The coming evangelical collapse?

10 03 2009

Monday was a big news day re the status of the church in North America – here’s what went down:

arisreport20081) The ARIS survey results title American Religious Identification Survey 2008 was widely reported. The full report is available here.

barnagroup

2) The Barna Group released results of a recent survey titled Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years – it was not widely reported. A printable version of the findings is here – the key nugget: “less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation – i.e., those aged 18 to 23 – have a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults.”

csm3) But to top it all off the Christian Science Monitor published a very provocative article titled The Coming Evangelical Collapse (print edition to be available later in the week). If you are already uncomfortable from reading other posts on this blog you may want to skip this one (as if the title wasn’t warning enough). But for those who want to read the author’s thoughts in greater detail check out the unabridged version – a three part series posted the end of January 2009 here, here and here (or a printable version of all 3 available here).

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Getting real about where we are at

10 02 2009

The loss so many of us have suffered (directly or indirectly) as a result of the dramatic downturn in our economy has been both very real and very painful. As a result there has been a contraction that is not only felt in the economy but in our ability to see the magnificent opportunity we have at such a time like this. We know the facts: 1) God is good – He cares about me and my family; 2) Our relationship with Christ is strengthened during times of suffering; 3) There are others with greater needs then us; 4) The gospel is for exactly such a time as this; and 5) We are the ones blessed and now called to bring Christ’s redemption to those around us.

What we don’t know so well (because so many of us have never experienced times like this before) is the opportunity. What if the vision to build bridges to our community was for such a time as this? What if that vision was manifest primarily by reaching people in real need? What if living that vision started now – completely disassociated with any relocation plans? What if we trusted God with our future and focused on the needs at hand?

Some of us have answers to these questions: 1) It’s not that bad in Tallahassee; 2) Give it a year or two and things will be getting back to normal; 3) We are already serving the community – look at what OFS does each week.

Let’s say for argument these answers prove to be true – can we say we have acted like Christ by just maintaining the status quo? What if it takes five years to “get back to normal?” What if things get worse?

Here’s a course of action that needs our serious consideration (pertaining to Wildwood Church):

1) Admit that the relocation project is stalled.
2) Admit that leadership has been detached from one another and in disunity for some time and that only recently have steps begun to correct this problem.
3) Admit that our finances are in decline – presumptively because of the economy.
4) Admit that we are not sure when we will move forward with relocation plans but to do so now would be not only imprudent but an unethical use of resources with the increasing needs in our church and community due to the state of the economy.
5) Offer to return funds to people who gave to the relocation project who are experiencing financial hardship or who are dissatisfied with the lack of progress with the relocation plans.
6) Get permission to use the funds given to the relocation project to meet extraordinary needs of individuals and families in our community who have been affected by the economy.
7) Implement a church-wide collaborative form of communication to identify those extraordinary needs and solutions for those needs.

Risky? Without a doubt. What if people take us up on the offer to get their relocation contributions back and we give the rest away to people with extraordinary needs (and we do all that with a diminishing general fund)? But then think about the risk if we don’t act. What value is a vision to reach our community that we largely ignored during a time of crisis?

Perhaps it is premature to sound the alarm – perhaps this recession will not get much worse and be over sooner than expected. I am not a pessimist by nature but these are truly uncertain times – we have never tried to come out of a recession when the rest of the world was in it with us and the financial system had experienced such widespread failure.

No one knows the rules of how this game gets played out. Hoping for a soft landing and a speedy recovery is not a bad thing but I also don’t think it is a bad thing to discern what God would have us be about. Could it be that these uncertain times are the very windows of opportunity to advance God’s kingdom in our community? I think that this may be the real – the reality of what God is up to – that we need to be about.





Missional leadership

26 01 2009

missionalleader

Alan Roxburgh is leading a series of webinars that coordinate with his book The Missional Leader.  The book is an excellent resource providing some very practical guidance for leaders in post-Christendom.  Christianity Today reviewed the book shortly after it was published in 2006.  The following comments are from that review: 

“The book first describes this new term ‘missional.’ Leaders no longer view themselves as heads of a hierarchy, and church members no longer look only to the “professional” Christians to get the job done of reaching and caring for their communities. Missional leaders are more interested in cultivating community than controlling outcomes through programs and buildings. Such congregations are beginning to breathe in the same air and dream incredible dreams because they are learning to allow God’s Word and his Spirit to lead them rather than agendas, budgets, and traditions. People who would never have dreamed of taking leadership roles are discovering purpose in the community of believers.

“Essentially, in this model, the leader is a facilitator skilled at bringing out the deeper issues among the community. Rather than providing solutions, he asks good questions and embraces, rather than resolves, tension. The missional leader seeks to cultivate the congregation’s imaginative power rather than attempting to shape it into a pre-determined form.

“…For all its idealism, The Missional Leader paints a realistic picture at least of what life could look like among churches willing to enter the chaos and make lasting change little by little.”

Early last year Chad Hall illustrated how The Missional Leader was “playing out” in several churches in a Leadership Journal article (pdf available here).  

webinars_350x225The webinars Alan Roxburgh is hosting are available here.  The next one is scheduled for February 16.  The first webinar was recorded and recently made available to the participants – I’ve posted it below (the Powerpoint can be accessed and printed from here):





Education for a new society

14 01 2009

“The church that educates for a new society will live out in its structures what it proclaims.  The very structures themselves educate.  When our acts mirror our words, they give to our words a transforming power.”

-Elizabeth O’Connor





Are we having a rummage sale?

2 01 2009

greatemergenceI’m so over the word “change” – I mean give it a rest – the Obama campaign has flat worn the word out.  Before tucking the word away, however, let me offer a couple observations: 1) Systemic cultural change was well in progress before Obama’s campaign – he simply picked a good wave to surf on; and 2) The level of change the Obama campaign talked about pales in comparison to what is actually going on in American cuture and the church (specifically the church in North America).

No one describes the current transformation of the church more comprehensively than Phyllis Tickle.  Her new book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, provides a view from 50,000 feet of what we are experiencing in this time of liminality.  Her assessment is bold but based upon an historical analysis and whether her conclusions are correct will only be known years from now.  But if she is right we are priviledged to be living (participating?) in a very transformative period for the church.

So what is the book about – what is the “rummage sale” thing?   Check out this short video introduction:





Leadership is spatial

18 12 2008

“The primary work of leadership is to continually stand in the place (space) where it is compelled to ask the question of what God is about among this group of people who comprise this local church in this specific context at this particular time.”

-Alan Roxburgh





Thinking logically about leadership

13 12 2008

Logical thinkers love linkages – and cause and effect linkages are particularly satisfying.  Of course not all cause and effects are cleanly linked so we often go with corollaries to allow for some slippage.  Much of this blog has focused on leadership and leaders but not much has been said about non-leaders (perhaps a bit elitist?).  Well here’s a post that includes the non-leaders – specifically how leaders effect non-leaders.

I recently read a paper titled Leadership in the New Testament (2007) by Len Hjalmarson, a DMin student at Trinity Western Seminary.  If you read this blog more than occasionally Len will be familiar to you – he has an excellent blog – nextreformation.com – that I read regularly and have quoted from on earlier posts. I was struck by a correlation he drew between practices of the modern church and the effect on believers in such churches.  As leaders we are often frustrated with why so few people serve in the local church – I think the corollary Len presents in his paper helps paint the cause and effect picture explaining that frustration:

The modern church generally is (“cause”):

  • Leader centered
  • Program driven
  • Dualistic
  • Isolationist
  • Consumer driven
  • Seeker sensitive
  • Information oriented
  • Attractional

As a result, believers in the modern church tend to be (“effect”):

  • Passive
  • Self-centered
  • Undisciplined
  • Individualistic
  • Un-Christ like

Staying with the logical framework one would conclude a different and more desirable “effect” could be achieved if the “cause” part of the equation adjusted.  Len states that the church needs to become:

  • De-centered
  • Leaderful
  • Formational
  • Covenanted community
  • Missionally engaged

To make these changes leaders need to embrace paradox, admit how little we know, and be prepared to grieve the loss of the old world along with the identity we personally invested in those places and ways.  To do this we need nothing less than divine intervention and conversion. We can’t merely graft a new theory of formation onto an old root; we need a new tree. We are dealing with believers that don’t even see the need for spiritual formation.

More specifically, leaders need to get better at:

  • Supporting self-organizing activities
  • Creating conditions rather than giving directions
  • Moving from an activist stance to a reflective stance
  • Focusing on conversations that lead to clarity of purpose
  • Creating a learning culture by encouraging continual questioning
  • Rewarding innovation
  • Facilitating connections
  • Calling people together often so that everyone gains clarity about who we are, who we’ve just become and who we are becoming (by doing this leaders don’t have to undertake the task of trying to hold it all together)