Thinking Out Loud

July 19, 2015

The Increasing Number of Church Dropouts

We are in the middle of a church attendance crisis. What was always a weekly occurrence for individuals and families is often, at very best, only twice a month. Some are skipping entire months at a time. Others have simply discontinued the church habit, with no return in sight.

While some continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, others are more certain to have their absence from weekend worship signal a drift away. Twice in 1 Timothy 6:10 and 6:21, Paul uses the phrase “wandered from the faith.” The micro-context is “the love of money” and worldly influences; but clearly a faith that was more anchored would not drift.

We could look at all the factors that are in play right now causing many to give up a lifetime of church participation, but today I would rather focus on the positives; the things we gain by gathering together.

FellowshipFellowshipThere is so much to be gained from community. The small group movement has made this even more meaningful. As Andy Stanley says, “It’s harder to fall out of a circle than it is to fall out of a row.” When we worship in a larger body, we’re also observing other people at worship, hearing their testimonies, and witnessing the spiritual growth taking place in their lives. We’re also putting ourselves in a place to minister to others.

Corporate PrayerIt’s hard to participate in “If two of you will agree as touching anything on earth” prayers by yourself. There is something to be said for coming into God’s presence en masse and then interceding on behalf of individuals facing great needs, our spiritual leaders, the local and national government, and the work of God around the world.

Personal PrayerThe obvious consequence of corporate prayer is that there are people available to pray with you when it’s your need that is uppermost.

Corporate Worship Even if you don’t like the song, or don’t prefer the style, there are many intangible blessings of being part of a local assembly lifting their voices in praise that simply can’t be duplicated at home. I know those “worship moments” in nature are meaningful, and singing in the car with a worship CD turned up loud can be inspiring, but in my life, many corporate worship occasions have been life highlights.

GivingYou can give online, of course, but many people don’t. In the offering, we participate together in financing God’s work in the local church and are made aware of the needs of missions operating throughout the world.

Confession Many services offer a call to go forward or stand or raise a hand and through a physical action affirm that God is speaking to us about a particular aspect of the day’s teaching. Even a short time of silence gives us an opportunity to respond to God in ways that might never come about through watching a sermon on a computer or television, where ‘dead air’ isn’t desirable.

CommunionThis is last, but certainly not least. The modern “breaking of bread” service, or Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist has a direct connection to the Passover meal. As we receive the bread and wine in community we do so in humility and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us.

These are just a few of the benefits that occur when we don’t give up meeting together. 


Appendix: Support scripture passages:

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. – Hebrews 10:25 GW

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. – Acts 2: 42, 44, 46 NLT

I was gladdened when they said to me, “We are going to the house of Lord Jehovah”! – Psalm 122:1 Aramaic Bible in Plain English


Christianity:

Coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.
~ Larry Tomczak (circa 1976)

 

 

 

 

July 13, 2015

CT Article Gives Insight into Local Church Culture

I’m not going to provide any spoilers here, you’ll have to read the article; but in the July/August issue of Christianity Today, sociologist Bradley Wright unveils the results of a study that involved contacting nearly 3,200 churches by email using fake accounts belonging to people with distinct ethnic-sounding names, to see if the nature and volume of the replies said anything about racial attitudes in today’s churches.

Rather, I want to look at two things that were peripheral to the research results.

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-06-17 19:09:04Z | http://piczard.com | http://codecarvings.com

The article was also CT’s cover story. Their cover was nearly blown, however when one pastor, relocating from Alaska to Texas got the same email in both locations.

First, only 59% replied. Now in statistical research, for all I know, that might be a fairly decent response rate. But these are churches and that type of response is to me, very disappointing. For a faith that follows One who taught that a shepherd will leave 99 sheep in the pen to go after the one which is lost, that 41% did not reply is really close to abysmal. (Elsewhere on this blog, we’ve noted the same is true of Christian publishers, media outlets, and parachurch organizations in general.)

If you or someone you know oversees the general email box of your church, or gets the inquiries generated through an online form, make sure they have a mechanism in place where every legitimate email is getting a reply.

Second, it was interesting to note the definition of what constitutes racial diversity in a religious group. If 80% or more of a congregation is of a fixed race (i.e. White, Hispanic, Black, Asian) then that church is not diverse, regardless of how prominent a role some families may be given. Overall, among all religions the rate is 15%, but if you pick a Protestant Church this Sunday the rate is only 5%, in other words, nineteen-times-out-of-twenty, that congregation will be four-fifths or more of one race.

It was noted that one church body, Willow Creek, which also provided the greatest number of responses (and was declared “the winner,” assuming this was a contest) has been intentionally looking for ways to diversify its attendance.

The article is available to subscribers, or in print at newsstands. A number of charts also break down the research results.

 

July 9, 2015

What the Modern Megachurch has in Common with A Prairie Home Companion

MegachurchThough the conversation was nearly fifteen years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. We were talking about a new megachurch that was experiencing meteoric growth, and the pastor said, “That church is a house of cards. As soon as ________ leaves, the whole thing collapses.”

This is something I’ve heard expressed before in other contexts. And it came to light again this week as Christianity Today considered the multi-site church model. Mega and Multi are often seen together holding hands.*

But first, a diversion, as one pastor defines the phenomenon:

Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., summed up this concern in a 2011 blog post for the Gospel Coalition titled, “Multisite Churches Are from the Devil.”

“Try as one might,” he wrote, “I can’t escape the conclusion that those who take the multisite option are effectively saying, ‘My preacher is better than your preacher, so we’re gonna brand him and export him to a theater near you.’ That’s crass, I know. But that’s really the bottom line.”

Okay. Back to our discussion. This is the quote from the piece I really wanted to highlight:

…Given Mars Hill’s highly visible collapse, questions remain about the long-term viability of multisite churches.

Chuck North, an economics professor at Baylor University, said the fall of Mars Hill mimicked what happens with successful startup businesses and their founders…

One of the big challenges for such businesses is succession planning. Who will take over when the founding or longtime CEO leaves? Likewise, “the pastor is the face of that church,” he said. “How do you get a successor who is going to fill that role?”

That would resonate with the aforementioned pastor with whom I had my discussion. We tend to use terminology like, “Bill Hybel’s church;” and “Rick Warren’s church;” and “Kyle Idleman’s church;” and “Pete Wilson’s church;” losing the bearings of the people listening to us if we reference Willow, Saddleback, Southeast or Cross Point. Right now, if someone says to me, “Ed Young’s church,” I can’t name it.

GarrisonKeillorWhich got me thinking of A Prairie Home Companion, the long-running Saturday night radio show that started back in the days when they had to hand-deliver radio shows to each house by truck.

Last week it was announced that iconic show runner and host Garrison Keillor would step down to be replaced by Chris Thile (pronounced THEE-lee) who guest hosted earlier this year. Not everyone is thrilled.

For many, the show is G.K., and they can’t imagine it without him. Others are excited.

In church life, we do tend to associate the pastor as being the brand. It’s hard to imagine certain churches without the key man — in business, you can take out insurance against such losses, called key man insurance — but life goes on at Mars Hill Bible Church without Rob Bell, at Cornerstone without Francis Chan, and was, until recently going fine at Coral Ridge Presbyterian without James Kennedy.

The CT article hinges largely on the situation at Mars Hill Seattle, post-Mark Driscoll. That one fulfilled my pastor friend’s prophecy, and whether or not you want to call it a house of cards, it definitely collapsed.

How can churches mitigate against that happening? How do they prevent the church from being personality-driven?

The A Prairie Home Companion situation is made easier by Keillor’s retirement. He will transition out slowly he says, returning to do key characters and narratives. In church life we don’t always have that luxury, if the pastor feels called to another location. Flying and back and forth to your old church is generally frowned upon. The ties usually become severed, and the congregation looks forward, not back. It’s often ten years later that the former pastor is freer to return for a special anniversary or similar event.

Small groups also make a huge different. If you are closely knit to the people in your home church group, what’s happening at the weekend services is of diminished importance. At Canada’s The Meeting House, teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey tells his people, “If you have to make a choice this week between Sunday and home church, attend your home church.”

Serving also helps. People who work on music, tech, greeting, parking, children’s, youth or counseling teams are invested long-term; they have a commitment that goes beyond who is preaching the sermon.

Finally, I suppose much has to do with viable alternatives. Sometimes it’s hard for people who have been friends of Mega and Multi to feel comfortable again in the closer surroundings of a 250-seat or 500-member fellowship. Without strong ties, it may be easier to drift through a time of pastor transition, but even the largest cities can only support so many mega-churches.

Personally, I think the Saturday night NPR radio show will survive the transition, and as for Thile as host, I’m going to trust Keillor’s judgement. In church life, outgoing pastors generally don’t name their successors, but it would be ideal if they could put their rubber stamp on whoever is ultimately selected.


 

*As a writer, I really liked that sentence; but in the interest of full disclosure, not all satellite (or shall we say secondary) campuses attract huge crowds. While North Point (Andy Stanley’s church) tends not to start a new campus without critical mass, the branch of Harvest Bible Chapel (James MacDonald’s church) we attended in Elgin, IL in 2009 was in development at the time; we worshiped with a crowd I would estimate at around 200 max; though that location has grown considerably since we were there. Some of The Meeting House’s locations are still running under 100 according to some reports, and I am told that LifeChurch.tv (Craig Groeshel’s church) a leader in multi-site, has often had softer launches in order to serve a particular geographic area sooner than later.

July 4, 2015

Utility Relationships

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am

helping out at churchA person can be said to have a utility relationship with their church when they have some task that they perform, and perform well, but 99% of their interactions with other church people are in the context of the performance of that duty.

A person in utility relationship may have a title, but is rarely included in anything resembling a meeting; and they may receive recognition occasionally, but this never extends to being invited to something that might be considered an actual show of appreciation.

A person whose relationship with fellow church people is purely as a utility needed for getting something done may think that some of these associations constitute friendship, but any smiles and pats on the back are basically in aid of volunteer retention.

Eventually, this person may burn out upon realization that their whole basis of connection with the church is task oriented and that people are not really interested in anything meaningful like going out for coffee or sharing a meal in their home.

 

 

June 16, 2015

Finding Blog Topics in the Middle of Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity, Church, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:37 am

Applegate Christian Fellowship

On Sunday our church had its annual “Church In The Park” service. Since we normally meet at two different service times, it’s nice to have everyone altogether.

During the worship time, I couldn’t help but look around and see families and individuals in the unique out-of-doors context. There was one family that I’ve known for years, but their one child seemed troubled during the singing time. Another family that I’ve known a long time is new to this church and it was great to see them entering in wholeheartedly as we we worshiped. I saw a number of people who were by themselves and as this particular service especially caters to families with kids, I made a point to speak to one of them.

I also wondered how the four of us looked to others.

Every picture tells a story; each person is an unfolding story.

“Paul;” some will be thinking, “It was the worship time, and you should have been focused on the attributes of God, his love and majesty, and expressing your thanksgiving and praise to him.”

I guess I allowed myself this different track because of something my wife said to my youngest son earlier in the week about how she is experiencing that time in our weekend services. I asked her to explain:

As an introvert with eclectic music tastes, I find the ‘modern worship’ pool at the churches we attend growing increasingly shallow and, to be honest, uninteresting.  As we stand and sit and stand again during the ‘worship time’, I am less and less engaged in the singing, so I look around. 

I see a man who I remember going through a dark time several years ago and recall how God brought him through.  I see a woman still healing from her surgery, hands raised, eyes closed and a smile on her face.  I see a family, faithful attenders, working to stay close to each other despite disappointments and pain.  I see a woman trusting God for an answer in the middle of her weakness and anxiety.   And the weight, the power, the joy of what God has done in their lives, of what he is continuing to do, hook themselves into my heart. 

In looking into those lives I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness, love, healing and hope deeply and irresistibly.  In that, and in silence, I worship. 

This all got me thinking as well about how some of my fellow-bloggers say they have a tough time coming up with topics; that they never know what to write about.

Look around you.

There are many, many stories. If they are ‘too close to home’ then change up the names, locations and situations, but keep the essence of what you see. If you’re not a good storyteller, then generalize what you feel are the important themes that come to mind. (‘I’ve been thinking lately about…’) 

Summing this up, I think the making of a good writer involves (a) being out and about in the real world, and (b) being observant; having one’s eyes open. Even in the middle of worship when everyone else’s eyes are closed.


Photo: Applegate Christian Fellowship in Oregon. They don’t have to go to the park, they have this on their property.

June 3, 2015

Wednesday Link List

St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery – Kiev, Ukraine.  More interesting church architecture at this link.

St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery – Kiev, Ukraine. More interesting church architecture at this link.

Some day I’m only going to run links from blogs that don’t have pop-ups asking for subscriptions. There will only be about five links that week.

May 21, 2015

In Case of Rapture, Or Long Weekend, This Church will be Closed

North Point Closing

When we were given a midweek tour of Buckhead Church a few years ago, the thing that struck me was that there was a large infrastructure that was really only used for a few hours each week. The entrepreneur in me was trying to think of ways to leverage the facility to see greater exposure, so the idea of taking one week — no, make that two weeks — off each year is in my thinking, somewhat counterproductive.

But that’s exactly what the North Point family of churches in Atlanta’s north suburbs is doing this weekend; taking their cue from an already entrenched shutdown that occurs annually between Christmas and New Year’s, the church will be completely closed over the Memorial Day weekend, in anticipation of a major summer kickoff on May 31st.

Now, I’m not criticizing here, I’m just posing the question. I am a fairly rabid fan of Andy Stanley. I greatly respect and admire his ability to re-frame the Gospel in totally fresh ways. But let’s give this some context.

We live at a time when people are taking an extremely casual approach to church attendance. Families with children have already sacrificed weekly continuity on the altar of getting their kids into team sports: Soccer, baseball, three-pitch, t-ball, gymnastics, swim teams, etc. What hasn’t been destroyed by athletics has been decimated by dads working weekend shifts or moms working retail Sunday openings.

These days, if you can get a family out to church 26 out of 52 Sundays, you’re doing well.

So why chop that down to only 50 Sundays? Why create even the most subtle suggestion that taking time off church is perfectly acceptable?

Not being a regular attender, I don’t know if there’s room in North Point’s church culture for dissension, but I would rate this as one of their less-smart moves. I really feel for singles in this, people who don’t have family traditions on the long weekend, and especially, people who look for the fellowship of that weekly worship gathering as a boost for the rest of their week. Honestly, I get depressed as hell just thinking about people losing that sense of connection, to the point where I can’t imagine having to live it.

Obviously, some people, who place a sense of propriety on weekly church attendance will take the opportunity to visit another church. Some may stay home and watch an alternative presentation the church will offer at North Point Online. Some people, planning a visit to Atlanta for this weekend that includes a North Point visit, simply will not get the memo.

For this and other reasons, I have to say a resounding “No!”

What about you?

 

 

May 20, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Poor signage or a creatively named new outreach for Teen Challenge?

Poor signage or a creatively named new outreach for Teen Challenge?

Okay, hands up everyone who remembers the Bible story about The Horn of the Llamas?

Okay, hands up everyone who remembers the Bible story about The Horn of the Llamas?

Witty introduction, not in the Advance Reader Copy, to appear here in print edition.

in case of fire

Tomorrow on the blog: In Case of Rapture, Or Long Weekend, This Church will be Closed — a look at a major megachurch that already takes one weekend off in the winter, now doing the same in late Spring. (Title similarity to the graphic above was pure coincidence.) 

Video of the Week: This reminded me so much of Boney M who did Rivers of Babylon, though this sounds more like Rasputin.

May 13, 2015

Wednesday Link List

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post link below, click through to see 14 more abandoned churches.

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post link below, click through to see 14 more abandoned churches.

What you see each week are the links that ‘survived.’ You don’t get to see the rabbit trails which led nowhere, which can tie up the better half of an hour before I realize they aren’t yielding anything worth publishing.

Jordan from Blimeycow

May 8, 2015

Missing the Point

Social Media version of Phil 4 8

Church History

great-commission-revisted

Rescued

 

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