Thinking Out Loud

May 14, 2015

Christianity Fares Poorly in Recent Polls, Surveys

Religion in AmericaNumerically, Christianity is in decline in North America. If the U.S. wants to see its religious future it needs only to look to Canada, which although it has its unique characteristics (different mix of ethnicities, historically stronger Roman Catholic population) is very much a “20 minutes into the future” window on what the U.S. is facing. And in some respects the UK provides Canada with a similar preview of increases in secularism.

We wrote about the implications for the church a few months ago in a review of the new book, The Church in Exile.

Dr. Russell D. Moore heads the Ethics and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and is always very clear and forthright in framing the Evangelical position on issues for wider culture to comprehend. In an article titled “Is Christianity Dying” he writes:

  • Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering. I say let it fall
  • Secularization in America means that we have fewer incognito atheists. Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office. This is good news because the kind of “Christianity” that is a means to an end… is what J. Gresham Machen rightly called “liberalism,” and it is an entirely different religion from the apostolic faith handed down by Jesus Christ.
  • The Pew report holds that mainline denominations—those who have made their peace with the Sexual Revolution—continue to report heavy losses, while evangelical churches remain remarkably steady—even against some heavy headwinds coming from the other direction.
  • Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news. The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that the Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction.
  • We do not have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America.

To read the entire article — recommended — click this link.

Meanwhile, USA tapped another Baptist writer, Ed Stetzer for an article titled “Survey Fail: Christianity Isn’t Dying.” The articles subtitle confirms what Moore is saying, “Fakers who don’t go to church are just giving up the pretense.”

  •  Rather than predict the impending doom of the church in America, this latest study affirms what many researchers have said before. Christianity isn’t collapsing; it’s being clarified. Churches aren’t emptying; rather, those who were Christian in name only are now categorically identifying their lack of Christian conviction and engagement.
  • If evangelical Christianity is growing, or at the very least remaining steady, why is Christianity as a whole shrinking and why are those who claim no religious affiliation increasing at such a rapid rate? In short, nominals — people whose religious affiliation is in name only — are becoming nones — people who check “none of the above” box on a survey.

To read the entire article, click this link.

Of course, discussions like this tend to move from the sublime to the ridiculous. So we have, at Billboard of all places, this article: “Bill O’Reilly Blames Hip-Hop for Decline in U.S. Christianity.” Here’s a snippet:

  • Obviously, these statistics were gonna get an entrenched conservative like Bill O’Reilly upset. And when Bill sees a problem, Bill needs a scapegoat — and when you’re a conservative talking head, what better scapegoat is there than black people? … “There is no question that people of faith are being marginalized by a secular media and pernicious entertainment,” O’Reilly said. “The rap industry, for example, often glorifies depraved behavior. That sinks into the minds of some young people — the group that is most likely to reject religion.”

What’s deplorable about this is that O’Reilly is missing the point entirely as to what Christianity is and sees it as moralism instead belief in the deity and atoning work of Jesus Christ.

If you feel you must, you read the story at this link.

Yesterday, we also linked to a story at Huffington Post, “The Surprising Sacred Gathering Spaces That Are Moving Into Your Neighborhoods” which you’ll find at this link.

Finally, CBC television in Canada jumped into the discussion last night, but as their charter mandates, were forced to look at all religions.  I’m not sure if their content is available in the U.S. but you can try to view the 12-minute piece at this link. (There was also coverage this week at ABC World News.)

with additional research from Clark Bunch at The Master’s Table blog and Flagrant Regard

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 25, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Family Circus 02-22-15

First, the PARSE links for Pastor People:

Carl Trueman on Evangelicals as Johnny-Come-Latelys to Lent – “I suspect that the reasons evangelicals are rediscovering Lent is as much to do with the poverty of their own liturgical tradition as anything. American evangelicals are past masters at appropriating anything that catches their fancy in church history and claiming it as their own… I also fear that it speaks of a certain carnality: The desire to do something which simply looks cool and which has a certain ostentatious spirituality about it…” Hmmm…

The Church and Beer Combo Meal – This time it was PBS’ turn to highlight the trend: “At Pub Theology in Washington, most believe that traditional churches are too rigid and confining… It’s estimated there are upwards of 130 church pubs in the US, many more in Europe, and that the number is growing.” But not all clergy interviewed for the story were supportive.

Debriefing the Sermon You Just Preached – Of the four points in this article, the second addresses the great vulnerability of a pastor right after speaking: “Any criticisms you hear need to be received, graciously acknowledged, and then honestly considered, but not one hour after your sermon.  Most of us who have just poured our hearts out in preaching are not at a good place to evaluate criticisms.  Always graciously receive all comments.  However, those comments that may be particularly hard or even harsh to hear are better evaluated after two good nights of sleep.  Write them down.  Leave them on your desk.  Try to forget about them until Tuesday…

New Church Construction at its Lowest Since 1967 – In a four minute audio segment, NPR looks at the house church movement. “The Bible says, ‘What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has has a hymn, a word of instruction, or an interpretation’ — all of this done for the strength of the church,” [Greg] Stultz says. “Where is that being done?” Furthermore, one of the groups would actually qualify as multi-site: “Three years later, Redemption now has three house churches that meet around Bristol. Once a month, they have a group service…”

Memo to Pastors: Knowing Your Audience when You Preach on Sex – “In your congregation are numerous people who have committed adultery. There are hundreds of porn addicts and fantasizers of both genders. We are not a sexually pure people. So please don’t preach like we’re riding on your high horse with you (whether or not you mean to be up there). The Bible is clear about sex and its place in marriage, and it is your job to preach it. But when you stand up there and preach like ‘we all know fornication is evil’ it shames us. When you lay low the adulterers with your scorn it shames them. And are you even thinking of those who became sexually active by force through rape or molestation? How low must they feel when you speak of the “loss of purity” like it’s a candle that was blown out?”

Revisiting the President’s Conversion Story – Within the church we call it a testimony. We call it a conversion. So when Get Religion — a website that reports on how religion is reported — looked at a recent statement by Governor Scott Walker, it also hauled out a 2007 transcript of Obama’s own description of the day he responded to the altar call: “…I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity [United Church of Christ] one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany…But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.”

Writing a Book for Limited Distribution – Every once in awhile, an article surfaces which is more than six months old, but would be new to many of you. So even though older things online aren’t as cool as things written yesterday, here are 5 Reasons to Write Books for Your Own Congregation.  Sample: “You know your audience. Few writers get to target so specific an audience because most mass market books are geared for the widest readership possible. But when you write for your own congregation, you can tailor your subject, approach, illustrations, and suggestions to your unique ministry setting.”

Poll Results – Not entirely scientific, but Thom Rainer asked his Twitter followers for reasons why churches today seem to be less evangelistic than in the past. Here’s some random samples: “Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.” “Many church members think that evangelism is the role of the pastor and paid staff.” “Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.” “Some churches have theological systems that do not encourage evangelism.” “Our churches have too many activities…” He grouped the many responses into a list of 15 reasons.

Rob Bell on Gay Marriage – Excerpt: “One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness,” Rob Bell said. “Loneliness is not good for the world. Whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want someone to go through life with. It’s central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.” That statement prompted a question from Oprah: “When is the church going to get that?” “We’re moments away,” Rob Bell said. “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.”

40 More Recommended Articles – If you’re a pastor trying to balance vocational ministry with marriage and parenting, David Murray, author of the just released book The Happy Christian has 40 online resources you don’t need to search for.

Counseling for Pastors – “The counselor assumed I was making a referral. He was surprised that I was scheduling myself. That first appointment was so healing, so fresh, so needed… In our next church board meeting I presented a proposal about the church both requiring and paying the cost of each staff member seeing a counselor at least twice that year. After a healthy discussion, they agreed.

Please remember that inclusion of items here or at PARSE does not imply endorsement.

Water into Wine Birthday Card

Short Takes

  • Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is now a multiple award-winning movie, though these may not have been the type of awards they were going for
  • …In other movie news, the creators of Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Courageous have a new title in the works. Check out the preview for War Room, releasing in theaters August 28th…
  • …But when the history of Christian movies is written, the one story that won’t get left out involves the classic, The Jesus Film, which has now been translated into 1,300 languages.
  • In a more detailed look at Rob and Kristen Bell’s comments on gay marriage, a response from Line of Fire host Michael L. Brown: “So, according to Rob Bell, the Church of Jesus should follow worldly culture and deny the plain teaching of God’s Word in order to be ‘relevant…’ I guess what’s trending on Twitter trumps the timeless wisdom of the living Word of the living God, I guess an emotional appeal carries far more weight than transcendent Truth.”
  • I do not, for one minute, understand what people get from reading Chris Rosebrough, even though I might agree with him on a number of issues. He recently created these faux-billboards. Some of them are funny and also quite true, but what is gained here? Yet, as the author of the piece linked here points out, people do need more discernment. (But I wouldn’t want this to be the tenor of my discernment ministry.)
  • Twitter is reading our tweets. (It’s probably in the agreement when we signed up.) So based on your Twittering, an analysis of the top 100 things we gave up for Lent.
  • Jamie the Very Worst Book-Reviewer on that… that book… which became a movie.
  • A Detroit doctor refuses to treat a baby who has two moms.
  • What to do when you don’t know what to do: Setting personal parameters for the issues that aren’t black and white.
  • This summer, Pope Francis be a plush doll from the same company that does Yankees’ pitcher Derek Jeter and the Green Lantern, Bleacher Creatures, announced just as we’re hearing that a figurine from the Playmobil toy company of Martin Luther — aka “Little Luther” — is shattering sales records.
  • KidMin Korner: Ideas for sharing St. Patrick’s Day with children.
It was a funny joke, and now, apparently, also a product.

It was a funny joke, and now, apparently, it is also a product.

December 5, 2014

Proof That Your Local Mainline Church Isn’t Dying

Introducing:

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Tired of being told your denomination is declining?
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Call 1-800-555-123 or send check or money order to Box 130467

November 5, 2014

Wednesday Link List

You're not really showing up at the church potluck (or pot-blessed) supper unless you're showing up with a zippered casserole carrier inscribed with the verse, "Serve one another in love."

You’re not really showing up at the church potluck (or pot-blessed) supper unless you’re showing up with a zippered casserole carrier inscribed with the verse, “Serve one another in love.”

Places to go; people to meet!

We end today where we started last week; another movie parody poster from the Orange curriculum. Click the image for details.

Orange Curriculum Parody Poster 2

October 5, 2014

Names You Should Know

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:47 am

Outreach Magazine is out with its latest list of the 100 Fastest Growing Churches in the U.S. and the 100 Largest Churches in the U.S. You can download a free 23-page .pdf copy of their latest data at this webpage, and learn how you can order the full magazine in single copies or in bulk.

There are however some churches which are conspicuously absent, including Lifechurch.tv (Craig Groeshel) and Lakewood (Joel Osteen), and we need to remind ourselves that as great as its influence is, the Christian world does not end at the U.S. borders.

Some of these names will be new to you, and some will be familiar. Either way, these are names you should be aware of. Download the full report to get the church names, locations, attendance numbers, website links and other stats. These are for the largest churches (in order, in groups of 25). We also did one for the fastest growing churches yesterday at Christian Book Shop Talk.

Lead Pastors of 100 Largest Churches

July 23, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Born Again T-Shirt from Gardenfire

Each week, I get paid to write teasers for some great online resources, as well as some quirky ones.

Meow and Forever - T-shirt - Master's Table Blog

 

July 6, 2014

How to Have a Perfect Church (Acts 2 Style)

Today’s article is jointly-posted with Christianity 201.


I’m currently reading an advance copy of Overrated by Eugene Cho, releasing September 1st from David C. Cook. I am indebted to Eugene for these thoughts.

So how would you like to have the perfect church, at least according to the model given to us in Acts 2? You know the passage,

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (NIV)

So what is the model here?

  • teaching
  • fellowship
  • breaking of bread *
  • prayer

*Tangentially: Is this a reference to communion? Studying the very few translation variants

  • to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] (AMP, also NLT)
  • at the Communion services (the Old Living Bible)
  • the common meal (the Message)

however commentaries seem to feel the phrase “breaking of bread” is self-evident in its reference to the meal instituted by Christ in the upper room with his disciples.

Back to Acts 42, if we include some of the verses that follow we would also include:

  • the favor of the general population (v. 43)
  • shared possessions (v. 44)
  • selling possessions to support the poor (v. 45)
  • daily meetings; house groups specifically mentioned(v.46)
  • praise (v. 47)
  • numeric growth (v. 47)

Many people place the emphasis on verse 42. Here it is again with emphasis added:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)

Anyway…according to Eugene Cho, that would be to totally miss part of what the verse says. Here, with emphasis added is how he would read the verse:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)

A few days ago we spent two days looking at devotion to God. There are eleven times this is used in the NIV, but there are thirty-four uses of devoted. (Here’s a link to do the study on your own.)

Cho writes:

Overrated - Eugene ChoThere are lots of books out there about self-help, self-growth, self-whatever. Here we see there was no secret recipe, no shortcut, just evidence of long-term commitment. They devoted themselves to study, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. Do you know what I think the most important element was? I think the most element was not what they did, rather, devotion itself.

Read verse 42 again.

They devoted themselves.

A lot of people ask how they should change their church to make it grow. They ask “What new strategies should we employ?”

Pretty simple actually.

They were steadfast. They cared. They devoted themselves to each other, to Christ, and to the building of God’s kingdom.

Are we devoted?

(pp. 116-7 in the advance copy)

 

July 2, 2014

Wednesday Link List

hypocrites

A Happy Independence Day to our U.S. readers and a one-day belated Happy Canada Day to readers in the land north of the 49th. On with the linkage…

When not playing one of the 820 Solitaire variants while listening to sermon podcasts, Paul Wilkinson blogs at at Thinking Out Loud, edits the devotional blog Christianity 201, and provides hints of the following week’s link list on Twitter.

May 7, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Religion Soup at Naked Pastor

Post something amazing online and you could find yourself here next week! Click anything below and you end up at PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today; from there, click the story you want to read.

That’s it for this week. Between now and next Wednesday, join me at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201 and on Twitter

Congratulations to Phil Vischer, Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor on Episode 100 of the Phil Vischer Podcast! Click the image, sent in by listener Kyle Frisch to listen/watch.

Phil Vischer podcast episode 100

Songs with substance: Enduring worship

If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

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.”
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