MENTAL ILLNESS & Why we need more ministry in the church to the physically disenfranchised (and what you can do about it).

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I’ve been a passionate advocate for increasing ministry in our churches to the physically challenged cultures around us. Here is an article reminding us how we are falling short in reaching out to the mentally ill along with some ideas to remedy this shortcoming.

“Can mental illness be prayed away?” by Joy Allmond, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 3/8/18.

… A 2014 study conducted by LifeWay Research and sponsored by Focus on the Family showed two-thirds (66 percent) of the 1,000 pastors surveyed do not address mental health issues from the pulpit.

It also found over a quarter (27 percent) of churches don’t have a plan in place to minister to individuals and families affected by mental illness. And less than a quarter (21 percent) of family members are aware such a ministry exists within their church.

In another study—just the year prior—LifeWay Research found a third of Americans, and nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist or born-again Christians believe spiritual activities like prayer and Bible study can overcome serious mental illness.

While prayer and church involvement is important for any struggle—corporate or individual—more is needed to treat depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, said Rosati.

She urges families to seek church-led spiritual guidance and prayer on behalf of their loved one who suffers from mental illness. But she also cautions them not to ignore the clinical side of treatment.

“What I want to say to parents and families is, please keep in mind that neurochemical issues are not spiritual issues,” she said during the panel discussion.

“When our kids are broken and don’t work the way they should, our duty as parents is to advocate for them and give them the help they need.”

Read more at …

MOVIES & How a Hollywood producer uses Oscar season to teach theology

by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 2/15/2015

As a producer for blockbuster films in both the X-Men and Star Trek franchises, Ralph Winter is no stranger to the world of movies. As a devout Christian who once considered going to seminary and becoming a pastor, Winter also knows about teaching theology. It’s no wonder he has combined both…

During Oscar season, Winter often teaches a class at his church on some of the nominated films. “When I am in town, I love doing my class on the best picture nominees and how they match up with what we believe,” he says. “Much like a Bible study, you are simply asking what does it say, what does it mean, and what does it mean to me.”

…Using the same questions he asks as a producer to decide if a story needs to be told, he develops discussions that will help those in the class better understand and examine the meaning of the movie.

“Don’t get me wrong, the audience is very smart,” he told CT (Christianity Today). “They know intuitively if a movie is good or not; they just aren’t able to always articulate why. So the class is first about understanding and learning how to ‘read’ a movie. Then we can thoughtfully analyze each one.”

With the Oscars approaching, Winter gives three suggestions for the pastor or church leader who would like to better understand movies and equip their churches to do the same.

  1. Learn how to read movies, understand what is being said, and how movies can push our “buttons.”
  2. Dig a little deeper to see what the cultural significance might be with the story or similar stories being told.
  3. Develop discerning consumers in our church community, to see what movies connect us to the surrounding community, what challenges there might be to our faith beliefs, and ways to engage in dialogue and action in the community as a result—showing the world who we are…

Additional resources for understanding entertainment through a biblical lens:

The Stories We Tell—Mike Cosper
Hollywood Worldviews—Brian Godawa
Eyes Wide Open—William Romanowski

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TV & “Living Biblically” Sitcom Raises Serious Questions. But also opportunities for the Church to address them. Here is how to do it…

by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 3/4/18.

Chip Curry was in trouble. His best friend died. His wife found out she was pregnant. And Chip had lost his way and become “an overall disaster of a person”—completely unprepared to bring a child into the world.

Then he picked up a Bible and everything changed. At least that’s the premise of a new CBS television series called Living Biblically, which premieres this week.

Based on A.J. Jacobs’ best-selling book, The Year of Living Biblically, the show depicts Chip’s attempts to live out all the Bible’s commandments, big and small…

Jacobs, a secular Jew, has said in the past that he grew up with no religion. His year of living biblically, he said in a TED Talk, was profound and life-changing.

He told Christianity Today that the experience gave him a better appreciation of evangelical Christians.

And, he wrote, living by the Bible’s rules helped him better understand himself.

“I didn’t expect to confront just how absurdly flawed I am,” he said. “I didn’t expect to discover such strangeness in the Bible. And I didn’t expect to, as the psalmist says, take refuge in the Bible and rejoice in it.”

Spending time engaged with the Bible is one of the keys to spiritual growth, according to the Transformational Discipleship study from LifeWay Research.

“God’s Word is truth, so it should come as no surprise that reading and studying the Bible are still the activities that have the most impact on spiritual growth and maturity,” wrote Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, who helped design the study.

Read more at …

OUTREACH & 3 ways to engage the “spiritual,” but not “religious” millennial

by Chris Martin, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 1/25/16.

The latest U.S. religious landscape study published by Pew confirms much of what has been reported about millennials in recent years. But the study also sheds new light on this “spiritual, but not religious” generation and can help churches understand how to reach them.

According to the study, millennials have not completely abandoned spiritual beliefs or practices. Millennials maintain a sense of spiritual peace and interest in the universe beyond what is simply seen on earth.

One of the most interesting data points regarding millennials from this latest Pew survey is the large portion of who feel a sense of spiritual peace and well being, while being less affiliated with religion than any other generation. Most young adults also feel a sense of wonder about the universe.

This should lead pastors and church leaders to ask, “How does this affect how I reach out to unbelieving millennials in my community?” Here are three things to keep in mind when attempting to engage young adults.

1. Engage the sense of wonder.

… As Christians, we can engage the wonder of millennials and point to the source of that phenomenon: the Creator God of the Bible. Use this wonderment and point people to the starting point and the upholder of it all.

2. Probe for the source of “spiritual peace.”

Why do such a large portion of people who claim no certainty in the existence of God say they are at peace spiritually? Perhaps they are at peace because they do not think God exists. Regardless, one of the ways churches can engage with unbelieving millennials in their community is by recognizing these young people are likely content with where they stand spiritually.

Christians should talk with them, ask questions, and identify the source of this “spiritual peace,” then figure out in what ways it may fall short in comparison to the gospel.

3. Provide a better way.

Finally, when we engage the sense of wonderment and spiritual peace among millennials, we must work to provide a better way—the only Way, the gospel of Jesus.

The research shows these young people are not hard-and-fast naturalists who only believe in what they can see in front of their face. They ponder the spiritual. They wonder about the universe. Engage these feelings and point them to their ultimate fulfillment…

Read more at …

CHURCH PLANTING & It’s not for the faint-hearted: New England dominates list of post-Christian cities

“New England dominates list of post-Christian cities,” by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 9/21/17.

…Research from Barna ranks 100 American metro areas by the percentage of the population it classifies as “post-Christian.” Boston and New Bedford, Massachusetts, are both in the top five.

To be considered post-Christian by Barna, a person had to meet at least nine qualifications, including things like not believing in God, having not prayed or read the Bible in the last week, and having never made a commitment to Jesus…

Here are the top 10 with the percentage of residents who are classified as post-Christian.

  1. Portland/Auburn, Maine (57%)
  2. Boston, Massachusetts/Manchester, New Hampshire (56%)
  3. Albany/Schenectady/Troy, New York (54%)
  4. Providence, Rhode Island/New Bedford, Massachusetts (53%)
  5. Burlington, Vermont/Plattsburgh, New York (53%)
  6. Hartford/New Haven, Connecticut (52%)
  7. New York, New York (51%)
  8. San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, California (50%)
  9. Seattle/Tacoma, Washington (50%)
  10. Buffalo, New York (50%)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list of post-Christian cities is almost the exact opposite of other Barna lists like most churched cities and most Bible-minded cities.

Seven of the top 10 post-Christian cities are in the bottom 10 of most Bible-minded, while five are part of the 10 most unchurched cities.

Three metro areas—San Francisco, Boston, and Albany, New York—rank in the top 10 of most post-Christian and most unchurched and in the bottom 10 of most Bible-minded.

Read more at …

RECONCILIATION & Most churches are 10x more segregated than their neighborhoods: What to do…

What Role Does Your Church Plan in Racial Reconciliation?

by Aron Earls, Facts & Trends, 8/16/17.

Racial reconciliation seems to be an issue many have decided is too difficult. According to LifeWay Research, more than 8 in 10 Americans say we have “so far to go on racial relations.”

Yet a separate LifeWay Research study found almost 67 percent of Protestant churchgoers say their church is “doing enough to be ethnically diverse.”

Meanwhile, in a 2010 study, Rice University sociologist Michael Emerson found that while diversity in churches is increasing, most churches are still 10 times more segregated than their neighborhoods, and 20 times more segregated than nearby public schools.

Nine in 10 pastors say their congregation would welcome a sermon on racial reconciliation, according to LifeWay Research, but only 45 percent have preached on it in the last three months.

Most churchgoers and pastors recognize a need to do more on issues of race, but fewer seem committed to actually doing more than they already are.

So what can local churches do to serve as a unifying force in a fragmented culture?

Recognize reconciliation is a gospel issue.

Reconciliation is at the very heart of the gospel, says author and church planter D.A. Horton. “The reality of the gospel message found in Christ is to bring those who were separated from God near to God,” he says. “That’s reconciliation.”

Reconciliation is then extended to Jesus’ disciples in the Great Commission, “the work boots of the gospel message,” according to Horton. “Christ was very specific,” he says. “We make disciples of all ethnicities. Christ’s death and resurrection expiates the sins of every sinner regardless of ethnicity, gender, or former sinful orientation.”

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DECLINE & Is there a church death spiral? #ThomRainer

by Thom Rainer, LifeWay Research, 7/3/17.

A Review of the Research

You can peruse the details of our research at my previous blog post. Simply stated, we conducted a random sample of churches with data in 2013 and 2016. The margin of error of the research is +/- 3.1 percent. It’s an accurate study – very accurate.

In the previous post, I shared that 65 percent of churches are declining or plateaued. For most of us, that number was better than the conventional “wisdom” we have heard. In that sense it was good news.

And Now the Bad News, At Least Some of It

Over 61 percent of churches average fewer than 100 in worship attendance. Yes, we are a nation of small churches. I love it. I love small churches.

But if your church has fewer than 100 in worship, it is likely to be a declining church. In fact two out of three of these small churches are declining.

Even more, there is a direct correlation with the rate of decline in a church and the size of the church. Simply stated, the smaller the church, the greater the rate of decline in attendance. Perhaps these three statements will clarify my point:

  • A declining church with an attendance of 200 or more declines at a rate of 4 percent each year.
  • A declining church with an attendance of less than 100 declines at a rate of 7.6 percent per year.
  • A declining church with an attendance of less than 50 declines at a rate of 8.7 percent a year.

It’s a death spiral. Declining smaller churches decline much more rapidly than larger churches. Once the declining church goes below 100 in attendance, its days are likely numbered.

Here is the sad summary statement of this portion of the research: Once a church declines below 100 in worship attendance, it is likely to die within just a few years. The life expectancy for many of these churches is ten years or less.

Gloomy But Not Hopeless…

Read more at …