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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How Corrupt Is Your Country?

CorruptCountriesSeveral are blogging about this today. Transparency International just published their annual list of the perceived level of corruption in the governments of 176 nations around the world.

Our recent trip to Haiti revealed that many of the problems within the country stem from a corrupt government. The nation has not experienced a healthy government, perhaps ever. It is sad that Haiti experienced it’s greatest prosperity while underneath an oppressive dictatorship, and that the resulting coups and hopes of a democracy have only brought about corruption. There were 19 presidential candidates in the last election. Haiti is a divided country.

Today, Somalia is the most corrupt nation in the world. Many of my Somali friends dream of one day returning to their nation, but cannot as long as the corruption exists. International aid, meant to help those experiencing the worst famine on earth today often doesn’t get to the intended recipients because of governmental corruption.

North Korea is perhaps the most closed country in the world. The stories of the atrocities committed against the citizens of the nation by the government are heart-breaking. Many nations are on edge as they see North Korea’s government continue to experiment with long range missiles capable of carrying biological or nuclear warheads.

Woodbury Community Church has a special relationship with many refugee families who have fled the persecution of Myanmar’s government. Over the past three years we have teamed up with Refugee Life Ministries of World Relief Minnesota and brought precious families from this country to the Twin Cities. (In 2012 Myanmar moved up two spots as the government began to open up relationships with other nations, even prompting a visit from President Obama. This was the first visit of a sitting U.S. President to Myanmar. For more information on Woodbury Community Church’s refugee life ministry click here).

When I look at this list, and when I think of Christmas, I am reminded of the fact that one of the names of Jesus is that he is our Prince of Peace. The Messiah, Emmanuel  God with Us comes to bring peace between man and God. I’ve often times said that the answer for America or any other country isn’t the government, it is the church of Jesus Christ, standing up and being counted as His hands in feet in our generation. It would be nice to have Christ followers serving the public good in governments all over the world. But, it’s never going to happen in some countries. In our own nation, we have seen that just being a Christian in the government doesn’t solve the greatest needs of humanity  Christ’s answer was never government. It was the church, pointing people to the Savior of the world.

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus said:

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

May you live as salt and light today!

For more information on this study, check out the Washington Post’s article here.

You can read Ed Stetzer’s thoughts about this information and some expanded views on the Pew Forum’s recent look at the Global Religious Landscape here.