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).





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





We need to be sanguine

15 11 2008

roxburghAlan Roxburgh’s comment to a recent article titled New Economic Paradigms & Church Leadership, by Sara Jane Walker, deserves serious attention.  His comment reveals the starke reality of the challenge facing church leaders in North America.  Following is the fourth paragraph from his comment: 

“We need to be quite sanguine about the current state of churches in terms of [the] issues of economic and social change. As the ambiguity and anxiety deepens they tend to become places people seek for security and re-assurance rather than transformation and the spiritual disciplines to live hopefully through transitions that many of [them] may never see end. At the same time I am aware that something else is happening ‘off stage’ just now. More and more Christians in North America (some suggest the number is moving up into the high 40% range) are dropping out of church as they’ve known it. They have not ceased to be Christians they just can’t function inside the church-denomination systems that shaped the 20th century. This is not, I believe, about taste (music, preaching, programs etc) or religious goods and services. I don’t think that read will hold water much longer (certainly not in Canada). Something much deeper is happening. Across all age ranges, this drop out has to do with a deepening sense that the churches are irrelevant in terms of issues people are facing in their lives in cultural transition. We could say much more about that but the point is that very, very soon a huge number of existing churches will find themselves in the position where the economic model out of which the church has functioned is no longer viable. This means high anxiety for a growing number of clergy who have grown dependent upon the salary systems of their church bodies.”





Living on the Edge

6 11 2008

The edge of things is a liminal space. The edge is a holy place, or as the Celts called it, “a thin place” and you have to be taught how to live there. To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return. It is a prophetic position, not a rebellious or antisocial one. When you live on the edge of anything with respect and honor, you are in a very auspicious position…. To live on the edge of the inside is different than being an insider. Yes, you have learned the rules and you understand and honor the system as far as it goes, but you do not need to protect it, defend it, or promote it. [You can] love both the inside and the outside…and know how to move between these two loves.

Source: Richard Rohr, Radical Grace, Vol. 19, No. 2, the Center for Action and Contemplation





Redefine, restructure, repackage and refocus

24 09 2008

Chuck Warnock pastors a small Baptist church in Chatham, Virginia, is a writer for Outreach Magazine and an alum of Mercer University, Southwestern Baptist Seminary, and currently working on a DMin. at Fuller Seminary.  I found his thoughts regarding the future of the (North American) church in the context of the economic, energy and environmental crises to be both well reasoned and compelling.  Is it coincidental that these crises are producing pressure in much the same direction as changes needed to become missional in the context of our post-Christendom culture?

Here are Chuck Warnock’s thoughts:

“I see churches adapting to these three interrelated crises – energy, economy, and environment – in several ways:

Redefinition of “church.” Church will no longer be the place we go, church will be the people we share faith with. Churches will still meet together for worship at a central time and location, but that will become secondary to the ministry performed during the week. Church buildings will become the resource hub in community ministry, like the old Celtic Christian abbeys. Church impact will replace church attendance as the new metric.

Restructuring of church operations. Due to the high cost of fuel and a struggling economy, churches will become smaller, more agile, and less expensive to operate than in the past. Churches will need to provide direct relief to individuals and families with meal programs, shelters, clothing, job training, and more. In the not-distant-future, we will live in a world where government is increasingly unable to fund and provide those services. Church buildings will become increasingly more expensive to maintain, and churches with unused weekday space will consider partnerships with businesses, other ministries, and helping agencies. Or churches will sell their conventional buildings and reestablish in storefronts that operate as retail businesses 6 days a week, and gathering places on Sunday (or Thursday or whenever). Churches will focus outwardly on their “parish” more than inwardly on their members. Church staff will become more community-focused rather than church-program focused, and become team leaders in new missional ventures.

Repackaging of “sermons” and Christian education. With fewer people “attending” church, fewer will also attend Christian education classes. Churches will deliver Christian education content via mobile devices. Short video clips accessible from iPhones (and other smart devices) will be the primary content carriers for church and culture. Church “members” (if that quaint term actually survives) will still gather, but more for monthly celebrations, fellowship, and sharing than weekly meetings, worship, or learning. Of course, there may be several monthly celebrations geared to different lifestyles (tribes), schedules, and preferences. Again, the abbey concept of the church as hub with many smaller groups revolving around the resource center.

Refocus from institution to inspiration. Okay, so I went for the easy alliteration there. Restated, less emphasis on the “church” and more on how the church enables its adherents to live their faith. Declining church attendance is not a crisis of faith, it’s a crisis of delivery. We can bemoan the fact that fewer people come to church, but ballgames are not suffering from declining attendance. People go to what they want to go to. Church ministry has to focus on engaging people in meaningful ways that enable their spiritual journeys. In a world in crisis, people are looking for something to believe in as institution after institution crumbles. If banks, businesses, and whole countries fail, where can we put our trust? Church should have the answer 24/7, delivered like everything else is delivered now – when people want it, at their convenience, and in a way that resonates with them.

None of the things I have suggested here are new. But, the thing that makes them more viable now is the convergence of all three crises at one time.”





Friday is for videos

19 09 2008

Michael Frost is an Australian teacher, writer and church leader, and one of Australia’s leading communicators and evangelists. He is the Director of the Centre for Evangelism and Glocal Mission at Morling Baptist Seminary in Sydney, Australia.  He has authored numerous books including Seeing God in the Ordinary (©Hendrickson, 2000), The Shaping of Things to Come with Alan Hirsch (©Hendrickson, 2003) and Exiles (©Hendrickson, 2006).

In August 2007 Michael spoke at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) conference along with John Ortberg (the 2008 conference speakers included Rick Warren and Alan Hirsch).  Who is PGF? – you can check out their web page but I think what they say at the beginning of their “Covenant 2008” describes what they are about quite well: 

“The mainline church is in crisis. We have turned
our eyes inward and have lost the central focus of
the New Testament church: its apostolic calling to
bear witness to Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
We live in a time when our own culture is a mission
field, and we acknowledge that maintaining old
institutions and systems leads neither to renewal
nor to faithfulness in God’s mission.

The mandate of the Gospel and the needs of
the world are urgent.

We confess that the living and reigning
Lord Jesus Christ alone is the hope of the world.

We believe that the Father sent the Son into the
world out of love (John 3:16) and that the church is
not an end in itself but a gift given to the world in
order that all may believe (John 17:21).

We believe Christ is calling us to recommit
ourselves to the authority of Holy Scripture and to
the faithful summaries of biblical teaching found in
the historic Reformed confessions.

We believe Christ is calling us, as covenantal
people, to be transformed by his indwelling
Holy Spirit and to be empowered by the Spirit
for faithful witness.

We believe Christ is calling us to move beyond
confidence in our own capacity and culture to a
new interdependence with others in the global
Body of Christ.

We believe Christ is calling for significant
transformation of our congregations, both in who
we are and what we do, as we engage in God’s
missional purpose for the church.

We believe it is time to gather anew around
God’s mission to the world…”

What Michael Frost has to say in the following discussion is very important explanation of missional and how our ecclesiology needs to be realigned:





Relationships and church

18 07 2008

If you have ever been on the home page of wordpress.com you have noticed how many blogs they host – the number today is 3,592,233. That is a heck of a lot of communication – perhaps overwhelming but if your antenna is tuned well there is much that can be fairly easily gleaned – and it is very helpful if we desire to navigate rather than drift through this liminal time. Aside form getting information, blogs are good at connecting us not just personally but conceptually – you can explore your imaginations/concepts/ideas and see if they resonate with anyone else. I think finding those resonates provides a much need sense of direction and quite possibly a clue in confirming what God is up to.

I recently experienced one of those resonates in reading David Hayward’s blog. From his “about” he is a pastor, musician and artist who lives in New Brunswick, Canada. Here’s what he had to say in two recent posts:

Communal Risks: Friendship

Although there are many communal dangers, I want to talk about the difficulty community brings to friendship. I told Lisa this morning that I feel like there’s a stone of sorrow anchored deep within me. On one level I trust all will be well. This is where any hope I have resides. At another level I see through a very dark glass and live in a world without any glimmer of hope at all. Being in the church has its good parts. When it’s good it’s awesome. But it is also a very difficult way to live. Like one friend said to me recently: she’s found the church to be a place of incredible pain when it comes to relationships. She’s surprised she’s still committed. But she’s right. Where there’s any spirit, the flesh wars against it. Which is why mixing friendship with religion and community is incredibly delicate, risky and often painful. When there’s agreement, things sail. When there’s not, there’s severance, divorce, destruction and indescribable grief. That’s been my experience. I could choose to have a few friends, kindred spirits, and keep it at that. Then go to a church where I can remain anonymous, get my liturgical fix and go home to my buddies afterwards. But no. That’s not me.

Or I could just keep faith out of my relationships altogether. Don’t even bring it up. But unfortunately faith isn’t just a hobby with me, an intellectual pursuit, a passing interest, an anthropological obsession. Somehow, faith, spirit, religion, relationship with I AM, has gripped my life to such an extent that it’s become essential to who I am. It is integral. To neglect it or deny it or suppress it in my relationships would be at least inauthentic and at worst suicidal. I can’t stand relating on a superficial level, pretending to be something I’m not pretending you’re someone you’re not. I have to be all out there or not at all. I resist becoming a rubber stamp endorsing what others do just to avoid conflict and make the mood in the room comfortable. I wish not to dial down just to stay in relationship with someone. And this has brought me the loss of many, many friends. It continues to happen to this day. And it tears my heart out every single time.

Let’s see: keep friends but deny who I am and live on a superficial level; or live freely as who I am and risk the loss of relationship? Believe me, the choice is a difficult one.

Fatigue

Fatigue = “a lessening of one’s response to or enthusiasm for something, typically as a result of overexposure to it.”

Some of you might say that I need to get out more. Take breaks! Go fishing! Take a ride on your motorcycle! I do that, but that only helps momentarily. There is something deeper that is wrong. It is more serious than just overexposure. I believe that it is somehow related to the fact that much of what we do isn’t related to real life. Somehow, we find ourselves sucked into doing something that isn’t essential to who we are. We carry this gnawing suspicion that we are serving a system we don’t believe in. Most of our energy is consumed slaving under meaningless duties. Years ago I took a time management course because I felt I was wasting too much time on useless stuff. The seminar was expensive. I left that course very passionate about organizing and managing my life. After a few months, however, I realized that all I was doing was organizing and managing the same old useless stuff. I had a revelation that managing my life was meaningless unless my life itself was changed.

Years ago I read a book by Easum and Bandy called Growing Spiritual Redwoods. I don’t recall anything else about the book except one declaration that the future church would not support codependent relationships. I remember how radical and dangerous an idea that was because that would pretty much empty most churches. Imagine if you stopped supporting codependence in all your relationships. Do you wonder how lonely you’d become? Most of what we do is fulfill other’s expectations of us. We grant other’s their desires.

Something else I’ve noticed: one week I decided to analyze the phone-calls and visits I was getting at the church building. The greatest majority of them were business related… that is, almost all of them had to do with somebody wanting something or trying to get me to want something. It’s like when you’re having supper with your family… that’s when the tele-marketers call.

It’s one thing to be actually engaged in life and relationships in a healthy way. It’s another to be entangled and trapped in an artificial pseudo-life and in unhealthy codependent relationships. I don’t think I suffer from overexposure to church and ministry. I compare it to fishing when you are being inundated with black-flies and mosquitoes. The fishing itself is a pleasure, but after a while the perpetual menace of insects exhausts you. It’s the distractions that kill us. Like someone once told me: “It’s hard to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators!”





The church in liminality

16 07 2008

The guys at Biblical Seminary are working well with the paradigm shifts and how those shifts impact and provide opportunities for the church.  The seminary president, Dave Dunbar, has written several easily digested articles that are available on their web site.  I thought this one titled What’s Different About Missional was a good representation and entry point:

To be evangelistic is to be committed to and involved with the proclamation of the gospel (the evangel). For many of us the gospel is primarily a verbal message focused on what God has done and will yet do in Jesus Christ to reconcile fallen humanity to himself. The form in which this message came to us was shaped by Scripture, by the Protestant reformers (especially Martin Luther), and by the revivalism of the 19th century. It was often a brief summary of the good news (the “Romans Road,” “The Four Spiritual Laws,” “Steps to Peace with God,” etc.) combined with a strong appeal to “trust Christ” or “accept Jesus as your personal Savior.”

There is no denying that many people (including me) came to a deep and abiding faith by this approach. But we should also recognize that those who are reached in this way are normally people who have been prepared for the message. Like me they may have grown up in a Christian home and, though they may not be church attenders, they at least have a “Christian memory.” By this I mean that they have acquired a basic stock of Christian truths that they embrace, even if they have never come to a place of personal commitment. A brief, focused presentation of the gospel is often very effective with people at this level of spiritual preparedness.

What the missional movement recognizes is that the percentage of the general population in America who now fit the above profile is rapidly shrinking. As I mentioned in my last article, our culture is increasingly post-Christian and biased against the gospel. So what should we do? Is the answer simply to be “faithful,” i.e., to say, “Just keep doing what worked before, and trust God for the results”? The problem with this answer is the assumption that “what worked before” was a comprehensive and biblically sufficient presentation of the gospel–one that doesn’t need to be examined or modified.

But this assumption is being challenged in some of the missional literature, and I find it a healthy challenge.  Consider these two lines of discussion:

Read the rest of this entry »





Top 10

4 07 2008

Mark Peterson serves with the Bridgeway Foundation in Ontario – and has served with his wife providing charitable service while living in Costa Rica, Colombia and the Philippines. I recently came across something he posted – what I would call a “top 10” list of what being the church in our community should look like (particularly in today’s culture):
1. Having a focus outward, not inward.
2. Serving with no-strings-attached, not driving an agenda.
3. Listening to the needs of the community, not imposing one’s own solutions.
4. Learning the language and customs of the community, not being incomprehensible or irrelevant.
5. Enjoying the journey together, not feeling that the destination is the only thing of value.
6. Moving out from our community incarnationally (I am at home everywhere), not bringing people into our community (I am only at home with my own kind).
7. Being all of us together, not “us versus them.”
8. Learning to dwell in the margins or risky areas, not preferring the comfortable centre.
9. Being changed – all of us – not just “them.”
10. Belonging before believing, not believing before belonging.