Talking Church Trends

John 8 - The Rest of the SermonEarlier this week I posted two articles about Thom Ranier’s 13 Issues for the Church in 2013. It seems like just about everyone is talking about trends in the church right now. New York Times reporter Amy O’Leary wrote an article for the December 29, 2012 issue of the Times entitled, Building Congregations Around Art Galleries and Cafes as Spirituality Wanes.

In the article O’Leary writes,

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion is on the rise, including a third of Americans under 30. Even so, nearly 80 percent of unaffiliated Americans say they believe in God, and close to half say they pray at least once a month.

The “spiritual but not religious” category is an important audience that evangelical leaders hope to reach in a culture that many believers call “post-Christian.”

So they arrange meetings in movie theaters, schools, warehouses and downtown entertainment districts. They house exercise studios and coffee shops to draw more traffic. Many have even cast aside the words “church” and “church service” in favor of terms like “spiritual communities” and “gatherings,” with services that do not stick to any script.

Read the entire article here. 

Slate  published a story on November 27, 2012, by Ruth Graham entitled, Re-evangelizing New England, about the “quiet revival” (an ironic term, I know) that is happening in New England.  The story talks about how church planting and music festivals are helping to spur this revival. In the article Graham states,

The Northeast is the historic cradle of American Christianity, and just about every postcard-ready town here boasts a white church with a steeple. But sometime between the Second Great Awakening and today, the region evolved into the most secular part of the country. In the words of one regional missions group, “pulpits that once boasted gospel preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield now proclaim universalism, liberalism, and postmodernism.” A Gallup poll this year found that the four least-religious states in America are in New England. For evangelicals, the issue is more pointed: Evangelical researcher J.D. Payne has found that of the five U.S. metro areas with the lowest percentage of evangelicals, New England cities are beat only by Mormon-dominated Provo, Utah. New England is relatively wealthy and educated, and overall, its population is shrinking and aging. That’s why some Christians see New England as “hard soil”—and desperate for re-evangelizing. There’s a palpable sense of momentum growing among evangelicals in New England, who say this hard soil may soon bear fruit thanks to institutional efforts, individual leaders, and an intangible sense of energy often credited to the Holy Spirit. But do they have any hope of success in the most proudly and profoundly secular region in America?

The movement to convert New Englanders looks something like the recent evangelical focus on Western Europe, another traditionally Christian region that is now broadly unchurched. One popular approach is “church planting,” in which a pastor moves to a new location to found a new church that he hopes will eventually spawn several others, and so on. Because the method eventually produces indigenous churches, it’s considered a more reliable and organic path to growth than traditional “outsider” evangelism. To generalize broadly, church-planters tend to be young and Web-savvy, are almost always male (with a supportive wife), and often share a conviction that orthodox theology needn’t be burdened by the trappings of traditional worship. Think overhead projectors, not organs.

Many of New England’s church-planters are sent by denominations based in (or at least biggest in) the South.

Read the entire article here.

Rose French, a columnist with the Star Tribune of Minneapolis wrote a piece about retiring pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, John Piper, that appeared in the paper on December 29, 2012. French’s column is more than a profile piece on a retiring pastor, it is a look at the influence that Calvinism has had in Piper’s life, church, and the millions that he has inspired throughout the years. The article states:

A slightly built man, gray-haired and bespectacled, Piper is soft-spoken and self-effacing when he’s not preaching. But once he steps to the pulpit, his presence fills the room.

A 2010 survey of U.S. pastors ranked Piper among the 10 most influential living preachers — alongside Billy Graham, Rick Warren and Max Lucado.

“John Piper is sort of the anti-slick preacher,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a Christian firm that conducted the survey. “I would say he’s very unconcerned with people’s perception of his brand. And I think that’s driven by his theology. He’d be very comfortable not being heard from as long as the message went forth. And I think that’s endearing to a lot people. It’s not all about him.”

Tony Jones, a theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis, is one of Piper’s frequent critics.

“I don’t think the fundamental nature of God is wrath at human sin,” Jones said. “I’m not going to say God isn’t disappointed by human sin … but at the very core of Piper’s theological vision is that God’s wrath burns white-hot at your sin and my sin. When I read the Bible, that’s not the God I find.”

Piper offers no apologies for his theology.

“If you try to throw away a wrathful God, nothing in Christianity makes sense. The cross certainly doesn’t make sense anymore, where [Jesus] died for sinners.” His views of the tornado and bridge collapse, he said, “are rooted in the sovereignty of God. Even though people see them as harsh, negative, wrathful, whatever, they are good news.”

He said he considers himself a “happy Calvinist — which is an oxymoron. I’m on a crusade to make that not an oxymoron.”

Read the entire article here. 

Piper’s influence will not wane any time soon. His impact on a generation of pastors and young adults is unquestioned. Just this week, Piper is speaking at Passion 2013, a gathering of thousands of young adults meeting in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

What excites you about the current trends in the Body of Christ? What disturbs you? And, what role are you playing to live as Christ in this generation?

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Thirteen Issues for Churches in 2013 Continued

13-issuesThom Ranier finished his blog postings entitled Thirteen Issues for Churches in 2013, with issues 7-13 today.

Here are the trends in churches that he is noticing.

  1. Innovative use of space. More and more churches are not letting the lack of space keep them from ministering to great numbers of people. It used to be that a church sitting on 3-5 acres could expect to grow to about 500 people maximum on that property. Ranier states that the younger leaders that he is working with say that they can see a church growing to 2,000 in such a space, because they are using the space creatively, offering services at multiple times and in multiple ways. Millennial pastors are not as tied to traditional service times and this opens up opportunities to use space in new and innovative ways.
  2. Heightened conflict. As younger leaders continue to assume leadership roles in more and more churches, the conflict between the needs of generations emerges. Ranier attributes this in part to those in the Millennial Generation asking tough questions that people in the the Boomer and Builder generations did not want to address. I am challenged and inspired by some of the difficult questions that folks coming into our church ask on a regular basis.
  3. Adversarial government. Ranier believes that churches will have less access to public schools and other public facilities. He has noticed that some local governments around the country are governments are “resisting approval of non-tax paying congregations expanding their facilities. New churches and existing churches that are expanding their venues will be forced to become more creative as they look for new locations.”
  4. Community focus. Ranier feels that one of the most positive changes in the younger generation of church leaders is a focus on community needs. Churches are increasingly getting away from programs tied to the church building to engage the community where they are at.
  5. Cultural discomfort. Ranier speaks of the growing divide between the value of culture and the traditional values of the church. This is a divide that will continue to grow in the 21st Century. I view this as a great opportunity for the church of Jesus Christ to shine bright in our day and age. The early church was radically counter-cultural. Somewhere along the line we became so culturally sensitive that we began to look a lot less like the “aliens and strangers” of Scripture and a lot more like the Joneses.
  6. Organizational distrust. Ranier speaks of the growing distrust in our culture towards the institution. We live in a day and age when distrust in government, business, and the church is very high. My prayer is that we as the church won’t give people a reason to distrust us. We ought to be the model for what it means to conduct ourselves with the utmost of ethics.
  7. Reductions in church staff. In a difficult economy, more and more churches are not hiring new staff when a position becomes vacant. On a positive note, Ranier writes of the fact that “in many congregations there is a greater emphasis on laypersons handling roles once led by paid staff.”  That sounds a whole lot like Ephesians 4:11-16 to me. In other words, “It sounds biblical, and that is good!”

    11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped,when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Ranier’s trends and see if you have any more that you would add.

You can read Ranier’s entire post here.

Thirteen Issues for Churches in 2013

13-issuesThom Ranier has a fascinating post at his blog today entitled Thirteen Issues For Churches in 2013. will face in 2013. He deals with issues 1-6 today and will post the next seven issues in two days.

In today’s post Ranier opines that in 2013 we will see:

1) The impact of the “nones” – The percentage of the U.S. population that claims no religious affiliation increased from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2012.

2) Migration back to small groups – I’m thrilled when I read this. Ranier has some good thoughts about this. He writes, “There is an increasing awareness that those who are in groups have a higher level of commitment in almost all areas of church life.”

3) Accelerated closing of churches – Ranier predicts that 8,000-10,000 churches could close their doors for good in 2013.

4) More churches moving to multiple venues – Ranier writes, ” the number of congregations moving to multiple venues is staggering. Indeed that issue may be the single greatest distinguishing factor in growing churches.”

5) The growth of prayer emphasis in local congregations – This one thrills my soul as well. I believe that God loves when we move from being human-centered to God-dependent. It’s so easy to try to do things our way expecting things to happen on our timetables in church. When we sincerely seek God’s direction, His wisdom, and His timing, He has room to work.

6) Fickle commitment – Ranier has some interesting thoughts on the low commitment level of the American church.

These are interesting thoughts. I’m looking forward to reading his other seven issues for the church in 2013. Care to guess what some might be? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

How Is Your Church Influencing Culture?

table-plugDallas Theological Seminary has a fantastic new podcast that pastors and church leaders ought to be listening to. On December 18, Andy Crouch, Andy Siedel, and Darrell Bock recorded a conversation about how the church impacts culture. If you are a church leader, I want to encourage you to take about 45 minutes to watch two podcasts entitled Culture Making and Creativity. The Seminary has done a good job dividing these into two different segments so that you can watch it in two settings.

The podcasts center around these questions:

What is culture?

How are “things,” not just ideas and thoughts, part of “culture making?”

What results or effects do we experience from “culture making?”

What is the importance of service when engaging in culture?

How are “things,” not just ideas and thoughts, part of “culture making?”

How should the knowledge of “culture making” affect the teaching/communication of pastors and the actions of those in the secular world?

How can we see culture in ways unlike ever before?

For leaders, how should the idea of “culture making” affect how you lead?

You can link to the podcasts here.

God Answers Prayer

Prayer is the FuelThe life of a pastor is an interesting one. In a normal week I will meet with dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of people in a variety of settings. There is an endless stream of meetings – from monthly ministry team meetings, to staff meetings, to board meetings, to vision meetings, to counseling meetings to meetings with denominational officials and other pastors, to meetings with vendors, to meetings with people in crisis, to meetings with those I mentor, to meetings with . . . you get the picture.

There is also a lot of activity that is produced as a result of those meetings.

There is sermon preparation, hospital visitation, mission trips, volunteering in ministry at my church and in the community. There is planning and vision casting. There is studying and reading.

There are periods in my life where I intentionally take a look at all that I am involved in and pray over what needs to be cut out. It is a freeing thing to stop doing things that are really good so that others can step up and fill my shoes in fresh new ways that more often than not outshine anything that I have done in that area.

Perhaps the most important work that I do on any given week is to pray. The older I get the more I learn that prayer is the fuel that drives the church. All of our meetings, all of our planning, all of our busyness, will amount to nothing of lasting value if God isn’t in it. 

In 2012 I have witnessed God answer prayer in such powerful ways. I have seen the Lord give clarity in areas where apart from Him there would be confusion. I have seen God heal the sick (I just got back from a hospital visit that was so encouraging, where I saw God’s healing on an individual in such powerful ways). I have seen marriages restored. I have seen children walk back to God. I have seen new people coming to faith. I have seen financial worries alleviated.

God answers prayer. He is at work! There are some big personal prayer requests that I am laying at God’s feet as we end this year. I know our God can do miracles and I am praying for Him to do so in these circumstances, encouraged by what He has already done.

What’s a way that you have seen God work in your life this year?

Sermon Manuscripts and Sermon Based Small Group Questions Now Online

People regularly ask me if the sermons that I preach are available in manuscript form. You may now download .pdf versions of my sermons at the Woodbury Community Church website. You may also download small group questions to help you dive deeper into the content of the sermons. The new sermon and small group content is available by clicking here.

The Challenge 2011

The Challenge Is Coming!
In 2010, over seventy people at Woodbury Community Church tookThe Challenge, a challenge to read through the Bible over the course of one year. Many of those who took The Challenge completed that challenge yesterday. Many did not, but in taking The Challenge, they read more of the Bible in 2010 than they did in 2009.In 2011, I want to challenge you once again to attempt to read through the Bible. There is nothing that will change you as much as God’s Word. D. L. Moody once said, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book,” when referring to the Bible. When we spend time in God’s Word, we are changed.In 1959, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, the minister of Westminster Chapel in London wrote, “There is nothing more important in the Christian life than the way in which we approach the Bible, and the way in which we read it. It is our textbook, it is our only source, it is our only authority. We know nothing about God and about the Christian life in a true sense apart from the Bible. We can draw various deductions from nature (and possibly from various mystical experiences) by which we can arrive at a belief in a supreme Creator. But I think it is agreed by most Christians, and it has been traditional throughout the long history of the Church, that we have no authority save this Book. We cannot rely solely upon subjective experiences because there are evil spirits as well as good spirits; there are counterfeit experiences. Here, in the bible, is our soul authority.” (D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Second Edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976, p. 6.)One of the common requests that I received last year was for a reading plan that would allow us to read through the Bible chronologically. This year we’ll use the Chronological Reading Guide, which was put together by Back to the Bible Ministries. You can download your copy of the Chronological Reading Guide by clicking here.