DECHURCHED & Churches could win back teens like me if they were more welcoming and less judgmental. #USAtoday

by Stacia Dayskovska, USA Today, 8/18/19.

From the standpoint of teens like me, many Christian denominations are too deeply rooted in tradition. Whatever this “tradition” comes dressed as, we find it a turnoff. Because of this, church should offer more open-ended resources to teens — such as meditation, discussion groups, and even nature walks. In other words, the Christian church experience needs to start transcending the traditional and adapting to the times. Only then can teens start finding meaning in church beyond traditional mass, and realizing they can come to God in their own way without indoctrination or an intermediary.

Offer teens flexible ways to worship

Teen religious disillusionment is more prevalent than ever. Today’s teens are the first generation to be called “post-Christian,” meaning they lack a sense of Christian identity. When Barna Group asked why last year, 17% of the churchgoing 13- to 18-year-olds in the survey said church is too much of an exclusive club for them to relate to it positively. And that’s only from those that do go to church. For teens that don’t, views of church are as detached as they are disapproving; 23% of non-attenders said a barrier to their faith remains the fact that Christians are hypocrites.

However deep-rooted and unalterable these attitudes towards the church seem, there’s actually great potential for inclusive policies to work. While only a slight minority of young adults claim they are still searching for a religion, a substantial 29% are already spiritual but seeking an outlet to deepen their beliefs. This means that if teen-centered programs are extended beyond, say, Bible camp, and are intentionally depicted as nondenominational, more teens would treat church as a safe space for worship rather than a convert-seeking institution. With flexibility in the “terms of worship” comes greater freedom, and with greater freedom teens might feel more inclined to involve themselves with the church.

Read more at … https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2019/08/18/churches-need-less-tradition-more-flexibility-welcome-teens-column/2011731001/

STACIA DATSKOVSKA |

UNIVERSALISM & Do all of our prayers go to the same higher power – whether we are Muslim, Christian or Jewish? Experts Weigh In.

by Lauren Green, 6/20/19.

…Tim Keller, bestselling author and speaker, writes in his book, “Reason for God,” about an encounter with a student who proudly proclaimed the belief that all the major religions worship the same God. Keller says, “[The student) contended that doctrinal differences between Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism were superficial and insignificant, that they all believed in the same God. But when I asked him who that God was, he described Him as an all-loving Spirit in the universe.

The problem with the position” Keller said, “is its inconsistency. It insists that doctrine is unimportant, but at the same time assumes doctrinal beliefs about the nature of God that are at loggerheads with those of all the major faiths. Buddhism doesn’t believe in a personal God at all. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam believe in a God who holds people accountable for their beliefs and practices and whose attributes could not be all reduced to love.”

Keller sums it up saying: “Ironically, the insistence that doctrines do not matter is really a doctrine itself. It holds a specific view of God, which is touted as superior and more enlightened than the beliefs of most major religions. So the proponents of this view do the very thing they forbid in others.”

Nabeel Qureshi, a devout Muslim who converted to Christianity and authored the book, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus,” has one of the most insightful and experiential takes on whether Christians and Muslims worship the same deity. He explains, “Let’s start with the obvi/ous: Christians believe Jesus is God, but the Quran is so opposed to this belief that it condemns Jesus worshipers to Hell (5.72).”

The difference, says Qureshi, is Christianity’s core tenet, that Jesus Christ is God, part of the Trinitarian Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“For Christians, Jesus is certainly God, and for Muslims Jesus is certainly not God. How can it be said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God? This fact alone is enough to settle the matter…”

Read more at … https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/was-aoc-correct-when-she-suggested-all-religions-worship-the-same-god-experts-weigh-in

UNAFFILIATED & Research shows younger Christians have moved from being evangelical to being “unaffiliated.”

America’s Changing Religious Landscape, podcast with Robert P. Jones (18 February 2019), interviewed by Benjamin P. Marcus.

…Atheists and agnostics actually only make up only a minority of that category of a quarter of the US population. And the rest of them are kind of a mixed bag. When we’ve looked underneath the hood, there’s kind of two other groups in there. There’s one group that looks . . . that we’ve just broadly labelled “secular” in some of our reporting, that looks broadly like a cross-section of the country. But there’s another group in there that we’ve actually dubbed “unattached believers”. And that group looks, on many measures of religiosity – like, “How often do you pray?”, “How often do you attend religious services?”, “Do you believe in God?”, those kind of questions – they look like religious Americans, even though they refuse the category and won’t identify with any particular religious group. That group tends to be less white, more African American or Latino. And they tend to be younger. And so it’s a very interesting group. I think, as a whole, this group has moved so fast now that it is a very diverse group. I mean, after all, it’s a quarter of Americans, so that is a big, big group that we’re talking about, now...

So if we go back ten years ago, I think that was more true than it is today. But it is true that young evangelicals have moved. But what they have moved from is from being evangelical to be unaffiliated. So they’ve actually exited the category over time. And we can see that a couple of ways in the data. For example, among young people today, only eight percent identify as white evangelical Protestant, right? And again that’s compared to about fifteen percent in the population. So young people are only half as likely to identify as evangelical as Americans overall. And when we look underneath the hood, and we look at the median age, for example, of white evangelicals over time, we see it creeping up. And the main reason for that is that, as they’ve lost members, they’re disproportionately losing members from their younger ranks. So what’s happening is, yes indeed, the young evangelicals of ten years ago have moved. But they’ve not moved over to be Democrats – or they might have – but they’ve mostly moved out of the whole category. They’ve stopped identifying as evangelical. And I think that’s the real shift. So if you’re looking for those people who were young evangelicals a decade ago, you should look for them in the unaffiliated category and not in the evangelical category. And what we’re seeing is that, among the young people who have stayed, the generational differences are now kind-of muted. Because the people who have stayed are actually people who hold views that are fairly consistent with older evangelicals. But the ones who had views, for example, that were in great tension – like on gay rights – have largely left the fold.

Audio and transcript available at: Jones_-_America_s_Changing__Religious_Landscape_1

Read/hear more at … https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

URBAN OUTREACH & An Enthusiast.life means following Wesley into burgeoning urban areas with 3 things: good works, Good News & groups that foster goodness.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D., February 6 2019.

Recent forecasts predict these 10 cities’ urban communities will grow exponentially in the next 15 years. John Wesley witnessed similar exponential growth in urban England at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. He sought to help the displaced people of these communities have a faith community of their own. And, he sensed that such church planting began with meeting physical needs without asking anything in return. Simply by providing medical clinics, financial assistance, recovery programs, etc. he sought to demonstrate the Good News. As a result, people of faith could share how faith in Christ motivates and strengthens one to be sacrificial and charitable.

Read more in the book http://www.Enthusiast.life about Wesley’s radical approach to meeting needs as an introduction to an even better Good News. More information at http://www.enthusiast.life.

Then take a look at this forecast of worldwide urban growth. Then ask, “What is God calling you and your ministry to do to meet their needs?”

Image: Statista

UK ORGANIC CHURCHES & Church of England to create 100 new churches … plan focused on ‘places of greatest need’ and includes cafe model. #Wesley.tours

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I’ve enjoyed taking friends and students to England to see how the church is being revived in “organic and need meeting ways” in the homeland of Wesley. Below is an article from the English The Guardian Newspaper about the organic strategies being embraced by the Church of England. While taking my Doctor of Ministry students to England we met with many of the leaders of the “Fresh Expressions” movement of renewal and revival in the Church of England. Check out http://www.Wesley Tours.com or http://www.Wesley.tours for information about upcoming British experiences.

 

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C of E to create 100 new churches as number of Anglicans hits new low

by Harriet Sherwood, Guardian Newspaper, 7/11/18.

Despite forecasts that church attendances will continue to fall for years to come, Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, insisted churches across the country were “bursting with life”.

The new churches would be in “the places of greatest need in our society”, he added.

“These projects are wonderful examples of how churches are seeking to be faithful to God – and faithful to their communities in love and mission. Through their innovation, they signal a growing determination in the church to share the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that make sense for those in our most deprived communities.”

Among the recipients of grants will be nine new churches modelled on Ignite, a café-style church in Margate, Kent. It was founded 10 years ago to work with marginalised and deprived communities.

Three of the new churches will be in coastal towns: St Peter Port, Guernsey; Herne Bay, Kent; and Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey.

Another three churches will be created on housing estates on the edge of Plymouth, and a further nine in market towns in eastern England. In Swindon, a former railway works building will be converted into a church aimed primarily at people aged under 40.

Up to 50 new churches will be established in the diocese of Leicester and 16 in the diocese of Manchester.

The C of E’s “renewal and reform” programme, aimed at modernisation and growth, includes diverting funds away from struggling rural parishes to new evangelical churches in towns and cities.

The programme has been championed by the archbishops of Canterbury and York and senior church officials. But some critics say the new priorities risk alienating the C of E’s traditional backbone.

Read more at … https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/11/c-of-e-to-create-100-new-churches-as-number-of-anglicans-hits-new-low

UNITY & 5 ways church unity creates a powerful influence in your city

There are many ways to describe the church: a fellowship, a congregation and a community. But, I’ve noticed a refreshing alternative among those who lead young churches. They often find the terms fellowship, community, etc. as too associated with a complex organizational structure. Instead, they often use a word borrowed from the developing world: tribe.

At a church called “The Tribe of Los Angeles,” a young attendee described it this way, “Tribe tells people we are doing something different at church. It means we are close, like a family. And, it also says we are in this together in this, (that) we are small but mobile, that we have a closely held, common task. It’s just like a tribe in the developing world that must work together to survive.”  

I find something refreshing in terms that sum up for younger people a family-like dependence. Now, I am not recommending that churches adopt such terminology to be voguish or appear relevant. But I find that using the term on occasion reminds us all that the church is on a mission and the accomplishment of that mission depends upon the church being a mutually supportive team.

The power of unity

In John 17:20-23 Jesus prayed that all believers, throughout all time, would demonstrate a supernatural unity. And, He stressed that this unity would amaze the world:

The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us….
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me. (MSG)

Such a passionate desire from the Son of God cannot easily be dismissed. But this was more than just a longing. Jesus emphasized a purpose in this unity when He stated, “Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them” (v. 23, MSG). Let’s look at a few practical ways that a church can give evidence that God is working through it.

1. Unity supports God’s mission

God’s mission (sometimes called the missio Dei) is that He wants to reunite with His wayward offspring. Jesus made it clear that only through His sacrifice was this reconciliation possible (John 14:6-7, Romans 3:23-24, 5:8, 6:23). And through the Church supports this mission in many ways, there are at least three important ways church unity contributes to reconnecting people with their heavenly Father.

2. Unity influence the community.

Jesus wanted His church to be so loving, forgiving and united that the secular world would take notice. He desired the evidence of this amazement to not be theatrics, but to “give the godless world evidence that You’ve sent me and loved them” (John 17:23 MSG).  And so, when a church is uncommonly united, this contrasts with the disunity found in most worldly organizations. It reminds the watching world that something supernatural is at work in our churches, and it models to the world the undivided nature of God.

3. Unity can impact cross-denominational influence.

I’ve noticed that church leaders often influence other congregations by packaging innovative programs and selling them as growth inducers to other congregations.  But, too often these are only tactical programs, that may work only for a short time. Churches who latch onto such tactical programs often adopt tactical names, such as Seeker-friendly Churches, Cell Churches, Missional Churches, Body-life Churches or Samaritan Churches. But, as seen in Jesus’ prayer, it might be more fitting for networks of churches to be known for their unity more than their innovations.  Congregations that are united can model important attributes of forgiveness, harmony and agreement that the secular world finds hard to muster.

4. Unity influences a congregation.

A united congregation provides an environment where congregants can spend more time and energy focusing on the needs of those outside of the organization, rather than scrutinizing the differences of those within. I have often observed churches so focused on their internal squabbles that they miss (and usually repel) visitors and seekers who God is sending their way. But when churches become more united, they recycle more time and energy into the dire problems of those not yet reunited with their heavenly Father.

5. Unity influences non-churchgoers.

The secular realm can be a bastion of antagonism, rancor and factions. Little wonder that weary souls worn down by this often search for an environment where divisiveness is minimal. Many hope to find in Christ’s Church this harbor. If they instead encounter false-compassion and hypocritical jockeying for influence, they can easily conclude that the church is hypocritical: promising solace but offering rancor. As Paul noted, a united, loving and forgiving church means “no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd” (Ephesians 4:17 MSG).

The church should strive, with God’s help, to be increasingly united. The goal is not perfectunity, but more unity. Two colleagues of mine label this “dissonant harmony.” By this, they mean that a church can never attain perfect harmony, but it can attain a degree of harmony (though not perfect) that is increasingly harmonious but acknowledges some dissonance and dissension.

Christ’s prayer is not that churches fabricate mindless slaves to corporate vision. Rather Jesus emphasized that Church unity was to be a earthly reflection of the miraculous oneness amid diversity of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And so, striving to be more unified has benefits and caveats that still make the effort worth it.

Excerpted from The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart, by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing 2013).

Photo source: istock 

Read more at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/5-ways-church-unity-creates-a-powerful-influence/

UPDATE & Point of Grace Church Case-study from book: Growth by Accident, Death by Planning

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  I use case-study illustrations in my books. But sometimes what is a good example for a chapter, can later decline.  Forecasting who will be a good example over the long term is challenging.

But, when possible I like to give update.  Here is an email from a student (Jeremy G.) with an update on a church case-study from Growth by Accident, Death by Planning: How NOT to Kill a Growing Congregation (Abingdon Press).


Dr. Whitesel,

In reading the chapter about missteps in church facilities, I could not help but notice that you hailed Point of Grace Church in West Des Moines as an example of what to do when planning a facility… You may find it interesting that, in 2015, Point of Grace sold that facility to Lutheran Church of Hope, the fastest growing church in the state, because PoG couldn’t afford the upkeep. According to reports, the congregation began contracting shortly after construction of the facility was finished …

Here is an article in the Des Moines Register about the two churches. It contains a little of the history leading up to the selling/purchase of the property and shares the insights of Lutheran Church of Hope, which continues to grow at the Waukee location and several others across the Des Moines metro area.

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2015/08/28/hope-buy-point-grace-building/71298200/

… Lutheran Church of Hope cited many of the same rationales in the chapter for why they wanted to buy the property.