… Since 1952, the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies has issued such a report every 10 years (the U.S. Religion Census). Its latest came out November 11, covering the years 2010-2020. It gathers information from religious bodies and maps out the number of congregations and adherents on a county level.
The latest study also found that:
The Catholic Church is the largest denomination in 1,231 counties (the US has 3,143 counties).
Non-Christian bodies continue to increase their presence. The number of Muslims, for example, increased from 2.6 million to 4.5 million. The USRC includes congregation counts of five other non-Christian bodies, and congregation and adherent counts for Baháʼí, three Buddhist groups, three Hindu groups, and four Jewish groups.
Southern Baptists have the most churches of any religious group: 51,379.
There are some 44,319 nondenominational churches, a jump of nearly 9,000 over 10 years ago, and about 9 million adherents.
Southern Baptists and United Methodists each lost 2 million members from 2010 to 2020.
“Denominational brands have weakened, and divisions have increased over issues such as female clergy or sexual orientation,” said Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. “This likely led some adherents to seek or even start new nondenominational churches.”
A church-run business incubator grows its community’s own solutions to poverty
By Angie Jackson, Faith & Leadership, 9/1/22.
…“You can’t throw money at it. It’s not about just getting somebody a job. Now you have to teach people how to keep the job,” said 57-year-old Randolph. “And it’s not about just bringing people up. Sometimes you gotta bring up the whole community.”
… This approach helped Randolph transform the church, once on the verge of shuttering, to a community hub that’s now more than 300 members strong, racially diverse and majority young.
Randolph and his parishioners see the church as an incubation center. At the church, someone with a business idea can team up with accountants and attorneys to get it off the ground, and many have.
“You need your phone charged? Here’s a charging station,” said Bishop Bonnie Perry of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, referring to Church of the Messiah’s four solar-powered community charging stations. “The entrepreneurial spirit, that kind of spirit, is what our church longs for.”
People returning home from prison can seek help getting a job from the church’s employment office. The church is also the home base for a marching band that secures college scholarships for teens who once thought they wouldn’t graduate from high school.
To Randolph, it all ties back to providing people a path out of poverty.
…The hardest aspect of this type of community building is for churches to shift their mindset from focusing on what people are missing to realizing what they have, said the Rev. Michael Mather, the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Boulder, Colorado, and a faculty member at the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University
Mather is a former pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, where he revamped the church’s approach to ministry by asking people what their gifts were and looking for opportunities around those talents.
“One of the rules that we followed and that we’ve tried to think about a lot was that money should always flow into the hands of the people who don’t have much,” Mather said. “In the past, what we’ve done is we would pay ourselves to run programs for people whose problem was they didn’t have money. But we didn’t see the irrationality of it when we were doing it.”
… In parenting, you don’t wait for your kids to grow up before you start loving them; you love them at every stage of their maturity. In the same way, you need to learn to love people at every stage of their growth, and you need to learn to love the church as a whole in every stage of its growth.
Other believers will disappoint you, but that’s no reason to stop loving and fellowshipping with them. You’re going to live with them for eternity—so you should be practicing now how to love them more like Jesus.
“Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (Ephesians 4:2 NLT).
… New research indicates that heightened perceptions of moral division intensify support for strong leaders. The study, published in Political Psychology, found that the perceived breakdown of society plays a key role in this relationship.
“I think increasingly we are seeing societal divisions play out on moral grounds,” said study author Charlie R. Crimston (@drCharlie_C), a research fellow at the University of Queensland. “We know that when our moral convictions clash things can become pretty toxic (e.g., we become highly emotional, intolerant, and more accepting of violence to achieve desired ends; Skitka et al., 2021).
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel. Some interesting research has emerged from the UK. It shows that sports fans who watch live a sporting event, have a more enthusiastic experience than those who watch the same game on TV. This may have ramifications for and parallels with the hybrid church (though the research on this is still inconclusive). Read the article to consider the ramifications.
The Relationship between Live Sports and Live Church
by Robert Ellis, The Christian Scholar’s Review, 6/4/21.
… A study by UK Sport in 2011 reported that there was a very significant difference in the “inspirational effect” of watching major sports events live in a venue compared with watching it on TV.3 One of their measures was the extent to which fans agreed or strongly agreed that they felt reconnected with the enjoyment of sport itself and also inspired to be more active and to take up sport or exercise. The difference is striking: 67% of those in the stadium reported this, compared to a meagre 28% of TV viewers. Watching sport “live” gave a greater affective impact than watching it on TV.
… Some aspects of sports fan experience are comparable with (or possibly a substitute for) the kind of experience women and men might have in the spaces of organised religion. I have suggested elsewhere4 that sports embody the “dimensions” of religion identified by Ninian Smart: the ritual, mythological, doctrinal, ethical, social, experiential, and material dimensions of religion.5 It is interesting to speculate, therefore, on the different kinds of impact of enforced sporting deprivation for fans and the deprivation of church going upon believers.
Consuming recorded worship services on YouTube or tuning in live on Zoom takes some of the heat out of Sunday morning routines for many people. Worshippers are as likely to be in their loungewear as their “Sunday clothes.” For some it is not just a question of being “pandemic-safe,” it has been so convenient not having to leave the house. Many sports fans say they long to be back in the stadium: as our churches begin to open up again we will find out how many churchgoers long to return and how many have lost the virtuous habit of public worship.
There is some initial and preliminary evidence (though “evidence” might be too strong a word at the moment) that suggests that a negative impact is being had on church worshippers. In a widely reported phenomenon (though perhaps still anecdotal in status), the digital natives’ millennial generation seem less enamoured of worship streamed on YouTube or Zoom than their older counterparts. David Kinnaman of Barna, a group specializing in research on religious practices and cultural interactions, believes that the loss of in-person worship in the pandemic has accelerated the loss of younger members to churches.6 But we might also wonder whether, by comparison with the UK Sport conclusions, the effect of Church-from-the-sofa is less inspirational than the experience of face to face worship. Might we speculate that the effects of church online are less powerful than our pre-pandemic experiences? The absent younger people testify to the importance of maintaining contact with the routines, practices, and faith reinforcement of church life. Without these, as any sociologist will know, plausibility structures crumble. But if sport on TV is less inspirational than its live counterpart, what of worship on a zoom-screen?
It is interesting to compare these two deprivations. Discerning lockdown TV sports fans complain of a lack of “atmosphere” while watching (especially without the piped crowd noise), and some also miss the “close fellowship” of the bleachers and the liturgies of match day. Our experience of a football game is not simply the passive watching of an unfolding contingent contest, it is also the hot dogs and the songs, the sense of wonder of being in the same space as remarkably skilled protagonists, the coarseness and the closeness of the stadium seating.
… Listening to people who have been prevented from attending church in person over the last year it is interesting to hear what they miss. Fellowship and singing figure prominently among evangelicals. For others, the loss of sacramental life creates a huge void. The physicality of worship, and it is not just through the sacraments that we experience it, reminds us of the stadium experience and its game-day ritual. Right down to those annoying people who sit behind you, so easily avoided when we lounge on the sofa and “go to church” on You Tube, or watch the game on cable.
This Sunday our pastors were surprised when we were called us up front during the service to receive special recognition. I guess October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I don’t know who first suggested this special day. Maybe it was some pastor who was going through a tough time and who himself was badly in need of some encouragement. In any event, I am grateful for the day for who doesn’t like to be appreciated?
The word appreciate means to raise in value, and this is just what encouragement does; it raises the value of the person receiving it. But it also has significant benefits for the person giving it. The writer of Proverbs reminds us that “He who is generous prospers, and whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
Encouragement is oxygen to the soul. We can’t live very long without it. Someone remarked, encouragement is biodegradable; it has a short shelf life, for as soon as we receive it, we quickly need another dose. Everyone loves an encourager. “Flatter me and I may not believe you. Criticize me and I may not like you. Ignore me and I may never forgive you. But encourage me, and I will never forget you.
I often think back to one day when encouragement changed my life and my ministry. I had been pastoring in Greenville, Pa for four years, and suddenly I found myself looking discouragement square in the eye. I was tired, discouraged, and feeling like I had not accomplished all that I had set out to do. I began asking myself if I was really the one who was best prepared to lead the church, and I seriously began thinking it might be time to look for a new challenge.
I guess I wasn’t very good about hiding my feelings for somehow word got out to the congregation, and sensing my discouragement, they performed one of the greatest acts of encouragement I have ever received. It was shortly before Valentine’s Day when my mailbox began filling up. They were love letters from the congregation dressed up as Valentines. Someone had orchestrated a love letter writing campaign, and for the next few weeks my mailbox was brimming full of letters written by different members of the congregation. They were letters of encouragement. They were filled with gratitude and appreciation for me and my ministry. They screamed, “Tom, we love you.”
Those Valentine love letters, overflowing with gratitude and appreciation kept me in Greenville for another three years, a time that proved to be one of the most productive periods of any ministry I have enjoyed. And to this day those ‘love letters” continue to remain as some of my most valuable deposits in my bank account of memories.
I wonder how many people quit to soon because no one ever came along to encourage them.
Why not take some time today to write or call someone who might just need a little dose of encouragement? Like those loving Greenville folks, you just might change the course of someone’s life, and what could be more exciting ort more rewarding than that?
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I’m delivering Sunday sermons on how to use the #RomansRoad to equip congregants to one-on-one share their faith. The following research indicates that that may be the best way to reach the next generation.
Given the decline in attendance at houses of worship and the so-called rise of nones, it might come as a surprise that the majority of young people say they are spiritual and/or religious. According to those who participated in Springtide Research Institute’s State of Religion and Young People 2020, 78% of people ages 13-25 consider themselves at least slightly spiritual, including 60% of unaffiliated young people (atheists, agnostics and nones). And 71% say they are at least slightly religious, including 38% of the unaffiliated.
The coming generation may be investing more in faith because of stress and loss. After a year navigating the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020-2021), over a third of young people (35%) said their faith became stronger, while only 11% said their faith became weaker (half said their faith remained steady). Even more, 46% started new religious or spiritual practices during this time, far more than the 27% who stopped some religious or practices.
The caveat for anyone hoping to turn Gen Z into the generation that came back to church is that while today’s young people take what they find useful in faith traditions, this group has significant trust issues when it comes to formal religious institutions. Asked to rate their trust of organized religion on a 10-point scale, 63% of young people answered 5 or below, including 52% of those who say they’re affiliated with a religious tradition.
You read that right: Over half of young people who claim a religious affiliation have little trust in the very religious institutions with which they identify.
Where trust in religious institutions is low, however, trust in relationships with people in those institutions is extremely high.
Faith leaders who want to appeal to Gen Z need to focus on gaining trust through relationship rather than relying on their institutional authority — their title, role or accomplishments. To be sure, Gen Z members respect expertise, so long as it is combined with genuine care and concern for their well-being — an approach Springtide calls relational authority.
Regardless of race, age, political affiliation, gender or income, only those who consistently attended religious services each week (online or in person) are happier today than they were a year ago when COVID-19 began to capsize the globe.
This lines up with historical research on mental health and church attendance. Broad-based evidence demonstrates that attendance at worship services is indispensable to a happy, generous and flourishing society.
Pew Research found that actively religious adults are more likely to be happy, volunteer time to good causes and be more civically involved than non-religious or non-practicing religious folks.
… Each week at Beloved Everybody Church, these three symbols—a heart, a gift, an a butterfly—are used at the beginning of the service to remind the congregation of the community’s values. The Los Angeles church is intentionally ability inclusive: people with and without intellectual, developmental, or other disabilities worship there together. When I joined an online service from my home in Vancouver, British Columbia, 1,200 miles away, I expected to be there as an observer. Instead I was generously ministered to.
Bethany McKinney Fox, the church’s organizing pastor, stands out for her inclusive and integrated approach to worship. Bethany, who does not have a disability, has long had a passion for the inclusion of those who do. In high school, she formed a meaningful friendship with a student with physical and intellectual disabilities. She served as a longtime volunteer in a L’Arche community, a home in which people with and without disabilities share life together. She was a special education teacher. She has a PhD in Christian ethics, focusing on disability, healing, and the Gospels; she also worked for Fuller Theological Seminary as director of its disability services office. She and her spouse, Michael, are preparing to open their home to a person with an intellectual disability.
For all her credentials and achievements, Bethany says she “just really likes being friends with people with diverse abilities and disabilities.” It shows. She is clearly loved by those who participate in Beloved Everybody’s activities, and she joins them in many areas of their lives, not just for Sunday worship.
Everything at the church—from the style of worship to the way leadership functions—is designed for people with and without disabilities to join together in community. This structure presents an alternative view of the body of Christ, one that is perhaps closer to Paul’s original description, in which “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect” (1 Cor. 12:21–23).
Started in 2017, Beloved Everybody is still growing into its rhythms and rituals…
by Bob Whitesel, Biblical Leadership Magazine. 12/6/21
During the pandemic more worship services, including holiday events, have moved outside. And while the novelty of this has attracted some, should these outdoor venues continue after the pandemic?
I believe they should for three reasons.
First, the outdoor venue allows people to experience worship from their cars, which can be important for physically challenged people.
Robert Schuller tells a story that changed my view of drive-in worship. It seems that early in his church-planting career in Garden Grove, Calif., he was unable to find a suitable location to hold their worship service. So, on a temporary basis, they used a drive-in movie theater.
Of course, the novelty of a “drive-in church,” coupled with the image of car-crazy Californians, led to national media attention. As a result, more people began visiting the church and the church grew.
But the drive-in theater location was only meant to be temporary. Once they had enough money, Schuller and his team intended to build a traditional church building, without drive-in options.
But then a woman from the church contacted Schuller. She explained how her physical disabilities made it hard for her enter a church building and be comfortable. Even if she was able to enter, uncomfortable stares from ushers and congregants gave her less than a peaceful experience.
She explained to Schuller that she was like a full participant in drive-in worship. And she asked them to continue a drive-in option with the new church building. Schuller’s mission statement had been “find a need and fill it.” And with the drive-in option, they had stumbled across an under-reached people group: those with physical challenges.
In response, their new facility (and every other worship facility Garden Grove Community Church built) offered a “drive-in option.” Drive-in options are not needed because they are unique, but because they can connect with an underserved, physically challenged community.
Second, the outdoor venue allows people who are susceptible to illness to worship in a safer environment.
Research shows (Flavil Yeakley, Univ. of Ill.) that a motivating factor for many people who visit a church is personal illness or death of a family member. Our church visitors are often asking spiritual questions about life, health and death. And not surprisingly, in the new normal there is an increasing interest in health and the cleanliness of our churches.
Outdoor venues are safer for those with compromised health. And this reminds us that everyone should have unrestricted access to worship opportunities. A poignant example was when children, often viewed as social nuisances, were welcomed by Jesus unreservedly. Matthew 19:13-15 describes it this way (The Message):
One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left.
Third, an outdoor venue allows people who don’t yet feel part of your church-going culture, to join you semi-anonymously.
Our dress expectations, insider terms and unspoken territoriality are all too familiar to non-churchgoers. Not surprisingly, visitors become apprehensive when entering our unfamiliar cultures.
Yet Jesus asked us to humbly make the Good News accessible. Mark 6:7-13 (The Message) describes Jesus’ inaugural instructions to his 12 apostles this way:
Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.” Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
And, Paul descried actions he took to minster cross-culturally, stating:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:19-23, NIV).
Did this mean Paul changed his theology for different cultures? No, according to verse 21. But he did change his language, his illustrations and his locales, “so that by all possible means I might save some.”
During this pandemic God may be pushing you into new ways to connect with underserved portions of your communities. Look for the fruit from these endeavors and ask God to give you the boldness to expand your proclamation of the Good News.
Congregational attendance data are abundant, accessible, and relevant for religious research. Weekly attendance histories provide information about worshippers, congregations, and denominations that surveys cannot capture. The histories yield novel measures of commitment, testable implications of rational choice theory, and compelling evidence that attendance responds strongly to changes in the opportunity cost of time.
Here’s how the practice of attention management can help with three common attention-grabbers right now: your kids, your chores, and your thoughts.
How can you practice attention management to do good work in a house full of people who need you?
If you have older children at home, you can use the same attention-management techniques I recommend for in-office work: put up a sign, close a door, or provide some other signal for when you can’t be disturbed (unless in emergencies). A nearby dry-erase board or chalkboard is helpful so kids can let you know what they need when you’re ready for a break. This “do not disturb” time works best in increments of 10-60 minutes, followed by a break where you check in with others in the house…
When you find yourself distracted not by other people but by your home environment — nagging thoughts such as, “I really should put in a load of laundry,” “I think I need a snack from the fridge,” “Isn’t it time to walk the dog?” — use these to your advantage. Physical movement, like walking the dog or emptying the dishwasher provide relief after spending time doing mostly “brain work,” like reading, writing, and collaborating with others.
Plan for these breaks and use them as a reward. For example, if you’re having trouble starting the article you need to write, decide that “as soon as I identify the three points of the article and draft the introduction, then I can take the dog for a walk.” Trying to put all personal thoughts out of your head when working from home takes up a huge amount of energy and it isn’t necessary. Instead, tie those personal tasks to important work activities so your days can be productive both personally and professionally, and you’ll end the work day feeling more refreshed and energized because you took appropriate breaks throughout the day.
In addition to helping you maintain a high level of productivity, practicing attention management will also help you recognize when your thoughts start to turn darker and create anxiety. It’s easy in times like these to ruminate over what might happen. And it’s true that planning is important. But the media exaggerates negative news, so what might start out as research can soon send us into a state of anxiety and worry over “worst case scenarios.”
… If you’ve ever considered starting a gratitude journal, now would be a great time. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just start or end (or both!) every day by writing down three good things about that day. They don’t have to be big things. Taking a walk in the middle of the work day, reconnecting with an old friend, appreciating a particular aspect of your physical well-being — calling your attention to the good things will change your perspective. Even better, we should take this opportunity to express gratitude to others more often. Behavioral scientist Francesca Gino writes, “gratitude enables us to savor positive experiences, cope with stressful circumstances, and be resilient in the face of challenges.”
“From Egypt, Abram went up into the Negev, with his wife and all that he possessed, together with Lot. Now Abram was very rich in cattle, silver, and gold. And he proceeded by stages from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been formerly, between Bethel and Ai.” (Genesis 13:1-3, translation Serfaria.org)
For many years, researchers have been puzzled by the question of how the Negev desert was home to settlements and communities in ancient times, in spite of its inhospitality and aridity. Now a group of researchers from the Ben-Gurion University has, for the first time, devoted attention to the ancient cisterns scattered around the highlands of the desert – its driest region – which might hold the key to understand some of the secrets of human life in the area several thousand years ago.As explained in a paper recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, among the findings of the study was that some of the simplest structures might not, as has been assumed, date back only to the Iron Age beginning around 1200 BCE, but to the previous Bronze Age, which covered over two millennia between 3500 and 1200 BCE. According to the prevalent biblical interpretation, the second millennia BCE also marked the time of the life of the Jewish patriarch Abraham, who according to the Bible journeyed through the desert on more than one occasion.
“Higher attendance, lower giving: Survey shows how churches are responding to COVID-19” by Emily MacFarland Miller, Religion News Service, 3/31/20.
…Barna surveyed 434 senior and executive pastors online using its Barna Church Pulse tool, starting one week after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency related to the pandemic; 222 pastors responded between March 20 and 23, and another 212 between March 27 and 30.
… Most have moved those services online. Even churches that hadn’t been online previously are trying it out to reach their congregants at home: While 32% of churches were not offering any digital options in the first week, that number had shrunk to 7% by the second week, Kinnaman pointed out.
Just over half of pastors (54%) said their online attendance was higher than their usual in-person attendance this past Sunday (March 29), with fully 1 in 4 reporting it was “much higher,” according to Barna data.
But nearly 8 in 10 (79%) said financial giving is down, with nearly half (47%) reporting it is down “significantly.”j
Still, almost all of the pastors surveyed (95%) felt confident their churches would survive and said they haven’t made any changes to their staffing (71%).
“The church is adapting to the new normal, and they’re starting to use the language about the indefinite future, about working remotely,” Kinnaman said.
by Thom Rainer, “One Key Reason Many Churches Are Fighting Attendance Declines,” 12/13/19.
We hear more and more about attendance frequency becoming a pain point for many churches. After over a decade of having this conversation, Thom and Sam discuss the one key reason many churches are still fighting attendance declines.
Revisiting the Concept of Attendance Frequency
The Priority/Expectations Factor
The Weekend Worker Demographic
The Focus on Us Instead of Them
Groups, groups, groups
For the church to exist it must gather.
One of three people in the U.S. workforce is unable to attend a Sunday morning service due to a work conflict.
The gig and entrepreneurial economy are having an impact on church attendance.
Personal preferences always kill priorities.
Group involvement can have a huge impact on church frequency.