Sorting through The Big Sort

The bishops of the Episcopal Church spent some time last week with Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the clustering of like-minded Americans is tearing us apart.

Bishop's thesis is summarized cogently in his sub-title. His chapter on religion (read a few paragraphs here) begins like so:

Rick Warren's wildly popular book The Purpose-Driven Life begins with a challenge to Americans' post-materialist self-centeredness: "It's not about you." In the sense of the Great Commission, that is exactly right. Life and the church are about finding salvation in Christ. The imperative of "like attracts like" evangelism, however, caters to the individual from the time the convert first answers the call to worship. Whenever the evangelist Billy Graham issued his altar call, inspired people would stream to the foot of the stage to pledge their lives to the church. At that first moment of their new faith, Graham made sure the freshly converted were met by volunteers of the same age, sex, and race. The shepherding of people into their proper "homogeneous units" begins at the beginning. Which raises a question: in this world of segmented Sunday school classes, stopwatch-timed sermons, "people like us" altar calls, and preachers in market-tested cruise ship attire, isn't there something very pervasive that's all about you?

What are the implications of the Big Sort for the Episcopal Church's efforts to reach out to new people?

(You can find a ton of Big Sort links with a quick Google Search, but here are a few that caught our eye: The New York Times , Talking Points Memo and the Economist.)

The Lead covered The Big Sort last year: here and here.

Comments (2)

I think the implications of the Big Sort for the Episcopal Church are that the book's central thesis drives home the importance of one our polity's primary teachings:

We value relationship and praying together over doctrinal specificity and purity of association.

The good news for us is that the more I talk about this part of our ethos, the more excitement I see in the eyes of young adults looking for a church home.

A few years ago, our bishop (Don Wimberly of Texas) came to do confirmations. During coffee hour, a friend and I were chatting with him. We jokingly introduced ourselves as members of the tiny liberal minority of our now-extremely-evangelical parish. +Don said "I'm glad you haven't left - it's not good when people sort themselves out."

--D.C. Toedt

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