CHURCH HISTORY & Christian Smith explains what happened in the 1990s that led to a surge in the “nones” – the religiously unaffiliated.

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In the early 1990s, the historical tether between American identity and faith snapped. Religious non-affiliation in the U.S. started to rise—and rise, and rise. By the early 2000s, the share of Americans who said they didn’t associate with any established religion (also known as “nones”) had doubled. By the 2010s, this grab bag of atheists, agnostics, and spiritual dabblers had tripled in size.

Christian Smith, a sociology and religion professor at the University of Notre Dame, America’s nonreligious lurch has mostly been the result of three historical events: the association of the Republican Party with the Christian right, the end of the Cold War, and 9/11.

This story begins with the rise of the religious right in the 1970s. Alarmed by the spread of secular culture—including but not limited to the sexual revolution, the Roe v. Wade decision, the nationalization of no-fault divorce laws, and Bob Jones University losing its tax-exempt status over its ban on interracial dating—Christians became more politically active. The GOP welcomed them with open arms…

The marriage between the religious and political right delivered Reagan, Bush, and countless state and local victories. But it disgusted liberal Democrats, especially those with weak connections to the Church. It also shocked the conscience of moderates, who preferred a wide berth between their faith and their politics. Smith said it’s possible that young liberals and loosely affiliated Christians first registered their aversion to the Christian right in the early 1990s, after a decade of observing its powerful role in conservative politics.

Second, it may have felt unpatriotic to confess one’s ambivalence toward God while the U.S. was locked in a geopolitical showdown with a godless Evil Empire. In 1991, however, the Cold War ended. As the U.S.S.R. dissolved, so did atheism’s association with America’s nemesis. After that, “nones” could be forthright about their religious indifference, without worrying that it made them sound like Soviet apologists.

Third, America’s next geopolitical foe wasn’t a godless state. It was a God-fearing, stateless movement: radical Islamic terrorism. A series of bombings and attempted bombings in the 1990s by fundamentalist organizations such as al-Qaeda culminated in the 9/11 attacks. It would be a terrible oversimplification to suggest that the fall of the Twin Towers encouraged millions to leave their church, Smith said. But over time, al-Qaeda became a useful referent for atheists who wanted to argue that all religions were inherently destructive.

Read more at … https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/09/atheism-fastest-growing-religion-us/598843/

CHANGE & Research finds if congregations can change, they can grow.

by Hartford Seminary American Congregations Project.

Congregations Can Change, They Can Grow Congregations that are spiritually vital and alive, have strong, permanent leadership, and enjoy joyful, innovative and inspirational worship are more likely to experience growth, this 2011 study found. Other factors that support growth are being located in the South; having more weekly worship services; and having a clear sense of mission and purpose. These are among the conclusions that stood out in a Faith Communities Today report on American congregations titled “Facts on Growth: 2010”. “They almost seem commonsensical,” said David Roozen, Director of Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research, “but it is surprising how many struggling congregations puzzle over the challenges of growth.” FACT released this report to help and provoke the reflection of just such congregations — those seeking to discern which issues help and which hinder growth. The author is C. Kirk Hadaway, former Church Officer for Congregational Research, The Episcopal Church. The report was one in a series produced by The Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP), based on a 2010 survey that analyzed responses from 11,077 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States. “Location, Location, Location used to be the kind way that researchers described the extent to which the growth or decline of American congregations was captive to the demographic changes going on in their immediate neighborhoods,” said Roozen. “Congregations cannot totally ignore what is going on in their context, but the clear message of FACTs on Growth: 2010 is that in today’s world, growth and decline are primarily dependent upon a congregation’s internal culture, program and leadership, and therefore a congregation’s own ability to change and adapt.” Hadaway wrote, “Decline is more prevalent today than it was five years ago and congregational economics are much more precarious. Still, many congregations in America are growing. What are they like and what are they doing?” Among the findings in the report: In a shift, congregations located in the downtown or central city area are more likely to experience growth than congregations in other locations. Previous surveys found that newer suburbs were associated with the greatest potential for growth. The South, from Maryland to Texas, is better for growth than any other region. The youngest congregations, those started since 1992, are most likely to grow. Growth in predominantly white congregations is less likely, in part because this population has zero growth demographically. The members tend to be older as well and less likely to have contemporary worship services. Denomination matters – growth is more likely among conservative Protestant groups and least likely among mainline Protestant congregations. There is a clear correlation between growth and the sense that a congregation is spiritually vital and alive along with a clear mission and purpose. While only nine percent of congregations have three services on a typical weekend and five percent have four or more, these congregations are more likely to have grown. It is unclear, however, whether churches grow because they have more services or they grow first and add services. Where a worship service is considered joyful, a congregation is more likely to experience substantial growth. And congregations that involve children in worship were more likely to experience substantial growth. Congregations whose members are heavily involved in recruiting new people have a definite growth advantage, as do congregations that use multiple methods to make follow-up contacts with visitors, that regularly invest in special events or programs to attract people from the community, and whose senior clergy spent priority time in evangelism and recruitment. In general, having congregational programs of all kinds is related to growth. Be it Sunday school, Scripture study, fellowship, retreats, youth programs, team sports, or community service, nothing works against growth. The programs that produced the strongest link to growth were (1) young adult activities (2) parenting or marriage enrichment activities and (3) prayer or meditation groups. Congregations without a leader or an interim leader are least likely to experience growth. Generally, the younger the leader, the more likely a congregation has grown. Leaders 35 to 39 years old are most likely to be in growing congregations. Congregations that saw themselves as not that different from other congregations in their area tended to decline.
Read more here … https://faithcommunitiestoday.org/facts-on-growth-2010/

CHURCH HISTORY & Fundamentalism turns 100: What it is and why it is a landmark for the Christian Right

by  Professor of History, University of Dayton, The Conversation, 10/8/19.

These days, the term “fundamentalism” is often associated with a militant form of Islam.

But the original fundamentalist movement was actually Christian. And it was born in the United States a century ago this year.

Protestant fundamentalism is still very much alive. And, as Susan Trollinger and I discuss in our 2016 book, it has fueled today’s culture war over gender, sexual orientation, science and American religious identity.

Roots of Fundamentalism

Christian fundamentalism has roots in the 19th century, when Protestants were confronted by two challenges to traditional understandings of the Bible.

Throughout the century, scholars increasingly evaluated the Bible as a historical text. In the process they raised questions about its divine origins, given its seeming inconsistencies and errors.

In addition, Charles Darwin’s 1859 book “On the Origin of Species” – which laid out the theory of evolution by natural selection – raised profound questions about the Genesis account of creation.

Many American Protestants easily squared their Christian faith with these ideas. Others were horrified.

Conservative theologians responded by developing the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Inerrancy asserts that the Bible is errorless and factually accurate in everything it says – including about science.

This doctrine became the theological touchstone of fundamentalism. Alongside inerrancy emerged a system of ideas, called apocalyptic or “dispensational premillennialism.”

Adherents of these ideas hold that reading the Bible literally – particularly the Book of Revelation – reveals that history will end soon with a ghastly apocalypse.

All those who are not true Christians will be slaughtered. In the wake of this violence, Christ will establish God’s millennial kingdom on Earth.

Setting the stage

A series of Bible and prophecy conferences spread these ideas to thousands of Protestants across the United States in the late 19th century.

But two early 20th-century publications were particularly key to their dissemination.

The first was author Cyrus Scofield’s 1909 Reference Bible. Scofield’s Bible included an overwhelming set of footnotes emphasizing that the errorless Bible predicts a violent end of history which only true Christians will survive.

The second was “The Fundamentals,” 12 volumes published between 1910 and 1915 which made the case for biblical inerrancy while simultaneously attacking socialism and affirming capitalism.

“The Fundamentals” provided the name of the future religious movement. But there was not yet a fundamentalist movement.

That came after World War I.

The birth of the Fundamentalist Movement

After Woodrow Wilson’s April 1917 declaration of war on Germany, the government mobilized a huge propaganda campaign designed to demonize the Germans as barbarous Huns who threatened Western civilization. Many conservative Protestants traced Germany’s devolution into depravity to its embrace of Darwinism and de-emphasis of the Bible’s divine origins.

Six months after the war’s end, William Bell Riley – pastor of Minneapolis’ First Baptist Church and a well-known speaker on the Bible’s prophecies regarding the end of history – organized and presided over the World’s Conference on Christian Fundamentals in Philadelphia.

This five-day May 1919 meeting attracted over 6,000 people and an all-star lineup of conservative Protestant speakers. It produced the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, which birthed a movement that influences American political and social life today.

In summer and fall of 1919 Riley sent teams of speakers to spread the fundamentalist word across the U.S. In addition to promoting biblical inerrancy and apocalyptic premillennialism, they attacked socialism and Darwinism.

Soon, Riley and his newly minted fundamentalists began trying to capture control of major Protestant denominations and eliminate the teaching of Darwinian evolution from American public schools…

Understanding Christian America to be under deadly assault, in the late 1970s these politically conservative fundamentalists began to organize.

The emergent Christian Right attached itself to the Republican Party, which was more aligned with its members’ central commitments than the Democrats.

In the vanguard was Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell Sr. His “Moral Majority” sought to make America Christian again by electing “pro-family, pro-life, pro-Bible morality” candidates.

…Since the 1980s, the movement has become increasingly sophisticated. Christian Right organizations like Focus on the Family and Concerned Women of America push for laws that reflect the fundamentalist views on everything from abortion to sexual orientation.
By the time Falwell died, in 2007, the Christian Right had become the most important constituency in the Republican Party. It played a crucial role in electing Donald Trump in 2016.

After one century, Protestant fundamentalism is still very much alive in America. William Bell Riley, I wager, would be pleased.

Read more at … https://theconversation.com/fundamentalism-turns-100-a-landmark-for-the-christian-right-123651

 

COMMUNICATION & The 6 Best Techniques for Communicating Clearly and Persuasively. #IncMagazine

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I am a big fan of using stories to communicate the truth, not only because research shows that it helps you retain what you’re learning almost 3 times better (1), but also because that’s primary how Jesus taught.

Here’s more ideas (in addition to metaphors) for communicating effectively.

Footnote (1)  Scott Wilcher, MetaSpeak: Secrets of Regenerative Leadership to Transform your Workplace, Ph.D. dissertation (Nashville: Turnaround 2020 Conference, 2013).

The 6 Best Techniques for Communicating Clearly and Persuasively, According to a Speechwriter for Top CEOs by Scott Mautz, Inc. Magazine, 9/17/19.

truly persuasive, impactful communication is a skill that’s learned and earned. Simon Lancaster, one of the foremost speechwriters for politicians and CEOs in the world, has learned and helps others to do the same.

His TEDx talk on clear and compelling communication (especially in speeches) is provocative, with smart advice for upping your verbal voracity. I’ll share the talk below and then I’ll summarize the six keys to persuasive communication within–as well as add my perspective as someone who gets paid to speak from stage.

… Use the power of juxtaposition.

In one of my keynotes I use a line to grab leaders’ attention about the power their words and actions hold. Of this I say, “You can plant seeds of growth, or seeds of doubt.” The line is always fed back to me by audience members afterwards. Lancaster calls this using “balanced statements” and says it triggers an underlying presumption that the thinking behind the statement must also be balanced, and our brain likes balanced things.

…Use metaphors.

Caveat: Make them simple and easy to understand. A good metaphor illuminates the point you’re trying to make in a way 1,000 words can’t match. In one of my keynotes, to illuminate the power of a leader choosing to be liberal in granting autonomy to employees, I compare it to the process by which power flows through a light bulb (a light bulb will flicker at best if you give it only a bit of power, as will a high-wattage employee).

Read more at … https://www.inc.com/scott-mautz/the-6-best-techniques-for-communicating-clearly-persuasively-according-to-a-speechwriter-for-top-ceos.html

CHURCH OF LIVING COLOR & Inspired by friends Paul & Jennifer who are using healthy church principles to grow a #ChurchOfLivingColor. #ReMixBook #Whitesel&DeYmaz #7Systems.church

COMMUNICATION & How one church used Instagram story wallpapers as invitations for Easter (examples).

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  My friends at United City Greensboro, a No. Carolina church, used the following Instagram story wallpapers.  Perhaps they will inspire you as you plan for a worship opportunity.

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(Please don’t use the artwork of United City Greensboro without permission.  Find out about this innovative group of believers here: http://www.unitedcitygso.com

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SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Did you know Charles Wesley wrote a song “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion.” It is more popularly known as “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”

by Jeffrey Barbeau, Christianity Today, 2/14/19.

…John Wesley’s subsequent “conversion” at Aldersgate Street in London is well known, but fewer realize that Charles experienced his own “heart strangely warmed” experience only a few days before. On Pentecost Sunday (“Whitsunday”), May 21, 1738, Charles attained what might alternately be called a deepening of faith, a new birth, and an assurance of God’s love that helped launch one of the great revivals in modern Christianity.

As he lay sick in bed, Charles experienced what he described as a new “Pentecost.” He heard the voice of a woman, calling out to him: “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise, and believe, and thou shalt be healed of all thy infirmities.” Charles records in his journal: “The words struck me to the heart.” In a moment, Charles, with “strange palpitation of heart,” declared “I believe, I believe!”

Three days before John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, Charles beat John to the punch. He came to recognize the love of God in the presence of the Spirit, dispelling the darkness of doubt from his heart.

The event was so moving that he later memorialized the day in one of the great hymns in Christian history, “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion,” more popularly known as “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”

In fact, the hymns of Charles Wesley are replete with references to love. At Easter, Christians around the world repeat the words of his most famous composition, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” and declare “Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!” Elsewhere Charles praises “Love divine, all loves excelling” and honors God’s great and “universal love.”

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2019/february/charles-wesley-romance-love-sally-wesley.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=20830743&utm_content=635605081&utm_campaign=email