CHURCH ATTENDANCE & Gallup research: Percentage of Americans identifying as Protestant has declined sharply & those professing no religious identity, up to 20% from as little as 2% just over 60 years ago.

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Weekly church attendance has declined among U.S. Catholics in the past decade, while it has remained steady among Protestants.

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From 2014 to 2017, an average of 39% of Catholics reported attending church in the past seven days. This is down from an average of 45% from 2005 to 2008 and represents a steep decline from 75% in 1955.

By contrast, the 45% of Protestants who reported attending church weekly from 2014 to 2017 is essentially unchanged from a decade ago and is largely consistent with the long-term trend.

… Currently, the rate of weekly church attendance among Protestants and Catholics is similar at most age levels. One exception is among those aged 21 to 29, with Protestants (36%) more likely than Catholics (25%) to say they have attended in the past seven days.

Protestants’ Pie Is Shrinking Faster Than Catholics’

While attracting parishioners to weekly services is vital to the maintenance of the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations alike, so too is maintaining a large base of Americans identifying with each faith group.

Although the rate at which Protestants attend church has held firm over the past six decades, the percentage of Americans identifying as Protestant has declined sharply, from 71% in 1955 to 47% in the mid-2010s. Since 1999, Gallup’s definition of Protestants has included those using the generic term “Christian” as well as those calling themselves Protestant or naming a specific Protestant faith.

By contrast, while the Catholic Church has suffered declining attendance in the U.S., the overall percentage of Catholics has held fairly steady — largely because of the growth of the U.S. Hispanic population. Twenty-two percent of U.S. adults today identify as Catholic, compared with 24% in 1955.

A troubling sign for both religions is that younger adults, particularly those aged 21 to 29, are less likely than older adults to identify as either Protestant or Catholic. This is partly because more young people identify as “other” or with other non-Christian religions, but mostly because of the large proportion — 33% — identifying with no religion.

Bottom Line

…Although weekly attendance among Protestants has been stable, the proportion of adults identifying as Protestants has shrunk considerably over the past half-century. And that trend will continue as older Americans are replaced by a far less Protestant-identifying younger generation.

All of this comes amid a broader trend of more Americans opting out of formal religion or being raised without it altogether. In 2016, Gallup found one in five Americans professing no religious identity, up from as little as 2% just over 60 years ago.

Read more at … http://news.gallup.com/poll/232226/church-attendance-among-catholics-resumes-downward-slide.aspx

CHURCH HEALTH & 7 Church Illnesses as seen by #ThomRainer

by Thom Rainer, 3/21/18

  1. Attitudinal Angst
  2. Slippage Syndrome
  3. Detail Distraction
  4. Institutional Idolatry
  5. Activity Acclimation
  6. Purposeless Prayer
  7. Detrimental Defensiveness

Read more at … https://thomrainer.com/2018/03/seven-potentially-deadly-church-sicknesses-2/

CONVERSION & An interview w/ the author of “The Triumpth of Christianity,” Bart D. Ehrman, on why spiritual transformation was central to Christianity’s growth.

Interview by Terry Gross, Fresh Air, National Public Radio, 3/29/2018.

“On why conversion was so important to Christians.”

It’s one of the things that made Christianity quite distinct in the ancient world. It had to do with the nature of the Christian religion. Christians from the very beginning believed that it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that could make a person right with God and that if a person was not right with God, they would pay an eternal penalty. There would literally be hell to pay if somebody didn’t convert. And so Christians believed that their religion was the only right religion and that people had to practice their religion or else they would go to hell.

Moreover, Christians maintained that they were to follow Jesus’ teachings of love. You’re to love your neighbor as yourself. Well, if your neighbor is going to go to hell by not believing what you believe, and you love this person, then you need to make them see the error of their ways and convert them to your faith. And so that’s what Christians were doing from the very beginning: Trying to convert others so that they could join the church and avoid the terrors of hell.

On how conversions to Christianity were largely voluntary in the religion’s first centuries of existence.

I think early in Christianity it was always voluntary. People were simply deciding that the Christian God was the one to be worshipped rather than the traditional pagan gods, and for several centuries it went on like that. We don’t actually have records of forcible conversions in the sense that Christians were wielding the sword and forcing pagans to convert. We don’t have that kind of thing.

By the end of the 4th century, we do have some Christian intolerance of other religions that was manifest on the political level, where pagan religions became illegal to practice. At that point you … don’t have forced conversions to Christianity; what you do have is enforced illegal religions, so the pagan religions became illegal to practice at one point.

On why there weren’t more Jewish converts

Christianity started out as a group of Jesus-followers, who were all Jewish as he was, who agreed with his teachings, which were Jewish teachings. They believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah sent from the Jewish God to the Jewish people in fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures. They were Jewish.

But this message that they had — that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah after his death — simply didn’t take among the Jews. Most Jews absolutely rejected the message, and they didn’t think it was simply wrong — they thought it was somewhat ludicrous. Jews who were expecting a Messiah had a variety of understandings of what that Messiah might be, but the various understandings of the Messiah was that the Messiah was going to be a powerful figure who would destroy the enemies of the people of God and set up Israel as a sovereign state in its promised land. He was going to be a powerful warrior political figure.

Jesus, on the other hand, was a crucified criminal who is executed for crimes against the state. To call Jesus the Messiah struck most Jews as completely crazy. … So most Jews simply didn’t accept the Christian message, and early on at least, were quite opposed to it.

Read more at … https://www.npr.org/2018/03/20/595161200/author-traces-christianitys-path-from-forbidden-religion-to-a-triumph

CONTEMPORARY MUSIC & The founder of Christian rock music would’ve hated what it’s become …

by Ryan Vlastelica, AVclub.com, 3/19/18.

Who was Larry Norman? He’s one of the fathers of spiritual rock music, “the Forrest Gump of evangelical Christianity”—which puts him on the front lines of America’s culture wars, though on whose side it’s hard to say—and the subject of Gregory Alan Thornbury’s fantastic new biography, Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music? The book, titled after one of Norman’s best-known songs, draws extensively on Norman’s personal archives, where he was thoughtful and introspective about his beliefs, work, and doubts, giving Thornbury’s work a level of insight and intimacy that’s all too rare among recently published artist biographies. When it comes to telling the story of an artist, what makes a good biography is not the fame or even the talent of the book’s subject, but the complexity of the figure and how that manifests itself through their life and work. Norman’s story has this in abundance. Why Should The Devil also serves as a primer on Christian rock, a critical analysis of the genre, and a compact history of Christianity in the latter half of last century, a period where Jesus went from a counterculture hero to all outcasts to a cynically deployed tool of the religious right.

Today, Christian rock is closer to sub-emo and ska in the extent to which it is maligned by mainstream critics, a statement Norman himself would’ve likely agreed with. (He died in 2008). He was a man of faith but also an artist of integrity, who wanted to push music forward and saw no reason why spiritual music couldn’t challenge audiences and rock at the same time. He played on the same bills as The Who, the Doors, and Janis Joplin, and later jammed with members of the Sex Pistols, and appeared onstage with Pixies frontman Black Francis. Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney were fans; U2 and Gun N’ Roses both cited him as an influence.

There are a number of fascinating through-lines in the book, each of which arise organically from the material and are explored in depth by multiple articulate perspectives; this isn’t a book of cheap shots.

One theme centers on religious pop art in general, and whether it should be accessible enough for secular audiences or geared toward the converted, and if so, whether it should challenge or celebrate one’s faith. On top of that, there’s an analysis of faith-based art on artistic grounds, with the argument it lacks the kind of inspiration or technical skill that would make it of interest to those who appreciate craftsmanship but aren’t there for the sermon…

Norman, who pushed the envelope both artistically and thematically, is at the heart of these debates. He wanted it both ways, Thornbury writes: “He wanted to rock and he wanted to talk about Jesus, he wanted to follow Jesus and to offend other followers of Jesus, for people to enjoy his music but also be discomfited by it.” Of course this pleased no one; he was “too edgy for the Jesus people and too religious for the run-of-the mill rock fans.” Christian stores didn’t stock his records and secular ones didn’t know how to categorize him. (“‘Christian psychedelic’ was hardly a category.”)

Read more at … https://www.avclub.com/the-founder-of-christian-rock-music-wouldve-hated-what-1823533655

COMMUNICATION & Why/when you should publish church budgets in the bulletin.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. 3/I4/18.

I received the question (below) from a former student. It is followed by my answer.

Pastor: “In seminary I seem to remember hearing that it was a desperate move to publish weekly giving/need financial info in the bulletin. If a church is on mission and helping congregation members buy in to that then the finances will come in from the people. Rather, by putting them in it seems we’re advertising to new visitors we care more for their money than their hearts. I can’t find anything other than blog posts (research data or book quotes elude me) in support of this idea. I’m at (church name), and this idea came up at board meeting last night with fairly wide support. We already make the monthly budget summary available in print and digital, so this feels desperate since our giving is way down. The treasure can also nearly directly correlate the drop in giving with unfulfilled mission promises from church leader (namely raising money for a building that hasn’t been built/spent in over 5 years).”

I responded:

I don’t recall any research that has been conducted on this. But, usually when a church board makes this suggestion it’s because they feel it will increase giving if people know the church is in need. And that is true, it will do so among the people who are already committed to the church. And it will do so if these committed people have forgotten to give their offerings recently or have not given it because they thought the church is not in need.

But, most people (if they are moderately attached to a church) will know a church is in need when the church is encountering financial difficulties.  There may be uncompleted maintenance issues or paid staff being let go. Usually financial difficulties are easy to spot for regular, committed congregants. Therefore there is a rationale for this approach and it might help, But I believe only slightly so.

If the board members are aware of congregants who have not been giving because of the above reasons, then rather than an impersonal announcement in the bulletin which might be missed, a personal visit by a board member would be more productive.

Let the board know this reasoning and they will see that publishing the budget in the bulletin will probably create little increased giving. But it might be a little … and that could be helpful.

The downside, to which the student is alluding, is that people who are not yet strongly attached to the church may feel that the church is a “sinking ship.” And it appears that it might be the case here. Therefore, the logical thinking is that publishing the budget might scare them away.  And this might scare away some people, but mainly those who may be coming for the wrong reasons.

It is better in my mind to be forthright. In my consulting practice I have seen over the years that is best to be honest and forthright. Therefore publishing the budget may be helpful and even more so if it is prefaced with a short introductory sentence. Perhaps something that says: “We want to make our church family aware of our financial challenges and that we appreciate your prayers and input.”

Finally I’ve seen that putting a budget in the church bulletin can help newcomers understand where the money goes. Even a simple pie chart that shows the percentage of money that goes to staff, upkeep of facilities, outreach, etc. can help people see that an extraordinary amount of money is not going for personal or congregational purposes. However if it is, then that’s another problem you need to address.

 

 

CHURCH PLANTING & Death maps show where despair is killing Americans.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In my coaching and mentoring of church planters, I have found them increasingly open to going to hard-hit urban and rural areas. This map shows that some of the most needy areas are in rural Appalachia. One of my former students (who shadowed me for a year to learn consulting) Jay Wise, pastors a church in the middle of the red zone. Read this article to understand more … so you can pray for Jay and consider supporting ministers who labor in these challenging environments.

“Death maps show where despair is killing Americans“ by Maggie Fox, NBC News, 3/14/18.

Researchers have mapped out deaths from alcohol, drugs and violence across the U.S. and found troubling patterns of despair that have worsened in recent years.

While deaths from alcohol abuse, suicide and violence are down, they are more than outweighed by a gigantic 600 percent increase in drug overdose deaths, the team at the University of Washington found.

Their county-by-county breakdown of mortality data going back to 1980 paints an extremely detailed picture of where society is failing the most Americans.

“Every county experienced an increase in deaths from drug use disorders, but that burden of drug use overdoses was particularly acute in certain communities,” Laura Dwyer-Lindgren and colleagues wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Death rates from drug abuse have increased by more than 600 percent since 1980, county-level data from the University of Washington shows. University Of Washingtonh

Drug deaths cluster in Appalachia. A map showing the rate of increase is even more dramatic, showing hot spots of worsening drug overdoses in Appalachia, Ohio, Indiana, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Read more at … https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/ncna856231?__twitter_impression=true

CHURCH HISTORY & ARDA creates helpful and graphic-based online timeline of Race/Ethnicity & Religion in No. America

Commentary by Prof. B.: It is easy to be put off by the complex and intertwined history of diversity in America. Recognizing this, the Association for Religion Data Archives (ARDA) has created an online and interactive “timeline” here: http://www.thearda.com/timeline/tlTheme1.asp (screen shot below).

Easy to navigate, quick to read with reliable research, this should be your first stop to understand and explain the complex history of diversity in the No. American Church.

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