TWW.)
  • Russell Moore is asked whether or not reading fiction is a waste of time. He answers that fiction can  “awaken parts of us that we have calloused over.”
  • And congrats to Russell on his new title with the SBC.
  • Pete Wilson and Cross Point Church have invaded downtown Nashville. Their new church building opened this past Sunday.
  • For gay Christians, the F-word is fear.  Read this two part post starting with the article and then, especially the author’s story.
  • Pastors’ Corner: Five sources of ministry distractions, including Platform Jacking and Funny Money.
  • If you’re thinking of being in Vancouver, British Columbia from July 29 to August 2, 2013, you could sign up for this business ethics course.
  • When you are trying to make it as a writer, a rejection letter can be crushing, and create a need to reaffirm your calling.

preaching-to-choir_from fritzcartoons-dot-com

March 21, 2013

The Other Side of the Megachurch Equation

Megachurch motivational

While we love to celebrate all the good things that are taking place in some of the larger churches here in North America, on Tuesday night I had a brief conversation with a pastor whose church represents the other half of the megachurch equation.

His church is located in a rural area that has not seen any growth in many decades. Urban sprawl from nearby towns is still decades away, if it happens at all. Many in the surrounding farms have retired; they winter in Florida; health keeps them from going to church; and many have lost interest in organized religion or religion in general.

If any young families have located to the area, they are more likely to drive to a nearby church which, although nowhere near the definition of megachurch, picks up young families like your vacuum picks up dust and dirt.

This pastor’s church however stands in contrast. The last time I visited — about six years ago — there was no sound system.  I don’t think they had a photocopier in the office, either. Nearly two centuries of tradition doesn’t draw a crowd. He remarked that the congregation is aging, as is he. Ceding the church to a next generation pastor and next generation people really only works in urban centers. The Michael Frost stories can only be replicated in so many locations; I’m guessing about one in a hundred has the right combination of facility, leadership and potential parishioners; just as lightning only strikes in certain random places.

The difference here is that the pastor was real not abstract; he was standing directly next to me, and I know a handful of families — albeit all older families — who attend this church. I can imagine how it feels to think that sometime in the not so distant future this church, which once played host to decades of different types of ministry to children, teens, young adults and mature adults, will be converted to a community center, or a bingo hall, or an antiques shop, or someone’s house or be razed altogether. Or maybe I can’t imagine how it feels to know that a place where generations met with God faces being decommissioned.

Megachurch

Other than the Roman Catholic Church and certain Episcopalians, the parish system — whereby you attend the church in your immediate community –  is dead. In a link story yesterday, we reported that at least 600,000 Americans do a ninety minute church commute. That’s an hour and a half  in metric time. People who chauffeur their kids to soccer and skating and cello lessons have no qualms about driving a longer distance to get their kids into a good midweek program at a church with a solid Christian Education department.

Of course, that’s not the whole story. There is also the general decline in church attendance. The entry of North America into a post-Christian era. The effect of shift work on church attendance. The effects of health on older members. The growth of the megachurches is not entirely always transfer growth, but it is a transfer of potential members to the house of worship where critical mass has been attained, where a crowd draws a crowd.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Mega-Church Bus from Sacred Sandwich

January 30, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Moses Tablets

This week’s linkelele (you pronounce it like ukelele).

  • Kent Shaffer has gone back through ten years’ worth of charts from The Church Report and Outreach Magazine and has compiled a list of 493 churches to watch on the basis of growth, influence, innovation, church planting and sheer size.
  • This is the one not to miss: The principal figures in the Chick-Fil-A /LGBT conflict last year get together at Dan Cathy’s invitation to Shane Windmeyer and Shane ‘comes out’ (in a different way) at Huffington Post to explain why his organization has dropped the boycott of the fast food restaurants. [HT: Kevin]
  • As a pastor, Andy Stanley was impressed with the ‘pastoral’ side of President Obama following the Newtown tragedy. But when he called him the ‘pastor-in-chief’ many people took it out of context
  • Bobby Schuller is the new television pastor for the Hour of Power, but understandably, donations have dropped.
  • Rick Apperson scores an interview with the 29-year old Liberty University vice president Johnnie Moore, author of Dirty God.
  • And now it’s time for … wait for it … a clergy fashion show. What are the hot trends for clergy vestments this spring?
  • Nadia Bolz Weber is somewhat disappointed that snarkyness and sarcasm aren’t spiritual gifts. Dont read this; click the player to get the audio. (Warning: The church’s yoga classes are mentioned in the sermon.)
  • The man who gave the Christian world talking vegetables has relaunched the Jelly Telly website as Club Jelly Telly, a subscription based site with more than 150 hours of video for kids for only $5 per month. They’ve also added all of the content from the What’s In The Bible series… 
  • …And at his blog, Phil Vischer’s weekly (Tuesday) podcast has a special guest, an associate professor at Wheaton College with a specialty in Christian Education who may or may not have given birth to Phil many years prior. (You’ll just have to listen.)
  • Flashback video of the week is from the veteran ‘Rock ‘n Roll Preacher’ from the Jesus Music days; Chuck Girard sings the much more mellow song Lay Your Burden Down.
  • And speaking of the Jesus People days, another veteran, Kelly Willard is still performing, set to do an Orange County coffee house in February.
  • The 15-year-old son of a former Calvary Chapel pastor has been charged in a murder that included the pastor, his wife and three children. 
  • In a video made months earlier, former Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids) pastor Shane Hipps previews his now-available book Selling Water By The River. A fuller book rundown is available on the Relevant Magazine podcast.
  • Add a link of your own — insert a recent Christian blog story in the comments…
  • Looking for more?  Visit the Friday Link List at fellow Canadian Kevin Martineau’s blog Shooting The Breeze by clicking the icon below for a recent sample.

Favourite-Links-Friday

January 21, 2013

Where Have All The Church Planters Gone?

Recently C. Michael Patton at the blog Parchment and Pen wrote about the decline of the Emerging church.

…[T]oday things have changed. No one blogs about it. No one claims the name anymore. No publisher would dare accept a book about the emerging “thing” that happened in the forgotten past. Why? because around the year 2009, the identity of the emerging church went silent and many (some, enthusiastically) put up gravestone over its assigned plot. In fact, I even paid my respects.

I want to look at something else that I believe is running parallel to the decline of the Emergents or Emergings: The decline of the church planters.

Church Plant

Church Plant

If Patton’s analysis is right, visibility of all things Emerging ran from 1994 to 2009.  That’s 15 years. One thing I really liked about this was the number of people who suddenly took an interest in ecclesiology. The number of lay people who were willing to step out and plant. The number of young(er) clergy who were willing to resign from secure positions and take church to the inner city or to new suburban housing tracts.

Patton is right to mention publishing. An explosion of new books issued forth from major evangelical publishing houses which were studied by people who had heretofore never taken an interest in how the local church functions, with the result that both clergy and laity created a host of new models many of which were customized for unique local needs and situations.

And at the same time as new churches were popping up in gymnasiums, restaurant meeting rooms and private houses, a movement for greater awareness of social justice issues was impacting the Evangelical community at large, with many of the new upstart churches leading the charge.

We had some friends over on the weekend. Remember, even though I live in the shadow of Toronto, Canada; our hometown’s population is only about 17,000. And yet, as we caught our friends up on the recent issue of alternative church movements in our location, we counted about nine different bodies which sprang up between 2000 and 2010 — including one each for both my wife and I — some of which are still going.

But lately not so much planting has been taking place.

Right now, the dominant model is to simply become a satellite campus for a much larger church. Rent a theater with a 10-foot (3 meter) dish for down-linking live sports and entertainment events. Or pop in the DVD or flash drive with the recording of last week’s sermon at the mother church.  No wonder some people — slightly tongue in cheek I suspect — suggest that in 20 years there will only be a hundred pastors in the U.S. with everyone else picking up a live or recorded feed from the host churches. (And by host church, that doesn’t mean megachurch, since technically, the messages could be recorded in a studio with no live audience.)

I miss the days of rogue church planting. Part one of the gospel is “taste and see.” Part two is “go and tell.” I miss the wild stories Michael Frost told of churches planted in west-coast shoe stores, among water-skiers on the Pine River, and over red-wine-and-pizza discussion groups hashing out religion, philosophy, politics and the latest books; groups which possessed more solid orthodoxy than you might suspect. I miss the emphasis on candle-lighting versus darkness-cursing. I miss the whole, “Hey, let’s start a church” mentality.

Patton might argue the many of the plants never fully ‘took.’

There was no runway on which to land and the emerging plane did not even have landing gear. The deconstruction happened with no plans of reconstructing. The emerging journey became an endless flight that did not have any intention on setting down anywhere. Many people jumped out, skydiving back home. The rest, I suppose, remained on the plane until it ran out of gas.

But then he concedes — and I’ll give him the last word on this — that the movement is forgotten but not gone:

But certain aspects of the ethos of the emerging church should be within all of us. We should never be satisfied with the status quo. We should always be asking questions and bringing into account our most fundamental beliefs. We need to identify with the culture at the same time as holding on to the past. I believe that Robert Webber, though never really called an emerger, was a great example of our continued need to reform. His Ancient-Future Faith was a great example of how we can hold on to, respect, learn from, and identify with our past, yet push forward into an exciting future.

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