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Church Leadership, Churches

Mainline Churches Deal with ‘No Shows’

October 6, 2010

A new report this week has left many mainline churches  scratching their heads and wondering why church attendance has dropped.  The four major mainline churches, the Episcopal Church in the USA, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian (PCUSA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), have all experienced double digit drops in worship attendance.  What is even more puzzling is that the ELCA has seen an increase in giving in the last 10 years.

Churches increased attendance in the last decade but lost in attendance numbers in this decade. What gives?  The economy?

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I'm Going to Mass

June 8, 2010

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Ballston Spa (across the street from my church, The First Baptist Church) is holding a very special mass and I’m going.  The Ballston Spa Life newspaper has the details about the mass:

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church will open its doors to the community on Tuesday, June 8, as part of a celebration of the lives of priests, deacons and others from the village whose legacies include being faithful to the vows of their vocations through what is being described by organizers as “tireless hidden service and universal charity.”

The event, which will include a procession in front of the historic Milton Avenue church, will mark the culmination of The Year for Priests.

The mass is an unique worship service for Catholics to celebrate “The Year for Priests.” This special mass celebrates the ministry of priests and, “to reflect with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent not only for the Church, but for humanity.” itself.”  This special occasion marks a 12-month period that Pope Benedict XVI declared.

So, why is a Baptist making plans to go to a Catholic Mass?  I’ll tell you why.

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Small Churches Are The Next Big Thing

May 26, 2010

small church

Brandon J. O’Brien at Christianity Today’s Out of Ur blog, has a really interesting thought about the future of small churches.  The perception is that small churches are dying and are even the reason why Christianity is waning. However, O’Brien pulls from a number of sources to explain why the small church might be the next big movement:

In a conversation last week about the virtues of small churches, a pastor friend of mine, Chuck Warnock, quoted a passage from John Zogby’s 2008 book The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream (Random House). Zogby prophesies that “The church of the future will be a bungalow on Main Street, not a megastructure in a sea of parking spaces. It’s intimacy of experience that people long for, not production values.”

On the face of it, I couldn’t be more pleased with that prediction. I’ve pastored two small congregations and am now a member and deacon in another, where my wife serves on staff. My experience with these churches has led me to believe that small congregations are uniquely positioned to carry the gospel into the world in the 21st century. Few things would make me happier than if the “next big thing” in Christian ministry conversations was the small church.

Interesting take.  Certainly, the Emergent Movement has taught us that small churches can do big things and reach people previously thought to be “unreachable.”  Also, “house churches” have been known to start mega churches because of their simplicity and small community.

O’Brien also says there is a danger involved with small churches:

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Reports of the Demise of Mainline Churches Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

December 7, 2009

A fresh report from the Barna Group has yielded some surprising results: Mainline churches are not dying! I should be honest with you, nation wide, mainline churches are not growing either.  In the past decade, the six mainline church denominations (American Baptist Churches in the USA, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America;  Presbyterian Church (USA);  United Church of Christ; and United Methodist Church) have experienced some stability.  The Barna Group concluded:

Over the course of the past decade, the number of adults who attend a mainline church on any given weekend has remained relatively stable, ranging from 89 to 100.

In addition, some other encouraging news was reported:

One reason why that average has remained steady has been the population growth of the United States, with the mainline churches attracting just enough newcomers to maintain attendance levels that are similar to the years when the nation’s population was considerably smaller.

Even though these have been tough economical times, signs of finical growth occurred:

… during the past decade the median church budget of mainline congregations has risen substantially – up 51%, to about $165,000 annually.

This is fantastic!  Although I am an American Baptist clergyman, I whole-heartily support and have great affection  for “mainline churches” (I served in 3 different mainline denominations: ABC, UMC, & PC USA).  For years, the mega-church moment has told Christians, “Come here!  We are young, happening, and different.  Your old corner church is weak and feeble.”  Not really. I’m joking, but you get the picture.  I have been very clear in past posts that I believe megachurches are not evil and are worshiping, faithful, and Godly communities – but they are not the end-all-be-all of “church.”

What does this Barna report mean for the mainline church? (There is also some bad news)

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Young Atheists, Old Timer Religion

July 23, 2009

Both Christians and secular news organizations alike have commented on the growing trend of Christians fleeing traditional churches.  Some have even reported the growing trend of people becoming “less religious”, but “more spiritual”.  Christians have lamented the trend of younger families fleeing churches.  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a poll and findings that indicated some surprising information.  Do you want the good news or the bad news?  I give it to you together:

BAD NEWS: More young adults claim to be atheists

GOOD NEWS: As they grow older, they become more religious (one interpretation)

The study found:

Religion is a far bigger part of the lives of older adults than younger adults. Two-thirds of adults ages 65 and older say religion is very important to them, compared with just over half of those ages 30 to 49 and just 44% of those ages 18 to 29. Moreover, among adults ages 65 and above, a third (34%) say religion has grown more important to them over the course of their lives, while just 4% say it has become less important and the majority (60%) say it has stayed the same. Among those who are over 65 and report having an illness or feeling sad, the share who say that religion has become more important to them rises to 43%.

When you read the full study, you will also read about how young adults claim to be atheists, while older Americans claim to be more religious.  Pew found:

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Young People Don't Go To Church, or Do They?

June 17, 2009

There is a common misconception that young people are fleeing churches.   So many churches ask, “Where are all the young people?”   My friend Rev. Elizabeth Hagen on her blog discussed a similar topic a few weeks ago and gave some great thoughts on understanding young adults.  Christianity Today published an article discussing the ministry of Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City.   Most of the article is geared toward Keller’s ministry and his bio.  The whole article is great, but the article begins with:

His church, Redeemer Presbyterian, has five crowded Sunday services in three rented locations—Keller dashes between them—with an average total attendance of 5,000. The service at Hunter is the largest, the “tourist service.” (For many years, Redeemer deliberately avoided publicity, but word has spread lately, and Keller estimates that hundreds of out-of-towners show up each Sunday.) Well over 2,000 people—mainly young whites and Asians you would expect to be sleeping off a late Saturday night—have come to this morning’s service.

Wow, “young people” in church… on Sunday morning no less.  What is due to this great success?  It has got to be a young hip preacher and cool band leading worship.  Nope.

Redeemer’s worship is seemly traditional. Instead of using video monitors, casually dressed worshipers follow a 20-page bulletin that includes hymns, prayers, and Bible texts. Organ and a brass quartet lead the music. For evening services, jazz musicians play contemporary Christian songs.

Standing 6’4″, with a bald head, glasses, and a coat and tie, Keller, 58, does not look hip. Nor is his sermon funny, charming, or daring. He preaches from the first chapter of Genesis, on the doctrine of Creation.  Keller speaks like a college professor, absorbed in his content, of which there is a lot

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Mega Church, Not So Mega Committment

June 10, 2009

Several news outlets, including the Associated Press and USA Today, are reporting today on a new study published by the the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary and Leadership Network that found some surprising trends in mega-churches.  In the study they found:

  • Nearly two-thirds of megachurch attenders are under 45 years old, as compared to only one-third for all Protestant churches (62% vs. 35%).
  • Nearly a third of megachurch attenders are single, unmarried persons.  In a typical church, singles account for just 10% of the congregation.
  • Megachurch attenders are both more educated and more affluent than attenders at other churches.
  • The majority of megachurch attenders are not necessarily new to Christianity but nearly a quarter had not recently been in another church before coming to a megachurch.
  • While newcomers almost always attend a megachurch at the invitation of family, friends or co-workers, the real attraction tends to be the church’s reputation, worship style and senior pastor.
  • Long-term attendance flows from an appreciation for the church’s music/arts, social and community outreach and adult-oriented programs.
  • 45% of megachurch attenders never volunteer at the church, and 40 percent are not engaged in a small group, the mainstay of megachurch programming.

As I have commented in the past, mega churches are meeting a need and are leading to people to Jesus Christ.  Two awesome things.  However, this study of 25,000 people at 12 mega churches indicates that megachurch attenders volunteer less and give less money than people who attend typical Protestant churches, although megachurch-goers tend to be wealthier and better educated. This follows the greater cultural trend of people being less committed to things because of their other commitments.  We are over committed and give less energy to our commitments.  For megachurches, this is problematic because it shows that attendees are less commitment to the church and they are not commitment enough to their stewardship through tithing or giving.  Mega churches draw in mega amounts of giving, so it leads me to believe that they can survive on less giving per member.

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