Switching

The faithful are restless, a new study of Protestant churchgoers suggests.

They're switching from church to church, powered by a mix of dissatisfaction and yearning, according to the study by LifeWay Research. The organization is part of the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Most of the switchers who changed their house of worship without making a residential move (58%) say their old church failed to engage their faith, or put their talents to work, or it seemed hypocritical or judgmental.

But 42% of the people say they switched because another church offered more appealing doctrines and preaching or the preacher and church members' faith seemed more "authentic."

Cathy Lee Grossman has the story in USA Today.

Currents in world growth shaping Methodist church, too

Boom in Christianity Reshapes Methodists

Rachel Zoll, Associated Press

The United Methodist Church is the latest Protestant group caught in the shifting currents of world Christianity. While the American denomination is shrinking at home, its congregations in the developing world are growing explosively.

Over the last decade, the number of United Methodists outside the U.S. more than tripled. The denomination's largest district is now in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. At the next national church assembly, the 2008 General Conference in Texas, overseas delegates will have more say than ever in the church's future—as many as 30 percent could come from abroad.

Read more »

A Millenial Views the Church

There is a reformation going on and it is good, according to a post on Future Politics, which focuses on the progressive youth movement. The writer commends "the dedication shown by the Episcopal Church to Jesus’ teachings about including the outcast is at the forefront of this reformation, split,and reevaluation. And if - if - we can hand these guys a mic when the “news” hits about the split, it could reconfigure how a lot of people view christianity. Move the goalposts, dammit!"

The post, which also appears here, has a really fine and colorful summary of both the differences between the Episcopal Church and other churches, but also differences within the Anglican Communion.

His analysis is that the church is splitting between those who fear those who have "cooties" and those who will welcome anyone.

The writer says that the questions being debated now in the Church will either pave the way for millenials to find a spiritual home or cause them to stay away when these issues begin to matter more to them.

Anglicans Should Do The Right Thing

A cradle Anglican from Canada writes on the church and its message for those looking for a place to worship and finding a spiritual home:

"Traditional churches like the Anglican Church can't afford not to
change with the times. Lots of people my age and younger aren't cradle
Anglicans or cradle Baptists, or what have you. Even if they are, they
join their unaffiliated peers and go church-shopping, comparing
different service and churches until they find one where they fill (sic)
fulfilled and comfortable. Does the Anglican Church really want to
start turning people away because it's hung up on tradition and rules?

But that's really a practical concern. More pressing is the question
Cruikshank posed rhetorically: Do we want to treat people as human or
sub-human? "


These are the feelings of Gen-x and y folks trying to win their peers back to a church where they can find a place with God that isn't going to bash them over the head with dogma, sola scriptura or the gospel of selfishness.

Read it all HERE

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An Afro-Anglican Journey

Excerpts from: "The Life of an Afro-Anglican by Earl Clinton Williams, Jr." on Bishop Marc Andrus' blog, on contemplation and living for justice.

Being born and brought up in the Episcopal Church has been an interesting thing to experience. Most of my friends through school did not attend the Episcopal Church, and when I would tell them what church I did attend, they would ask what Episcopal meant. I remember working at a camp in the Pocono Mountains and being asked that question by another counselor. He responded by saying "Oh, you go to one of those quiet churches." All that I could do was to smile and say that I did. I think that it was at that point in my life in which I noticed that most of the Episcopalians that I knew were white. Sure two of my best friends and most of my mother's family were Episcopalians, and were black, but I really didn't know many other Black Episcopalians.

When I moved to Oakland in 1980, I figured that since I had made a change in where I lived, I might as well change the church denomination that I attended. After being here for a little over a month and attending other church denominations, I awoke one Sunday morning needing to go to an Episcopal service. I asked my aunt, whose house I was living in at the time, where the closest Episcopal Church was. We looked in the phonebook and found two that were close by. She drove me over to the first one, but I just didn't like the color that the church was painted, so we drove over to the second one, and she asked me if I wanted to go to that one or back to the first one. I looked at the clock and saw that service was about to start, and said that I would go to that one. Now I wasn't thrilled with the looks of this church either from the outside, but it had a better paint job. When I walked through the doors, I knew that I was home. My searches for a new denomination lead me back to the one that I was already in.

Like I did in with the congregations, I wonder what this diocese really has to offer and I to offer as a person of color? Why should I put the effort in to do things on the Diocesan level when I know that when I walk on the ground and in the buildings of the Episcopal Diocese at California & Taylor that I will only see a couple of pictures of people of color, and I had to look hard for those? It bothers me at times to go onto the property and the only people of color that I see working anywhere there are "Indians" and not "Chiefs". It bothers me that we have one of the finest seminaries in the world and the best School for Deacons in the world, but the vocations of being either a Priest or Deacon really isn't presented to the youth of color as viable careers.

As I have sat in commission meetings not too long ago, I have come to realize that those of us who are Afro-Anglicans really don't know each other, or get involved here. I know that some of it has to do with the lack of color in DioHouse, but I think that if we get involved that we could make a difference on who is inside there. Yes I want for the Bishop to hire the best-qualified people for jobs regardless of their color, but it would be great to walk into that place and know that we of color have some voices inside those walls. We of color would then feel as though we really matter to the diocese.

I'm going to continue this joyful ride in this diocese with the belief that this diocese will help in fulfilling the dream of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many other great Black leaders. I believe that some day some day we will not think about trying to become multicultural and multiethnic, but a place where when we build new churches that they will be that way naturally. I want for their to be a time and the norm that when the National General Convention meets that when resolutions come from this diocese, they don't get discussed in committees, but go straight to both Houses and are fully supported by all, for people will know that they have come from a diocese that works together regardless of the color of our skin.

The diocese has begun to change in that it does listen to the voices of those not within the now one Afrocentric congregation. Now we just need to get Afro-Anglicans and other people of color involved at all levels of the diocese. We need to get our Clergy of Color to be visible to the youth of color so that our youth realize that becoming a Cleric of Color is a viable career.

I call upon the diocese to find visible place on the grounds of Grace Cathedral to place pictures of current clergy and laity of color, so that all will see that this is not a diocese or church of nothing but Europeans, but that we are diverse.

I call upon the Clergy and Laity of color within this diocese to get involved with the different Ethnic Commissions, and to be visible at different events not only at the diocesan level, but also at events held at other congregations.

It's going to take more than just the office to make changes and us visible. We must also go out and do what it takes to make the world know that we are an inclusive to all regardless of our color.

Read the rest here.

One hope, one faith, one Second Life...

The Washington Post has a write-up on religion's increasing visibility in a virtual environment with millions of users:

In Second Life, the online virtual universe that is attracting 3.7 million users, you can light virtual candles for Shabbat, teleport to a Buddhist temple or consult the oracle for some divine guidance.

Second Life is a three-dimensional, online game produced by San Francisco-based Linden Lab in which participants create a virtual world, buy and sell land and products and interact in all the usual ways.

Now religion has a growing presence there, too, users say, and religious diversity and participation have skyrocketed since last June, when basic membership to Second Life became free.

The whole article is here.


Helen at the SL Anglican Cathedral
Anglicans in Second Life
An Anglican group was established in Second Life (SL) thanks to the efforts of Bill Sowers and Mark Brown. Sowers (known as Rocky Vallejo in SL) is a member of St. David's Episcopal in the Diocese of Kansas, founded the group with the following Charter, according to information at The Anglican Church in Second Life website:
A Christian community for those who call themselves: Anglicans, Episcopalians or members of the Church of England, Episcopal Church or any of the other bodies of believers who share the Anglican heritage.

During the past couple of months, Mark Brown (known as Arkin Ariantho in SL, and CEO of The Bible Society in New Zealand) has spearheaded a campaign to secure land for and build an Anglican Cathedral in SL, which has a real economy. The Cathedral is located at Epiphany Island and you can see pictures at Brown's Flickr site, here.

Users of Second Life can visit the Cathedral here (and look me up, as Vahnia Gregory). For more information on Second Life, including the technical requirements needed to run the software, visit here.

And stay tuned for possible developments with the Episcopal Cafe in Second Life.

Students Continue to Believe

It has long been conventional wisdom that the increased education results in reduced adherance to faith. A new study by several sociologists at the University of Texas suggests that this conventional wisdom is wrong. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which tracked more than 10,000 Americans from adolescence through young adulthood from 1994 to 1995 and from 2001 to 2002, the researchers found that students who attend and graduate from college are more likely than others to hold on to their faith.

As Inside Higher Ed reports:

Whether the source is God and Man at Yale or any number of more recent studies, the conflict between a college education and the faith that students bring to campus (secular campuses at least) is well accepted. The more you pursue a higher education, the more likely you are to abandon your faith — at least that’s what conventional wisdom holds.

“Actually we’ve just been wrong about this for quite a while,” said Mark D. Regnerus, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the authors of a new study that suggests students who attend and graduate from college are more likely than others to hold on to their faith.

It’s not that colleges necessarily encourage faith, he said, but for all the talk about how intellectuals are out to destroy students’ relationships to their religions and God, the main obstacles to such relationships have to do with maturing and how young people spend their time. “Some kids were bound to lose [their faith] anyway and they do,” Regnerus said. But the evidence suggests that college isn’t responsible.
. . .
The data were mined for trends on three factors of religious activity: attendance at religious services, relative importance of religion, and disaffiliation from religion. A substantial majority of young adults report a decline in attendance at religious services, while a minority report that religion has become less important and that they have completely dropped their religion. But the greatest drops come from those who are not in college.

Those who did not attend college had the highest level of reduced religious activity: they had a 76.2% decline in attending services, a 23.7% decline in a reported mportance of religion in their lives, and a 20.3% disaffiliation from religion altogether. In contrast, while those who earned at least a college degree had significant reductions in religious activity, it was much less than other groups: they had a 59.2% decline in attending services, a 15% decline in a reported importance of religion in their lives, and a 15% disaffiliation from religion altogether.

The lead author of the study, Mark D. Regnerus, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas, offered some speculations as why this would be the case:

Regnerus said that what the study suggests — and his personal experience confirms — is that while there are plenty of non-religious professors around, they aren’t trying to discourage any students from practicing their faith. “Of course there are some who are hostile to religion. But they don’t teach that. They teach their discipline,” Regnerus said. The attitude, he added, is: “Whatever I think about evangelicals, when I go to teach quantum physics, I teach quantum physics.”

More broadly, so many students are in pre-professional programs, Regnerus said, that they are focused on practical matters much more than on wondering whether God exists. As a Christian who earned his undergraduate degree at Trinity Christian College, Regnerus said he spent a lot of time talking about philosophical issues in college, but that’s not the norm for many undergrads these days. (Christian colleges in recent years have experienced a boom, in part from students who don’t want to become secular, or whose parents don’t want them to become secular, and Regnerus said his study doesn’t contradict that belief. Because there is a decline in religious connection during the college years — looking at religious and secular institutions together — those at religious colleges are less likely to experience that decline.)

Behavioral factors, he said, are a better way than college status to predict whether young adults will become less religious. Those who don’t have sex before marriage are also those who don’t experience as much of a drop in religious connection. Those who have smoked pot experience more of a drop. Those who increase alcohol consumption during their young adulthood experience more of a drop in religious connection.

Read the full Inside Higher Ed article here.

What lessons does this study offer the Episcopal Church? Isn't the real story here the fact that all young people have a large drop off in attending religious services and the importance of religion in their lives? Does this suggest that this is a group that the church is failing to reach?

Episcopal Bishop Learns From Emerging Church

Let's face it, the age demographic of the Episcopal Church skews heavily to the older part of the age range, and we have not done nearly as well as we should in atracting the twentysomething crowd. Bishop Kirk Smith of the Diocese of Arizona would like this to change, and he is taking lessons from the "Emerging Church" movement. Here is Bishop Smith's email report to his Diocese about a visit to a storefront Emerging Church in Phoenix Arizona:

[W]e decided that instead of just reading about it, we would talk to some people actually involved. So we invited two members of a nearby storefront church called "One Place" to be with us for the morning.


Mark and Kevin are the co-pastors of this group of about 75 young people. Both are in their middle twenties, and both sport elaborate tattoos (except they are bible verses in both Greek and Hebrew!). They started this downtown community because they had been to the "First Friday" gatherings which attract several thousand young people to the downtown area to experience art and music, and they felt that God was calling them to be present here. They and a small group refurbished an old warehouse, and the church was born. Although they both have some theological education, neither one takes a salary, and they support themselves through various day jobs.


My group was very impressed. Here was a group of 20 year olds-a group largely absent from our ranks-living out their Christian faith in a deeply committed way. We were impressed by their theological depth (their favorite theologians were N.T. Wright, Dietrich Bonhoffer and Henri Nouwen), their commitment (many had moved into the city as a sign of solidarity with the poor), but above all with their willingness to accept people wherever they might be on their spiritual walk. Moreover, we were particularly impressed with their willingness to let God set their agenda, instead of trying to control their own future-"This is what we feel we need to be about now, in this way-but God may have different things in store for us." They spoke a lot about "doing church" rather than "going to church."


After they had left us, we compiled a list of the qualities that impressed us: Faithfulness, authenticity, a willingness to practice what they preached, a true hospitality and inclusiveness, a trustfulness in God that allowed them to experiment rather than to enforce rules or dogmas, and a prayerful humility that turned control over to God.


After we made the list, we realized that this could also be a description of our own congregations at their best! We had much in common (well, except maybe for the tattoos and the rock music), and our goals were the same. As one of the pastors said to me as he was leaving-"We don't have any magic answers-we are just doing our best to live a Christian life."


Their visit gave me hope. The Holy Spirit is always at work in the world in new and unexpected ways. When It is hampered by institutional structures that are moribund, fearful, and caught up in power issues, it will find a new place to work. We should never forget that.


When I was reading the Book of Acts last week, I was reminded from where our visitors took their name: "And when the day of Pentecost had come, they [the disciples] were all together in one place." (Acts 2. 1). We look forward to learning and working with this new "emergent" group of young Christians. May we always be together in that "one place," united in the Spirit and the work of the Kingdom.

This was an exciting visit. The church is close to the Cathedral in Phoenix, and the Dean of the Cathedral is eager make a stronger connection with the One Place church. Are there similar storefront churches in your area that are part of the emerging church movement? Has the Episcopal Church made an outreach to these churches in your area?

She's ba-ack

God has returned to Europe. So reports The Wall Street Journal. The question is, why? The WSJ offers up the supply-side theory, and the facts appear to fit.

The supply-side theory says that church membership will be strong where the competition is strong and churches are competing for numbers. Old Europe (to coin a phrase) had monopoly churches, churches established and funded by the state without regard to their performance. In contrast, everyone knows that Americans are much more religious the Europeans. The common explanation is that Americans are different. That's the demand-side explanation; that Americans are exceptional. The supply-side explanation is institutional: separation of church and state. Ironically, in choosing not to have established churches the authors of the Constitution created an environment in which religiousity was strong.

The Wall Street Journal article paints a familiar but still striking picture of religion in the Old Europe:

"The state undermined the church from within," says Stefan Swärd, a leader of Sweden's small but growing evangelical movement.

Consider the scene on a recent Sunday at Stockholm's Hedvig Eleonara Church, a parish of the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran institution that until 2000 was an official organ of the Swedish state. Fewer than 40 people, nearly all elderly, gathered in pews beneath a magnificent 18th-century dome. Seven were church employees. The church seats over 1,000.

Hedvig Eleonara has three full-time salaried priests and gets over $2 million each year though a state levy. Annika Sandström, head of its governing board, says she doesn't believe in God and took the post "on the one condition that no one expects me to go each Sunday." The church scrapped Sunday school last fall because only five children attended.

Just a few blocks away, Passion Church, an eight-month-old evangelical outfit, fizzed with fervor. Nearly 100 young Swedes rocked to a high-decibel band: "It's like adrenaline running through my blood," they sang in English. "We're talking about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus."

In the New Europe religiousity is making a comeback. And there is some evidence for a supply-side explanation:
One factor now spurring religious competition in Europe is the availability of state money that traditionally flowed almost entirely to established churches. It still does, but the process is more open.

In Italy, the state used to pay the salaries of Catholic priests, but in 1984 it began letting taxpayers choose which religious groups get financial support. The proceeds of a new "religious tax" of 0.8% are now divided, according to taxpayer preference, among the Catholic Church, four non-Catholic churches, the Jewish community and a state religious and humanitarian fund.

The result is an annual beauty contest ahead of a June income-tax deadline, as churches try to lure taxpayer money with advertising campaigns. Catholics get the lion's share -- 87% of nearly $1.2 billion in 2004, the last year for which figures are available. But according to a 2005 study by Italian lawyer Massimo Introvigne and Mr. Stark, the system "reminds Italians every year that there is a religious economy."

Sweden has also overhauled church financing. In 2000, the government gave up formal control of the Church of Sweden. With great fanfare it replaced what had been a church "tax" with an annual "fee," still collected by tax authorities, levied on Church of Sweden members.

For the first time, taxpayers were told what they owed in cash -- instead of being given just a percentage figure, which is typically under 1% of household income. Church of Sweden membership dropped abruptly, and the church launched a publicity drive pitching religion.


Read and decide for yourself why more Europeans are going to church.

The Daily Episcopalian discussed Episcopalian membership trends from the supply-side perspective here, and from the demand-side here.

Play it again

Filed under church growth, but that may be misleading—the Rev. Michael Ruk is one of an apparently growing number of priests that are heading up more than one church, according to the Bucks County Courier Times.

Doubling up this way is a new phenomenon in the Episcopal Church. The Episcopalians — like many mainstream denominations — are finding there aren't enough clergy to go around and because most Episcopal churches have small congregations, few can support one full-time minister, Ruk said.

“It's an economic move, an example of thinking outside the box. It will be quite an adventure,” Ruk said.

Bishop Charles Bennison was also interviewed for the article, noting that this trend wasn't necessarily a sign of shrinking attendance so much as a reflection of the times. During the colonial period, it was necessary for people to be close to their churches.

... Early American settlers developed a pattern of building many small Episcopal churches very close to each other, each with its own full-time clergyman. The church was the center of a community's social life and the faithful needed to be able to walk to their houses of worship.

The invention of the automobile and the increased diversity of the population soon found many Episcopalian worshippers traveling to bigger, more centralized churches, Bennison said.

“The early setup was an economic model for church life that is no longer practical,” the bishop said.

"Yoked" parishes and parish clusters are related arrangements with one or more clergy pastoring multiple churches. In some cases, Bennison noted, a church might sell its property and disband to become part of another Episcopal church.

“But just because a church closes, doesn't mean it's dying. We'd rather have 100,000 people worshipping in 80 churches than 25,000 worshipping in 150 churches,” Bennison said.
The whole thing is here.

Management consultants for the church?

Churches can be sizable institutions with serious administrative responsibilities. To what extent should the Church look to the secular business community for assistance? These are questions that are explored in a commentary by Tom Horwood in the Guardian.

Noting that the Catholic Church in England turned to an outside commission (the Cumberlege Commission) to advise it about how to prevent future child abuse by clergy in the future, Horwood notes that churches have much to learn about leadership and management:

At the same time, like the rest of the voluntary sector, churches are having to become more professional - from child protection to health and safety, financial accountability to data protection. This draws faith leaders out of their comfort zone because they have tended to rely on traditional models of hierarchy to govern their flocks. They were normally recruited on the basis on orthodoxy and conservatism, and received little training when they were promoted.

There is a resistance to this change, as the Cumberlege report notes. Some religious leaders would prefer to devote all their energies to spiritual and pastoral matters, despite being responsible for multimillion-pound charities and large workforces. There is a temptation to leave practical problems to others. Yet Cumberlege criticises this attitude because it fails to make vital issues such as child protection part of the mainstream life of the organisation. Faith leaders need to be, and be seen to be, in the driving seat if the necessary culture change is to happen.

To effect this change, other organisations can teach churches a thing or two. Secular management theory has been grappling with change management for the last decade, as companies and the public sector have increasingly valued the importance of persuading people to modify how they behave to improve the organisation, whether the motivation is profit or public service. This way of thinking is now commonplace and mainstream, but it has yet to make a significant impact in most faith communities.

Elements of what works in the secular working world can be consistent with the ethos of religion. Strategic management does not conflict with theology or doctrine. I and other writers, managers and pastors across the denominations have been suggesting ways of integrating good management practice with faith.

Those who argue that the two are irreconcilable could consider these words of the management author Charles Handy, written for a secular audience in language that could be as at home in the presbytery as the boardroom: "The leader's first job is to be missionary, to remind people what is special about them and their institutions; second it is to set up the infrastructure" to make things happen.

If faith leaders took to heart the lessons of other sectors, they would be better able to set strategies for what their communities would look like in the future. They would inspire people to bring about a shared vision, rather than responding defensively to crises. They could bring about the attitude changes the Cumberlege Commission believes are so necessary. They could find new ways of turning their faith communities into the beacons of hope and inspiration they aspire to be.

Read it all here.

When is it appropriate for the church to learn from the business community? Is there a danger that this can lead us to buy into the more materialistic aspects of our culture?

Church and customer service

The Rev. Tom Ehrich, writer for On a Journey, suggests that churches declare August customer service month in his most recent syndicated column. The reason? Churches are competing for "business" in much the same way that banks and hardware stores. It's not that salvation is a commodity, he notes, but he was inspired by customer service agents poised to meet his needs from the moment he walked in to his new bank.

Imagine a similar cadre of customer service reps positioned inside the church door. Imagine them trained to do more than hand out a bulletin or point toward a coffee urn. Instead, they would engage both visitor and member and respond appropriately to their different needs.

Imagine another cadre trained to respond to people after worship.

Instead of a long line hoping for 10 seconds of the pastor's time, imagine people trained in the delicate craft of identifying need, helping people talk to one another and gathering information for pastoral follow-up.

...

These are trainable skills. Sunday greeters, for example, can be more than nice people wearing "Greeter" badges. They can be trained in the psychodynamics of being a church visitor and of coming to church mid- or post-crisis. They can prepare for questions and unusual circumstances.


The whole thing is here.

Calling all pastorpreneurs

News out of Willow Creek is that programs are not the key to real success. Does this spell hope for the small and medium-sized church?

To some extent there's no arguing with sheer success in numbers. Megachurches have found a formula for attracting people to church.

To its credit, one of the most well known of those megachurches, Willow Creek, has studied it success beyond mere numbers. Moreover, it has shared those findings even though they are not entirely self affirming. Out of Ur reports:

Directly or indirectly, [their] philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.

So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?

Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry.
...
In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”

Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Read it all here.

Over at Opinion Journal there's a discussion of James B. Twitchell's Shopping for God:

As Mr. Twitchell acknowledges, most don't have "high barriers to entry"--that is, they don't demand a lot of their congregants. They're often referred to as "seeker" churches because they appeal to nonbelievers--and not always successfully. It's easy to get in; but it's also easy to get out.

So "pastorpreneurs," as Mr. Twitchell calls them, face a challenge: How do you get more people to join than quit? One way is by having current members proselytize. The fastest-growing denominations, Mr. Twitchell says, are "selling, selling, selling." They are "foregrounding growth as a sign of value." As he explains: "Missionary zeal is at the heart of their attraction not only because showing the Way to others is a source of jubilation but because it means that you yourself must have found your way. The value of the next sale (the convert) proves the value of the previous sale (yours)." It all comes down to a kind of narcissism, apparently, like taking pride in your Prius.

Another key to product success, Mr. Twitchell argues, is "innovations in supply." Thus megachurches offer playgrounds, coffee shops and a mall's worth of services. But megachurches have also, crucially, found ways of attracting men. Just as department stores put men's products near the entrance because they know that men are the hardest customers to draw into a retail space, so megachurches, Mr. Twitchell says, have catered to men's interests.

Citing Bill Hybels, the pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago, Mr. Twitchell explains: "Men are the crucial adopters in religion. If they go over the tipping point, women follow, children in tow." So now megachurches sponsor sports ministries and groups whose members ride motorcycles together. The language of prayers and sermons has moved away from a condescending lecture tone and taken up sports metaphors instead, asking congregants, for instance, to step up to the plate and help the team. In such a way are men induced to buy the megachurch product.

The article concludes, 'But consultants can only do so much, and the point of church outreach surely has less to do with improving "brands" than with saving souls.' Or advancing the Kingdom.

Read the Opinion Journal article here.

Other analysts are more positive about megachurches. See also the recent work by Scott Thumma and Dave Travis, Megachurch Myths described here. The myths:

MYTH #1: All megachurches are alike.
REALITY: They differ in growth rates, size and emphasis.

MYTH #2: Megachurches exist for spectator worship and are not serious about Christianity.
REALITY: Megachurches generally have high spiritual expectations and serious orthodox beliefs.

MYTH #3: Megachurches are not deeply involved in social ministry.
REALITY: 79 percent of churches surveyed have joined together with other churches on local community service projects, and 72 percent on international missions.

Wiki-religion

Henry G. Brinton in USA Today discusses the growth of Do It Yourself Christianity and the shrinking of brand name denominations. A story related to The Lead article on loss of members in the Episcopal Church.

A generation ago, people turned to trusted authorities such as newspapers and mainline churches to get information. But trust in such institutions has fallen over the past 30 years, eroding the relationship between Americans and a number of traditional sources of trust. A poll called the General Social Survey has asked people whether they have "a great deal of confidence" in social institutions, and their answers reveal a clear decline.

According to this survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, confidence has dropped since the 1970s in:

* Banks and financial institutions (From 35% to 28%).

* Major companies (26% to 17%).

* The press (24% to 9%).

* Education (36% to 27%).

* Organized religion (35% to 24%).

Whether you attribute this fall to Watergate or Enron or clergy sexual misconduct, the damage has clearly been done.

This is a serious concern to pastors like me, who serve churches associated with what used to be the "trusted brands" of Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterian Christianity. These mainline denominations grew through the 1940s and '50s but began to lose members about 1965. Today, some are one-third smaller than they were 40 years ago.

He also notes:

Of course, denominational pastors like myself have some lessons to learn from successful independent churches. I need to accept that today's spiritual seekers want quality, clarity, convenience and community in their practice of faith, and they will choose the church that offers the programs that best meet their personal needs. Few people will join my church simply because it is Presbyterian, just as a shrinking number of people will buy a car because of loyalty to General Motors. Consumers today want a product with the best features, whether it is a church with a dynamic youth program or an automobile with an excellent crash-test rating.

Individual choice and control are affecting all of our institutions, from financial organizations (Internet banking) to journalism (blogging) to education (distance learning). The church is not immune from this, and we'll see increasing diversity in the "emerging churches" that are attracting a new generation of people in their 20s and 30s who are suspicious of organized religion. Overseas, independent churches are experiencing explosive growth, especially in Brazil and South Africa, and it won't be long before churches in the USA feel the effects of this movement.

Henry G. Brinton is pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia and author of Balancing Acts: Obligation, Liberation, and Contemporary Christian Conflicts.

Read it all here

Thanks to epiScope

Bastion of privilege or beacon of hope?

Texas Monthly features St. James' Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas. William Martin writes of his recent visit:

One seldom encounters the Nicene Creed and the gospel-country classic “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” in the same worship service. But Austin’s St. James’ Episcopal Church, “an inclusive multicultural community,” is not your average Anglican assemblage. In the early forties, when a small group of African American Episcopalians found themselves unwelcome at the city’s all-white churches, they enlisted the Reverend John D. Epps, the dean of the Colored Convocation of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, to help them form a “Negro” congregation. Today, the five-hundred-plus-member church is fully integrated, flourishing, and such an exemplary parish that its former rector, the Reverend Greg Rickel, was installed this past summer as bishop of the Diocese of Olympia, which includes Seattle and the rest of western Washington. As an even more visible sign of its vitality, the church, which had outgrown its facilities on East Martin Luther King Boulevard, recently moved into spacious new quarters a few blocks away, on Webberville Road.

Continuing his description of the the mix of ancient liturgy and modern concerns, and highlighting the ministry of the St. James' School and the blessing of its teachers, Martin concludes:

The service ended in a grand manner, as we sang James Weldon Johnson’s rousing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which the NAACP designated “the Negro National Anthem” in 1919 and has long been a standard in black churches. It was a fine way to climax two hours of encouragement, worship, and fellowship, acknowledging the deep imperfections of our country but refusing to surrender to despair—and recognizing that churches, Episcopal and other, can be a bastion of privilege or a beacon of hope

St. James' also has a Spanish language Eucharist at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon and a Jazz-Gospel-New Zealand Prayer Book Eucharist at 6 p.m. Sunday evening.

Read it all here.

Growing in faith

Manya Brachear of The Chicago Tribune has written a story that should be read by everyone who thinks about church growth, whether in numerical or spiritual terms.

For more than three decades, Willow Creek Community Church has defined its success by tallying the throngs who walk through its doors.

But a survey recently revealed something the South Barrington mega-church hadn't realized: Some of its members had become unsatisfied, saying they felt abandoned on their spiritual journeys.

The research yielding this uncomfortable revelation came from the business world. Using a model originally designed to find what emotionally drives consumers to buy perfume, running shoes and insurance, each of Willow's members was placed on a spectrum of belief, ranging from curious about Christ to seeing Christ at the center of their lives.

Read it all.

Brachear keeps a SAS (short and simple) blog, as well.

Millennials: Losing my religion?

In USA Today Stephen Prothero writes:

For the past two years, I have asked students in my introductory religion courses at Boston University to get together in groups and invent their own religions. They present their religious creations to their classmates, and then everyone votes (with fake money in a makeshift offering plate) for the new religions they like best. This assignment encourages students to reflect on what separates "winners" and "losers" in America's freewheeling spiritual marketplace. It also yields intriguing data regarding what sort of religious beliefs and practices young people love and hate.

... my students' "dogma aversion" (as one put it) goes liberal Protestantism one further. These young people aren't just allergic to dogma. They are allergic to divinity and even heaven. In the religions of their imagining, God is an afterthought at best. And the afterlife is, as one of my students told me, "on the back burner."

What about established religion and tradition?

In their final exam this past semester, I asked my students to reflect on whether young Americans are the canaries in the mines of more traditional religions. Study after study has shown that American college students are fleeing from organized religion to mix-and-match spirituality. So what will happen to what one of my students referred to as the "religions of discipline" when this millennial generation (born in the late 1970s through the 1990s ) grows up? What will today's youth do with religions whose ethical injunctions arrive as strict commandments rather than friendly suggestions? Will they be able to abide religions that divide the human family into the saved and the damned, that present as absolute truth what they suspect is mere speculation?

My students' projects suggest that traditional religions are in trouble. Of course, these young people might eventually see the light. Who cares about heaven or hell when there is a party to go to and a hot young thing eager to meet you there? But after college, after your children are born and your parents die and your body grows old, traditional religions might look more appealing.

Read it all here.

Neuroscience and the Christian community

Perhaps you were unaware the neurology plays an essential role in congregational development, especially during times to transition. In this presentation to the annual Convention of the Diocese of Washington, Peter Steinke explains to you why individuals and communities resist change, no matter how obvious the need for such change might be. And he will make you laugh as he does so.

Pew survey on religion in US: UPDATE

As reported on The Lead yesterday with commentary and links, the survey on Religion in the US by the Pew Forum continues to engage churches and media with its results and possible meaning for the future of religion and its role in the US.

The Wall Street Journal comments:

America's shifting religious landscape could affect voting patterns, scholars say. Pew has found, for example, that when Latinos leave Catholicism for evangelical churches, they often become more politically conservative. The changes also could have financial implications for religious schools and social services -- homeless shelters, food pantries and clinics -- that rely on donations from religious denominations.

NPR is featuring the report on Morning Edition today.

Steve Inskeep discusses the report's findings with Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

One of the major findings, Lugo says, is that immigration trends are affecting religion demographics in America — tilting the Christian balance in the U.S. toward Catholicism and diversifying the range of choices that are nontraditional to the U.S.

According to the study, more than one-quarter of American adults (28 percent) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion — or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44 percent of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

Listen live here.

The Boston Globe has some interpretive graphics to go with their report:

The new study is filled with findings about a remarkably diverse nation, with a population that is shaped by affiliation with a vast and shifting array of religious groups and sects. Every religious family - Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists - is represented by a number of subgroups. Scholars believe, for example, that the Muslim population of the United States - which is made up of African-Americans, whites, and immigrants from both south Asia and the Arab world - is more diverse than anywhere else.

For more read here.

Long-term Church growth strategy

From The St. Petersburg Times:

This latest challenge is not about losing weight, saving money or eating more vegetables.

It's about having sex. Lots of it. Every day, if you're married. Or not at all, if you're single.

An openly edgy Christian church in Tampa has launched a 30-Day Sex Challenge to help members improve their relationships and rediscover themselves. Single folks are to abstain from sex for 30 days, even if they are in a committed relationship. Married folks, on the other hand, are supposed to have sex every day for 30 days.

Leaders at Relevant Church launched the campaign the Sunday after Valentine's Day.

''Of course, all the guys say it's genius,'' said Pastor Paul Wirth. ``The married women think we're out of our minds.''

Read it all. Then visit the Relevant Church Web site.

Back to Church Sunday

Anglican churches across Britain hope to attract up to 30,000 new faces on Sunday after a drive to extend personal invitations to would-be worshippers according to BBC News.

This is the fourth Back to Church Sunday and involves 38 dioceses across England.

In addition, Churches Together in Scotland, the Church in Wales, Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed and Elim Pentecostal churches, and Anglican churches in New Zealand and Canada are also taking part.

Organisers hope that some 30,000 newcomers and returners might attend - a figure based on an average of 10 people returning to each church.

Regular worshippers have been encouraged to give VIP invitation cards to friends and neighbours, while some bishops have gone to much greater lengths to spread the word:

In Nottinghamshire, Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt Rev Tony Porter, went underground to meet miners at Welbeck Colliery.

Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt Rev Cyril Ashton, donned his motorbike leathers and rode to four areas of the Diocese of Sheffield to promote the Church to fellow bikers.

A group of parishes in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, took over a shop front in the town centre to hand out invitations to passing shoppers.

Four bishops in the Diocese of Lichfield placed adverts in football match programmes to reach out to fans. They read: "Because Jesus has already taken the penalty, you can be saved."

Read more here.

Open Communion redux

Open communion or communion without Baptism (CWOB,) as it is more accurately called, is in the news again. In an article "Who is worthy to receive?" Michael Paulson writes:

A quiet revolution is taking place at the altars of many churches - in the form of bread and wine.

Communion, the central ritual of most Christian worship services and long a members-only sacrament, is increasingly being opened to any willing participant, including the nonbaptized, the nonbeliever, and the non-Christian.

The change is most dramatic in the Episcopal Church, particularly in liberal dioceses like Massachusetts. The denomination's rules are clear: "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church." Yet, a recent survey by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts found that nearly three-quarters of local parishes are practicing "open Communion," inviting anyone to partake.


Paulson also notes:
The public discussion of Communion in the United States has recently been dominated by developments in the Catholic Church, which maintains a traditional view of the Eucharist, asking that only members in good standing participate in the ritual. The Church's rules preclude divorced Catholics who remarry without annulling their first marriage from receiving Communion, and the bishops next month are scheduled once again to talk about the contentious and unresolved question of whether politicians who support abortion rights should be eligible to participate.

But even within the Catholic Church, there has clearly been change in practice, but coming from the pews, not the pulpit. Church officials and scholars say the percentage of people attending Mass who receive Communion has risen dramatically over the last several decades. This suggests that the number of people who see themselves as excluded by sin has dropped.

Many Catholics have clearly decided to make their own rules, from public figures, like the twice-divorced and abortion rights supporting Rudolph Giuliani, who took Communion at a papal Mass in New York, to nonfamous persons who take Communion despite having been remarried outside the church, or engaging in premarital or gay sex, or other practices the Church defines as sinful.


Comments on the article are quite interesting and diverse.

Read it all here.

Other essays and articles on Episcopal Cafe on CWOB here and here and here.

Becoming church in a new era

In this week's article Alban Institute discusses the dynamics of becoming church when demographics change or when the local church has become stagnant and static. Narrative Leadership is a new tool in assisting needed change. This summer at General Convention a similar process will be undertaken:

How do congregations make the shift from nostalgia to a new story like neighborhood? What kind of leadership is needed--by pastors and lay leaders--to move beyond the stuck places of "we’ve always done it this way" to a new way of listening for "where are we being led?" Gifted pastors, rabbis, and lay leaders who lead well in times of transition are able to guide their congregations in shaping a new kind of story based in part on reframing the strengths and obstacles of their past. Great public leaders have been marked by such "narrative leadership," from Lincoln to FDR to Reagan and, as many hope, to Obama.

Alban recommends some of the lessons learned by Interim Ministers in their work with churches in transition. Narrative Leadership draws out stories of faith to help with the tasks of coming to terms with history, cultivating new leaders, reconnecting with the denomination, and discovering a new or renewed identity.

Read it here.

The "Am-against-it" church

Howard E. Friend, writing in the Alban Institute Weekly, explores how the embers of an "Am-against-it" Church can begin to burn with the fires of the Spirit:

Read more »

The rat race comes to church

Andrew Sullivan points to this Smart Set essay, which suggests that the world's work and the Lord's work are sometimes judged by precisely the same standard:

Read more »

Cutié evokes interest in the Episcopal Church

A notice from the Office of Latino/Hispanic Ministries of the Episcopal Church regarding people who might arrive on Sunday morning at your church because of the news surrounding the Rev. Alberto Cutié joining the Episcopal Church.

Read more »

Will Emerging Church be more tolerant?

The Rev. Howard Bess writing at AlterNet suggests that the church of the future may be more science and gay friendly:

Read more »

Bi-vocational congregations: recipe for the future

Alban Institute explores the Bi-Vocational Congregation.

Read more »

Emerging church talks about ecclesiology

F. LeRon Shults discusses the ecclesiology of emerging churches in his article in Theology Today. From the abstract of the essay:

Read more »

Back to church Sunday

Episcopal Life Online notes that September 27 is Back to Church Sunday in the UK. The Church of England and Episcopal/Anglican churches around the world are participating in the simple concept of inviting a friend to attend church with you in addition to nationwide advertisements:

Read more »

"Nones" growing

Andrew Sullivan comments on the report that the demographic of religious preference continues to see growth in the "none" category:

Read more »

TEC numbers for 2008

The Episcopal Church has released the numbers for membership for 2008. Click HERE to view these "Fast Facts."

Leading through conflicts, Alban Institute webinar

Leadership in the church is rather more interesting and complex than it may look on the surface. For many years, the Alban Institute has worked with congregations and church leaders to help develop and build healthy and strong congregations. They have also embraced Web 2.0, offering "webinars" on various topics for church leaders over the Intenet. Today at noon such a "webinar" is being offered on Accountability and Leadership and the Alban Institute has posted a provocative lead-in to the topic.

Read more »

O little town, how still we see thee lie

Yesterday's Kansas City Star saw Eric Adler reporting on what seems the almost inevitable fade-out of houses of worship in small towns. That includes places out on the plains such as WaKeeney, Kan., whose population hovers under 2,000; but of course "the story is the same from rural Missouri to rural Maine, Oklahoma to Oregon."

Read more »

Only 1 in 5 denominations growing

The National Council of Churches 2010 year book shows that only 5 of America's top 25 denominations reported growth last year. The other 20 reported differing degrees of decline.

Read more »

Decline, and what to do about it

Mary Frances Schjonberg writes for Episcopal News Service:

The Episcopal Church's Executive Council heard here Feb. 21 that church membership and Sunday attendance continued to decline in 2008, but also heard a call for the church to promote knowledge of the characteristics of growing congregations.

Read more »

Church rater: a Consumer Reports approach to church shopping

From the ChurchRater Web site:

Every Sunday close to 350,000 churches open their doors to the public. How do you know what you’re walking into? What will the pastor be talking about? What kind of people attend?

ChurchRater lets you read what others say about the church and rate your own experience. ChurchRater lets you talk back after sitting through a sermon.

Read more »

Community Ministry

William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury in the middle of the 20th Century, is reported to have said, "Church is only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members." That said, many, if not most, churches could do more to reach out to, and serve, their communities. In the Alban Roundtable Blog, Wayne Floyd reflects on a recent "webinar" that took on "High Impact Community Ministry." Check it out:

Read more »

Holy cr** must go

Walter Russell Mead on getting rid of things that block the church from moving into the future:

Read more »

Back to basics to do a new thing

Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia is getting creative about church growth and evangelism. The Seattle Times reports:

Read more »

A quick-and-dirty Sunday-morning megachurch deconstruction

From North Point Media, here's this morning's rundown for your local Starbucks - er, we mean the order of service at your nearest megachurch. Stay for the credits.

Read more »

Digital immigrants; how to move online

Most of the Café's readers are probably very comfortable online. You know the difference between a web-forum, a list-serv and a Facebook group. But many in the Episcopal Church's leadership don't. Given the economics and the need we have to be evangelists, being a luddite isn't really an option anymore.

Read more »

New ways to build a church in NM

From the Diocese of the Rio Grande, New Mexico parishioners are thinking "outside the box" for their church building plans:


RIO GRANDE: New Mexico parishioners seek creative solutions for building drive

Read more »

Serving a local Hmong crowd, translators serve the world

Holy Apostles Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minn., is home to a congregation of Hmong - by now, second-generation American Hmong, who fled Communist takeover of the Kingdom of Laos in 1975.

Read more »

Renewal on the Pine Ridge

The Rapid City Journal reports on the 9 churches closed by the Diocese of South Dakota and the revival of worshipping congregations under the direction of Bishop Tarrant and The Rev Bob Two Bulls:

Read more »

What brings us (back) to church?

Like many, Norris Chumley fell away from church for a while before returning as an adult. Now he sees the things he saw as a child, but in a different light. Here are three of ten things on his list.

Read more »

Measuring productivity in the church

Virginia Apgar gave nurses a way to rate the health of babies at delivery: "Ten points meant a child born in perfect condition. Four points or less meant a blue, limp baby."

Read more »

Why belong to a church?

Tribal Church discusses why one might belong to a church in an era of "I'm spiritual but not religious."

Read more »

Finding shelter for the soul

Rabbi Neil Goldstein, of New Shul, Alban Institute discusses "finding shelter for one's soul" in religious communities:

Read more »

What do they know? The class of 2014

Every year Beloit College prepares a mindset list, things the college class of 2014 always or never knew:

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

Most students entering college for the first time this fall—the Class of 2014—were born in 1992. For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.

Read more »

Toy Story III: New Members

It's surprising sometimes the places where we can recognize the best and worst of congregational life reflected in the media. Cynthia Weems sees clear paralles between the ways that newcomers are greeted and brought into congregational communities, and what happens as the newcomer becomes increasingly involved, with the story arc of the latest movie of the Toy Story trilogy:

Read more »

Hard times, hard questions, hard answers

Worth your time this morning: A Washington Post profile on recent innovations in congregational development shows how consultants to declining churches are asking necessary but often heartbreaking questions.

Read more »

Evangelical sea change?

Alan Wilson writes in The Guardian that there are changes going on within the evangelical movement:

Read more »

New tools for evangelism

The November issue of Vestry Papers, from the Episcopal Church Foundation is online. It focuses on technology and evangelism and includes the article "Tweet if you love Jesus" by Bishop Kirk Smith.

And while you are at the site, read this sweet, brief All Saints Day story by Richelle Thompson.

After Christendom

This week's missive from the Alban Institute is by Peter Steinke. He writes:

Read more »

We lie about going to church (and God knows!)

USA Today has an article today, reporting that people in the US fib the most in the world about their church attendance when asked in surveys. How often do you go to church? How often do you say you go? Do you think it matters?

Read more »

Spiritual but not religious?

Alban Institute takes up the question of being spiritual but not religious. Rather than bemoan the trend of people to leave the institutional church, Larry Peters sees it as an opportunity:

Read more »

St. Joe and the latte liturgy

Never mind that coffee is a religion, or that it fuels most everything on a daily basis, or that maybe we should add St. Arbucks to Holy Women, Holy Men.

What if coffee was marketed like postmodern Protestantism markets itself? How uncomfortable would that be? Moreover, what would you have to do just to get a cup of the stuff (God, transcendence ... )? And, why would it be so expensive?

Read more »

Numbers worth watching

Church attendance is declining and those who go to church are getting older. In some places, religious affiliation may disappear altogether. That is the consensus of a blog looking at a recent study by the Episcopal Church, another looking at religious attendance in England, and a third study looking at religious affiliation around the globe.

Read more »

Why church is worth the bother

With more and more to do on Sundays, with more and more options in terms of connecting with community, working for social change, and joyfully engaging with the wonders of creation, some wonder if church is worth the bother. (It is!) This article in "Relevant Magazine" online reflects on the reasons why church is worth it:

Read more »

On the other hand

Duke University sociologist Mark Chaves’ took another look at trends in U.S. religion and wrote a book whose working title was “Continuity and Change in American Religion.” His publisher thought that “The Decline of American Religion” would sell more books. But it's not that simple.

Read more »

The Hidden Exodus: RCs becoming Protestants

Writing in The National Catholic Reporter, the Rev. Tom Reese reports:

Read more »

Showing our age

The New York Times reports on the aging trend that is often reflected in Episcopal churches around the US:

Read more »

Religious denominations face a looming financial crisis

Lovett H. Weems, director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership sounds the alarm:

Read more »

How to attract new members

Church growth from Mr. Catolick:

Read more »

Church plants that no longer bear fruit

Is one person's "stability-protecting, past-perpetuating institution" another's "inertia that is preserving our Gospel proclamation"?

Read more »

What business is your congregation in?

Unitarian minister Andy Pakula writes that once upon a time there was something know as the ice harvesting business. Then came refrigeration, and those who saw there business as carving up frozen ponds floundered, while those who saw their business as providing ice to homes and businesses prospered. Seeking a lesson for the contemporary church he asks:

Read more »

Finding a liberal 20-30-something community of faith

Julia Stroud in The Daily writes:

At 1 a.m. on a Sunday you can often find me at a bar. The bar varies, so does the reason: a friend’s departure, a birthday celebration, a long week at the office to forget. The drink rarely varies, however, and I will clutch my gin and ice and sip it through the straw, laughing with friends and planning my exit. I have to be at church in eight hours. Slurp, laugh, check the time. My friends’ nights are open-ended but I have to be at church in — I check the time again — seven hours now.

Read more »

Managing decline

Over on the video blog, Rod Webster, vice president and general manager of the Church Insurance Companies, lays out some depressing statistics about the decline of the Episcopal Church. Have a look, and let us know how you think the church should respond.

John Chilton, in a comment on the video blog, calls attention to the excellent point that Webster makes about the energy that declining parishes require from their bishop and his or her staff:

Read more »

No shortage of opinion over Office of Communication's new style guide

The Episcopal Church's Office of Communication recently published "Brand Guidelines for the Episcopal Church," intended to foster greater awareness of its overall branding effort.

The document allows that questions of who owns and controls what are longstanding:

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7 weeks of Advent!?

Do you feel that Advent gets lost in the Christmas hype that now begins in late September? Why don't we go to the medieval roots of Advent when some folks in Europe practiced Advent for 7 weeks!?

Read more »

There aren't as many Episcopalians as there used to be

Active membership in The Episcopal Church has dipped below 2 million, after a three percent decline in 2010. The numbers are here.

Read more »

Reaching out to the "spiritual but not religious"

In the most recent entry on this blog, the Rev. Gary Hall, rector of Christ Church, Cranbrook, talks about the gap between what churchgoers find valuable in their faith communities, and what those who don't go to church might be looking for. He writes:

Read more »

Shrinking the church for Jesus

Tim Suttle has written a provocative column for the Huffington Post. He writes:

Read more »

You lost me...

The Tavis Smiley Show features research analyst David Kinnaman, author of You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church... and Rethinking Faith, explaining why more than 60% of Christian teens are leaving church.

Read more »

Doing the Reverse Tiber Backstroke

Catholic priest Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith enumerates the reasons he thinks Catholics would desire to become Anglicans.

Pencil ready?

Read more »

Everything must be done for 'those not yet here'

Here is the problem as Lutheran bishop Mike Rinehart sees it:

Read more »

Pew report: more Christians globally, fewer in Europe and America

A report by Pew Research suggests that while there are many more persons professing Christianity today, that number is simply commensurate with the extraordinary population explosion we've seen in the last century.

Read more »

Worship brings no transformational change for many

There's a new study out from Barna. In the study it is reported that roughly a quarter of the people attending church on Sundays are experiencing profound life changing connections. A quarter are finding something is different. But almost half the people who go to church on a Sunday are feeling like nothing is different. For half the church going public, the experience of a transformational experience with God isn't happening on Sunday morning.

Read more »

Part of why church growth is hard

Carol Howard Merritt is fast becoming one of the most sensible and perceptive bloggers/twitterers out there. Her post yesterday on the Duke Divinity Call & Response Blog clearly points to a problem with contemporary dynamics of how churches grow and who can be accounted among those responsible for growth.

Read more »

Members in good standing?

The Washington Post notes that President and Mrs Obama and their daughter, Sasha, attended St. John's Episcopal Church this morning.

Hmm - baptized, attended communion 3x in the past year, given time talent or treasure to the community? Does that make them members in good standing?

Welcoming doubters

As a followup to our popular post on Communion With Out Baptism, we offer an article from
The Los Angeles Times, on the rise of the "nones" and churches:

Read more »

"If your church can change, it can grow"

The Washington Episcopal Clergy Association is highlighting a research study by Faith Communities Today entitled FACTs on Growth: 2010.

Read more »

Why did they leave? And where did they go?

In the late fall of 2011, Bishop David M. O’Connell, of Trenton, N.J., surveyed nearly 300 nonchurchgoing Catholics in his diocese asking some simple question: "Why did you leave?" and "Where did you go?"

While Episcopalians think of themselves as a logical alternative to Catholicism, a close read of what was said by these lapsed Catholics should be a sobering read for us. How much of this sounds familiar?

Read more »

4 reasons I came back to church

Christian Piatt tells the 4 reasons he came back to church in the Huffington Post:

Read more »

Rebirth required for the CoE

There's lots to be worried about in the Church of England. Numbers are declining, those that still remain are resistant to change that might bring in newcomers and the leadership seems increasingly deaf to the voices of the grassroots. Bishop Alan Wilson in a blog earlier this week wrote that the Church of England needed to be rebooted, to rethink its place in English society.

Read more »

'What to expect when your church is expecting'

Presbyterian minister (PCUSA) and writer MaryAnn McKibben Dana says "Rumors of [our] demise have been greatly exaggerated" - that in fact, being in our declining years doesn't mean we can't give life to a new world.

Read more »

Can you fire a parishioner?

Work it Richmond discusses difficult customers and assesses the costs of sending them on their way. How do you think this might apply to church or not.

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10 things churches can learn from Apple Stores

In the meantime blog compares Guy Kawasaki's 10 things you can learn from Apple™ Stores and church.

Read more »

Will church go the way of the bookstore?

...in the Meantime author, David Lose, asks if churches and bookstores are on the same path:

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Diet groups increase church growth

Colin Mathewson asks, "Does God want you to be thin?" in Time Magazine this week:

Read more »

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You-- if you can find the actual door

At my church, visitors cannot figure out where our front door is. The place, a traditional cathedral structure, is a fortress. Beautiful? Yes. Cold and unwelcoming? Probably, at least for first-time visitors.

So I read with interest a recent commentary by Carin Ruff about Episcopal worship space and access. She writes about two churches, starting with Saint Mark's Church on Capitol Hill:

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A precarious moment for liberal Christianity?

Liberal Christianity would appear to be on the ropes, judging from declining membership numbers in the Episcopal Church and other increasingly progressive denominations. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat describes the Episcopal Church as "flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes." He posits:

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Latinos/Hispanics fuel Episcopal Church growth

NBCLatino reports that Latinos are fueling growth in the Episcopal Church:

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New National Cathedral dean: We are a 'pragmatic, evolving tradition'

The newly selected dean of Washington National Cathedral, the Rev. Canon Gary Hall, believes that mainline churches face "a crisis of credibility." He writes in the Washington Post:

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What's the problem?

Alban Institute on "fixing problems":

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8 ways to keep people out of church

Thinking Anglicans highlights the blog Missional Musings

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Multi-site churches increase

Ekklesia reports a new church growth phenomenon:

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New language for congregational development

Greg Syler asks if there is another way of talking about and doing congregational development in an article for Episcopal News Service

Read more »

Episcopal Church woo Latinos

NPR has picked up the story previously reported locally on the attraction of the Episcopal Church for Latinos in the U.S. Listen here.

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The 'new Episcopalians' of Southeast Florida

The Palm Beach Post has an interesting story about the "new Episcopalians" in Southeast Florida:

In the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, which includes Palm Beach County, attendance is up or at least holding its own. This diocese is bucking a nationwide trend as a group of energetic reformers works to make their church meaningful to the very people who are drifting away from church — the young.

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Why don't people go to church?

David L. Hansen writing in The Lutheran finds out why people don't go to church:

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New church ideas

New churches are forming around art galleries, cafés and performance spaces according to this story in The New York Times:

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Did MLK Jr predict the decline of mainline churches?

[D]mergent believes that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. predicted the Predicted the Decline of the Mainline Church. Perhaps the blog speaks to all churches as all are in decline as the "nones" become the largest faith group:

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What does it take to grow a church?

The Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of St. John the Evangelist Church in Hingham, Mass., offers some insight about what it takes to grow a church, and he's a pretty credible source on this. In his three and a half years at St. John's, average Sunday attendance has increased 35 percent, pledging is up 50 percent, and the church has doubled the size of its staff. He blogs:

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Growth versus depth

The Rev. Joey Reed says he is tired of "growing the church."

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Lent changing in U.S.

The Deseret News notes changes in the celebration of Ash Wednesday and Lent in The Episcopal Church and other church that mark this season. Social activism, taking time for reflection and the influence of Latino/Latina cultures all contribute to the evolution of the church season:

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Intergenerational speed dating

The United Methodist Reporter offers an idea to help generations in the church get to know each other:

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It's not all about me

Carol Howard Merritt writing in Christian Century discusses when clergy do not always need to take the blame for church decline:

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Are conservative churches really growing?

Daniel Schultz discusses conservative churches and membership and exposes the fallacies of the arguments that they are growing because of fertility and stricter moral codes, in Religion Dispatches. Below this story is a report on religion in the world.

A few excerpts from Schultz:

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Are current church-goers scaring others away?

Andrew Brown has written a wide-ranging column for the Guardian that asks whether it is the presence of so many older people--and the prevalence of services geared to their tastes--that keep younger people from coming to church. He isn't thumping the tub of liturgical change, or bashing recalcitrant lay people. He's examining the issue in a sociological sort of way, and I'd be interested to hear what people think about the article.

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Church closures offer opportunity for collaboration

Pat Bates, writing in the Cape Breton Post reflects on church closures in Canada that may offer opportunities for collaboration and new ways of doing church. Some ideas for others facing the same issues?

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Young letter writer loses summer camp job

On April 9 The Lead highlighted Dannika Nash's "An open letter to the church" which let the church know why thy were losing young people. Now Patheos reports that Nash has lost her summer camp job because of her letter:

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Autopsy of a deceased church

Thomas Rainer, writing at he blog, notes 11 signs that a church is dying:

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Faith in church attendance is not enough

Andrew Brown looks at the recent report on attendance in the Church of England and wonders "whether things are going to change, or whether the church will pootle along, like an exhausted cyclist, until it finally wobbles over and collapses."

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A pox on all your houses

Christopher Craig Brittain is Senior Lecturer in Practical Theology in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen. He has looked at both church attendance and what we make of it.

For a long time, liberal mainline denominations have been in decline and conservative churches were said to be growing. A year ago, Ross Douthat stirred up a tempest when he wondered if the mainline churches could survive. Conservative churches have been declaring victory since at least 1972, when in fact their decline is now just as steep as the mainlines.

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Maybe congregations shouldn't try to keep young people

The Rev Heidi Haverkamp wonders in essay on the Collegeville Institute website, if perhaps congregations should not try so hard to keep their young people:

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One small step at a time

Bishop Marianne Budd of Washington talks about focus and small steps in building up vital congregations.

She writes in her blog:

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How Rhode Island churches avoid shutting down

Richard C. Dujardin of the Providence Journal covered A. Robert Jaeger's visit with Rhode Island church leaders. Jaeger heads the Philadelphia-based Partners for Sacred Places:

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7 characteristics of congregations attracting young adults

ARDA blog reports on a study that features seven characteristics of congregations successfully attracting young adults:

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Inviting people to church

Eighty percent of first-time church attenders go because someone they know personally invited them. Have you invited someone to church lately?

How about this?

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Voice, exit and managed decline

The Ümlaut discusses choices individuals have when they have grievances. While this article uses countries and businesses as a model, many instances come to mind in church as well as the marketplace:

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5 reasons millennials stay with church

The Barna organization discusses millennials who stay connected to church and the reasons they give:

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The reality of U.S. demographics

Univision offers a commercial that shows the reality of the U.S. today - is the Episcopal Church paying attention? ¿Habla usted español:

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Is youth ministry killing the church?

New studies show that children and youth who are involved in the life and worship of the church are more likely to stay into adulthood while those with strong "youth programs" drop out.
Kate Murphy reflects in the Christian Century:

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The Crossing

Leigh Foster, a member of the Boston-based congregation The Crossing talks about how she feels welcomed:

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Does the church really want creativity?

In our search to revitalize the church we say we want creativity and that we want to support new initiatives, but do we really? Slate offers the thinking of Barry Staw and others that we really don't like creativity or "outside the box" ideas:

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Creating hybrid faith-formation networks

The Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary has been working with faith formation ministers in congregations and dioceses to test out a new model for Christian education and faith development. The Rev. Kyle Matthew Oliver, digital missioner and learning lab coordinator at the Center, is looking for feedback on this new "hybrid" model, focusing on small group learning in person and online. He writes:

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Paradigm Shift

The pressing question of how we, in the church, confront the changing contexts of the 21st century continues to spark debate.  Should we batten the hatches and wait out the storm, changing nothing?  Should we take to the decks, and reorganize everything?  Or will we need a different idea of what this ship is?

In the most recent Vestry Papers Ken Howard suggests that a wholly different paradigm of church is needed.  

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Good vicar=growing church - maybe not

The Archbishop of Canterbury alleged in his Christmas message that the key to church growth was a good vicar. Maybe or maybe not says the Rt Revd Adrian Newman is the Bishop of Stepney, in London in the Church Times:

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Church of England releases long-awaited church growth study

Church growth is much like the weather--everyone talks about it, but no one ever does anything about it.

Today, however, the Church of England released a report that has been several years in the making. From 2011-2013, they undertook a scientific study to determine what factors were associated with church growth. The results are here.

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Are Liberals Too "Special" to Go to Church?

According to Chadley Stern and researchers from New York University in November's issue of Psychological Science, the "desire to feel unique can undermine consensus, cohesion, and mobilization." For Elizabeth Drescher in her story at Religion Dispatches, the "liberal illusion of uniqueness" also may have significant consequences for a decline in the stability of liberal or progressive Christian congregations.

"Bushwick Abbey"

First off, it's not a TV series...

Local Brooklyn venue Radio Bushwick features live music, a bar, a internet net radio station, and now..."Bushwick Abbey"...an Episcopal church.

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10 possible reasons why your church is not growing

Carey Nieuwhof details 10 reasons you church might not be growing:

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Keeping Lent

Ash Wednesday and Lent are coming in 2 weeks. What are your plans this year? Maggie Dawn, associate dean of Marquand Chapel and associate professor of theology and literature at Yale Divinity School, suggests 40 ways to keep a joyful, thankful, holy Lent:

Lent begins ... on Wednesday March 5th - and lasts ... around 40 Days. ...

Today's post is simply 40 ideas for keeping the 40 days of Lent. The Great Commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself" (with the implication that caring for God's earth is rolled into the bargain) so I've thought up 40 ideas for keeping Lent that appeal to the creative and literary, to the development of community and relationships, to promote social action, and to encourage ecological responsibility, as well as individual spiritual concerns. You could:

choose just one of these (such as writing a thank you note) and do it every day.

choose one category and repeat it throughout Lent.

choose one from each category to do throughout Lent.

agree with a group of friends, or with your congregation, on one or more of these to practice together.

(Dawn categorizes the 50 and offers ideas for each category)

Literary/media/arts

Social/community spirituality

Spirituality and prayer

Social action

Ecological/environmental - form a new habit in Lent to care for the earth.

Joy-inspiring spiritual practices

.

Read all the ideas here.

An example of local re-invention

We hear a lot about how our congregations are not museums, but congregations can learn from some small local history museums near Boston have reinvented themselves, creating sustainable institutions that are going against two decades of decline for museums nationwide.

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Disruptive forces in church leadership development

Faith and Leadership

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GTS embarks on the 'way of wisdom.'

Believing that the ways of academic specilization and business-style management is leaving the church bereft, the Dean and faculty of General Seminary are embarking on an experiment to integrate theological education with the daily, lived experience of the church. They are calling this exploration "The Way of Wisdom."

A statement from the faculty:

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Religion in US changing

The Economist reports on the state of Christianity in the US. The old made new and thoughts about commitment:

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What if your church never gets another member?

What might happen if your church never gets another member. Thoughts from Derek Penwell at D-mergent. When your dreams cannot be fulfilled as a church or personally what can you do?

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Bishop of Los Angeles ordains deacon in laundromat

Bishop Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, ordained Scott Claasen in a laundromat. Claasen was sponsored by Thad's, an experimental community of the Episcopal Diocese. From their home page:

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Who needs a church wedding?

As the church continues to struggle the growth of the Spiritual-but-Nonreligious, Christian Century looks at how this impacts weddings.

Traditionally, weddings have, til lately, been held under religious auspices. But more and more, young couples find themselves only seeking out a church because of family pressures, or ambiance, or some other, ephemeral reason.

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Studies in vibrancy

The Diocese of Virginia looks at five churches that have experienced growth in the past five to seven years and asked "How have these communities not only survived but even thrived during a time when many are struggling?"

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Church removes pews adds fireplace

A closed church offered an opportunity for a new (old) style of church to arise. Weekend Edition on WUNC interviews pastor and members:

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Why people don't go to church

According to Barna research, the most common reason people don't go to church is "they find God elsewhere."

What, if anything, helps Americans grow in their faith? When Barna Group asked, people offered a variety of answers—prayer, family or friends, reading the Bible, having children—but church did not even crack the top-10 list.

bu-032514-info4.jpgAlthough church involvement was once a cornerstone of American life, U.S. adults today are evenly divided on the importance of attending church. While half (49%) say it is "somewhat" or "very" important, the other 51% say it is "not too" or "not at all" important. The divide between the religiously active and those resistant to churchgoing impacts American culture, morality, politics and religion.

Looking to future generations does not paint an optimistic picture for the importance of churchgoing. Millennials (those 30 and under) stand out as least likely to value church attendance; only two in 10 believe it is important. And more than one-third of Millennial young adults (35%) take an anti-church stance. In contrast, Elders (those over 68) are the most likely (40%) to view church attendance as "very" important, compared to one-quarter (24%) who deem it "not at all" important. Boomers (ages 49—67) and Gen Xers (ages 30—48) fall in the middle of these polar opposites. While the debate rages about what will happen to Millennials as they get older—Will they return to church attendance later in life?—they are starting at a lower baseline for church participation and commitment than previous generations of young adults.

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