Thinking Out Loud

January 22, 2015

As Christianity Loses Its Majority Status in the US

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Ps. 137:4

Book Review: The Church in Exile

Although I worked for InterVarsity Press briefly several lifetimes ago, and have covered other IVP books here before, this is the first time I’ve attempted to review anything from the IVP Academic imprint. So let me say at the outset that perhaps I have no business considering scholarly titles here; however there is a personal connection that had me wanting to read this book, and that resulted in my wanting to give it some visibility here.

Lee Beach was our pastor for nearly ten years, and one year of that overlapped a staff position I held at the church as director of worship. He came to us after serving as an associate pastor and then interim pastor of a church just 45 minutes north. He was young, passionate and everyone just called him Lee.

Today, years later, when mentioning him to students in his university community, the honorific is always used, it’s Dr. Beach at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he serves as assistant professor of Christian ministry, director of ministry formation and teaches courses on pastoral ministry, mission, the church in culture and spirituality.

The Church in Exile - Lee BeachThe Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom is made more accessible to those of us who are non-academics because of its timeliness. Because of immigration, the rise of secularism, and a decline in church membership and attendance, Christianity is losing both numbers and the influence that those metrics bring. In some communities already, Christians are no longer the majority stakeholders.

From his vantage point in Canada where religious pluralism has been normative now for several decades, Dr. Beach has a clear view of where the U.S. is heading. From his background as a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, he also has a heightened awareness as to the status afforded Christianity in other parts of the world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first begins in the Old Testament with a focus on those times God’s people lived in exile, or were scattered, particularly the narratives concerning Esther, Jonah, Daniel, and what’s termed the Second Temple period, where the community of the faithful seems to be diminished; a shadow of its former self. (Sound familiar?) From there, the book moves to the New Testament with particular attention to I Peter.

In the foreword, Walter Brueggemann points out that while exiles may have a sense that the present situation is temporary, the Jewish Diaspora brought with it no expectation of returning home. In other words, their placement was what we would call today ‘the new normal.’ That so well describes the church in 2015. There is no reasonable anticipation that things will go back to the way they were.

The second section builds on the theological framework of the first to turn our thoughts to the more practical concerns of being the church in the margins. How does one lead, and offer hope in such a period of decline? How does our present context govern or even shape our theological framework?  How does a vast religious mosaic affect evangelism, or one’s eligibility for inclusion or participation in church life? How do followers of Christ maintain a distinct identity?

To that last question, the term used is ‘engaged nonconformity’ wherein

Exilic holiness is fully engaged with culture while not fully conforming to it. Living as a Christian exile in Western culture calls the church to live its life constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals. p. 183

It should come as no surprise that some of this section cites practitioners of what has been termed the missional church movement.

“But wait;” some might say, “We were here first.” While that may not be exactly true, the spirit of it is well entrenched, and early on we’re reminded that you can experience the consequences of exile even in your own homeland. You don’t have to sell your house to feel you’ve been displaced, and that’s the reality that will impact North American Christians if it hasn’t touched some already.

In the post-Christian revolution, it is fair to say that the church is one of those former power brokers who once enjoyed a place of influence at the cultural table but has been chased away from its place of privilege and is now seeking to find where it belongs amid the ever changing dynamics of contemporary culture. p. 46

In the end, despite my misgivings about wading into academic literature, I read every word of The Church in Exile, and I believe that others like me will find this achievable also, simply because this topic is so vital and our expectation of and preparedness for the changes taking place are so necessary.


The Church in Exile is now available in paperback (240 pages) from IVP and wherever great books are sold (click the image above for a profile) and retails at $25 US.

May 21, 2014

Wednesday Link List

John Wesley quotation

Out of several hundred potential links, these were some things that got my attention this week. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the list’s owner, a blog of Leadership Journal in the Christianity Today family. From there, click the stories you want to see.

When not hunting down links for you, Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201, and Christian Book Shop Talk.

January 8, 2014

Wednesday List Link

Amish Vampires in Space

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama Crashes the Party Exactly One Year After His First Visit Here

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama makes his annual January visit

The list is back, though there was a link list on Saturday, December 28th at both Out of Ur and Thinking Out Loud you can scroll back to. If you caught that one, then you’re ready to kick off another year of link love. First, about the picture, it’s one of the “winners” — if you can call them that — of the Worst Christian Book Covers for 2013. (Click the link, then work your way to number one.) I don’t know where they found these — though this might help — but the list for 2012 did contain some you might recognize.  The rest of the links here will switch over once Out of Ur goes live with the list.

Thinking Out Loud Media CentralI’d like you to think I oversee the Christian internet in a command center like Christof has in The Truman Show, pictured at right, but in reality, it’s a refurbished PC on a cluttered desk next to the fireplace in the rec room. The fireplace has negative efficiency, however, so it’s not on during the polar vortex deep freeze. Hey, it could be worse…I could be blogging in my underwear in my parents’ basement.

If you clicked over here from Out of Ur; be sure to look around; a lot more happens here than link lists; you never know what you’ll find. (Be on the lookout for a lost reader from Iowa, who was last seen in the archives somewhere in the summer of 2010…)

Christian Artist Pop Cans

December 18, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Church Stage Design Ideas - Harvest Chapel Christian Fellowship

One week to the big day, here is a mix of both seasonal and regular links. It’s exciting to think how many people get saved each week just reading these story teasers.Click anything below to read the list at Out of Ur, a blog of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal

Upper Photo: From the blog Church Stage Design Ideas, a picture of Harvest Chapel Christian Fellowship in Bradenton, Florida. Click here for more.

Lower Photo: Unnamed church at a related website, VisualWorshiper.com uses a technique called Environmental Projection. Click here for more.

Environmental Projection from VisualWorshiper dot com

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

August 28, 2013

Wednesday Link List

For Heaven's Sake - Mike Morgan - August 12 2013Apparently this marks the 12th time we’ve used a For Heaven’s Sake cartoon here.  Mike Morgan’s weekly comic can be seen in selected newspapers.

Find the links that go with these stories at Wednesday Link List’s new home at Out of Ur.


If you don’t click all these links, how will you know they’re not talking about you?

  • The Gay Debate Continues: How can we pick and choose which Levitical laws continue into the present age and which don’t?  That’s easy.  Acts 15 tells us which ones carry forward.
  • An appeals court in Tehran rejected the appeal of American Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, and refused to reduce his 8-year prison sentence.
  • An Anthropology professor, writing in the New York Times, takes an academic look at speaking in tongues.
  • No doubt about it, in churches of all stripes, Bible reading is notable for the presence of smart phones.
  • “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau…” English Bible translations use the love/hate motif but the passage raises translation and interpretation issues that are a lot more complicated.
  • If you’re a church leader and you’re constantly dealing with how to disciple messy, new believers, then it probably means you’re doing something right. Conversely, if everyone in your church is spiritually mature, then something is terribly wrong.
  • Russell S. Doughten, Jr., the man responsible for the making of the landmark Christian film A Thief in the Night, died on Monday at age 86.
  • Thom Rainer thinks that church membership is relatively stable, but that the decline in church attendance is more connected to frequency of attendance.
  • Part-time pastor: A bi-vocational minister looks at logistical sustainability problems in bi-vocational ministry.
  • Here’s a worship song from the UK that gained a lot of traction here over the summer, Let it Be Known by Worship Central.
  • So who are your non-Christian friends? Better yet, if we were to ask your neighbors, do they have any Christian friends? Maybe not.
  • If experience teaches me anything, lots of you will click through to read an article called Getting Naked With Your Friends.
  • Rob Bell’s next book is titled Zinzum.  Yes, Zinzum: God’s Secret for What Makes Marriages Flourish.  Other than that it’s a book about marriage, I have no idea what the title means, and that doesn’t surprise me.
  • Bonus video: The song Jon Acuff recently called his current favorite, Josh Garrels’ 2011 update of Farther Along.
  • A woman who supported her gay daughter’s campaign for health benefits has been kicked out of her Tennessee church.
  • Canada’s public broadcaster highlights 50 different responses to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • Nominations for The Dove Awards — the Christian Grammy Awards equivalent — have been announced, including Lecrae and Chris Tomlin. (I feel I should know that second name…)
  • Bahamas’ pastor Thabiti Anyabwile believes that many of us discussing homosexuality are unnecessarily suppressing our gag reflex.
  • Steven Furtick is building momentum for a 2014 book, Crash the Chatterbox, dealing with the voices that chatter fear, insecurity, condemnation and discouragement by inviting people to join a movement of people called Chatterboxers.
  • Social Media Sins Department: Facebook is now the theme of a gospel choir song.
  • Remember, parents; if nothing else, your parenting techniques can always serve as a bad example. 
  • It would be great if I was getting a kickback for this rather blatant advertisement, but it turns out the Christian kids’ classic Bullfrogs and Butterflies is still available. Can Psalty the singing songbook be far behind?
  • And speaking of children’s music, I can’t think of a better ending this week than this nugget of wisdom.

Today’s column with links activated appears at Out of Ur. Paul Wilkinson is a writer and prognosticator who blogs at Thinking Out Loud and whose Twitter handle does that annoying thing where numbers are substituted for letters, hence @paulw1lk1nson (he forgot to switch the ‘o’ for a zero.)

Trees of the Field - Teaching Parabolas - Steve Wall

July 8, 2013

If You’re That Sick, Skip Church

Filed under: Church — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 am

I admire your dedication.

Your willingness to get out of bed early on Sunday morning to not miss participating as an usher, choir member or Sunday school teacher is commendable.

But your coughing and sneezing — and attempts at suppressing coughs and sneezes — rather ruined the service for me and left me wondering if I’m going to contract what you already have.

And you know you have it, because you spent the entire sermon with your head turned on an angle away from me and toward the center aisle.  And knowing that you know you were sick also left me wondering why you participated in the “shaking hands” section of the service.

Next time, stay home.

Skip church.

God understands; your team members understand. And they would rather you stayed home, too.

Pour yourself a nice warm drink.

Or get some sunshine in the backyard.

But don’t come to church.

Just stay home.

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”

True.

Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

May 16, 2013

Using a Different Measurement Stick to track Religious Faith

Filed under: Church, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:38 am

I knew a guy who was day-trader. From the minute the North American markets opened to the minute they closed he was glued to his computer buying and selling stocks faster than you could blink. Many people use the internet these days to track up-to-the-minute trends as well as long term patterns. They wouldn’t be without it.

But others take a more grassroots approach. They say to talk to the drivers for FedEx or UPS if you want to know how the economy is doing. Those guys see a slowdown in the financial life of the country long before it has made the evening news. Others count large transport trucks.

And so it is with religious faith. We have metrics that we use such as giving and church attendance and extrapolate all manner of projections from that type of data. Here in Canada, the Hemorrhaging Faith study tracked church attendance generationally in four categories (a) Evangelical, (b) other Protestant, (c) Catholic outside Quebec, and (d) Quebec Catholics.  The numbers were not great, not even for Evangelicals, which I’m told should now be spelled with a capital ‘E.’

But the grassroots approach would suggest we should be tracking baby names; and if your interest is specifically Roman Catholic, the female name Mary. Along comes mary? Not lately. It turns out that while the Hispanic community is still strongly using Maria, elsewhere, the name Mary is in free fall…

Continue reading here.

April 10, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Community Baptist Church

I’m a success at blogging but a failure at Twitter. Please follow me… please?

Any one of this week’s links could have been its own feature article.  By the way, I’m organizing a travel opportunity that begins in a Wesleyan college in western New York and ends in Jerusalem. I call it the Israel Houghton Tour.

Explaining Present Technology

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