Thinking Out Loud

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.


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

December 24, 2012

Are Churches Counting The Wrong People?

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

Church metrics.

Yeah, that’s a thing.

Vince Antonucci has a different take on it:

Churches count their “attendance” each week. (Some don’t count very accurately, willing to count people – band, choir, staff, children’s volunteers, etc. – multiple times, but that’s a point for another day.) They count the amount of people from their city who show up at their church each week.

But I’d like to propose counting something different: The amount of people in the city not showing up at any church.

Seriously, a church can say that “This year we grew from 1,000 to 2,000!” but what if, in the same year, the amount of people not going to church in that city grew from 370,000 to 391,000? That gives you a very different picture of what’s happening, doesn’t it?

If the number we counted was how many people in our city are not going to church it would force churches to no longer celebrate growing through stealing people from other churches, it might lead churches to support and celebrate the success of other churches, and it would lead churches to focus on truly reaching the lost instead of focusing on their attendance numbers.

Instead of magazines featuring the “Hundred Fastest Growing Churches” there would be articles on the cities where the most people are coming to Christ, and isn’t that what we want to promote and celebrate?

So, what about it?

August 15, 2009

True Religion

Here’s an older cartoon I hadn’t discovered before.   Theophilus is drawn by Bob West — if I’m reading it right he’s been doing this for more than 30 years — and can be seen here.   This episode reminds us that sometimes when we are drawn into using our “labels” it actually spoils things.


May 14, 2009

Will Evangelicalism Go the Way of Mainline Denominations?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:39 pm

Much discussion has followed the release of two surveys on Church affiliation in the United States.

The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) triggered a reaction by Newsweek magazine, which got a response this week from Christianity Today online.   CT contends that what we’re seeing take place is a shifting from mainline to Evangelical preferences, counter to the Newsweek stance that the survey heralds the end of Christianity in America; something many feel the secular media is dying to announce.

I posted a comment to their article and — for reasons I can’t begin to imagine — the comment wasn’t accepted.    My thesis was and is that many of our so-called “new” denominations, such as the Assemblies of God or the Christian & Missionary Alliance, are actually over 100 years old.  (One C&MA leader used the term ‘geriatric’ about ten years ago.)

The potential “mainlining” of these groups is huge as traditions and modus operandi become entrenched.   But this is not all bad news.   The history of Christianity is a history of new groups and movements continuing to propel the Christian faith through history.    Since each movement is generally a reaction to what preceded it, one would wonder what will be the defining features of the movement which reacts to Evangelicalism.

(There, CT; I said it.   What was so unprintable about that?)

To read the CT article — including a link to the Newsweek piece — and add an unprintable comment of your own,  link here.

The other survey referenced online this week was The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life  survey entitled Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.

I located this story by Michael Bell at the blog Eclectic Christian, which got it via Internet Monk.     You’ve got to read the article, but what caps it off is this graphic depiction of denominational migration.


The article breaks into an extended analysis, but knowing a couple of you aren’t going to link, here’s what you’re seeing in the visuals:

What you are looking at is changes in American adults, from their childhoods to present day. As such it eliminates such factors as birthrate and death rate, and strictly looks at who is changing to what. We should note that immigration is a factor in this chart as present day Americans may have been born elsewhere, and so their childhood would have been in a different country.

Again, when you click the link, you can also click on the graphic and see it full screen (1000 x 600).

Transfer growth is a touchy subject, especially for pastors who are losing parishioners to larger or flashier churches.   But again, the history of Christianity is a history of new movements.

I once heard it said that people migrate from church to church for one of two kinds of reasons:  “push factors” or “pull factors.”   While there are people who feel that someone ‘stepped on their toes;’ I believe most of the migration described here would be of the “pull factor” variety.

Do you attend the church you grew up in?   Have you changed churches in the last 12 months?   What precipitated your change?

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