CHURCH EXIT & New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers #LifeWay

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In my consulting on church change and church revitalization, I sometimes encounter a judicatory leader or a parent church that will want to change another church’s theology. But, research indicates that you must be very careful in doing so.

I have observed that churches many times grow around a specific theological viewpoint. Sometimes that theological view is in error, unorthodox, schismatic or heretical. In those circumstances it must be changed.

But in my experience I have also seen churches that, while they may have primarily orthodox beliefs, have a unique view on (what John Wesley would call) nonessential theological points. These might include issues such as charismatic gifts, healing, modes of baptism, etc.

In such latter circumstances, the research cited below indicates that we should move cautiously when changing a theological perspective if it is not an essential orthodox belief … or church exit might occur.

Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers

Don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers
Image: via LifeWay Research

… Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher.

But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed.

Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music.

Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs.

“Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.”

Churchgoers stay put

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,010 Protestant churchgoers—those who attend services at least once a month—to see how strongly they are tied to their local congregations.

Researchers found most churchgoers stay put.

Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years.

Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal churchgoers (13 percent) have such long tenure.

“Most church members have been at their church longer than their pastor,” said McConnell.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/july/churchgoers-stick-around-for-theology-not-music-or-preacher

TRANSFER GROWTH & In the past, churches could grow by drawing nominal Christians as there was still a cultural benefit to church attendance. “That is no longer the case.” #ThomRainer

by Aaron Earls, LifeWay, 6/14/18.

… (Rainer:) “ministry is harder now than it used to be.” In the past, he said, churches could grow by drawing in nominal Christians as there was still a cultural benefit to church attendance. “That is no longer the case,” he said.

Many churches rightly jettisoned a programmatic approach to evangelism, but they failed to replace it with anything else, Rainer asserted. “Instead of reaching out,” he said, “they became inward-focused.”

Yet Rainer was optimistic about the future as he spoke at the breakfast with Jonathan Howe, director of strategic initiatives at LifeWay and co-host of the “Rainer on Leadership” podcast.

Rainer noted the importance of personal evangelism in seeing a denominational renewal. “The way to turn things around is if every member of every church will answer the call of the Great Commission and say, ‘Here am I. Send me,’” he said. That includes pastors and leaders.

…Rainer noted the importance of personal evangelism in seeing a denominational renewal. “The way to turn things around is if every member of every church will answer the call of the Great Commission and say, ‘Here am I. Send me,’” he said. That includes pastors and leaders.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/06/13/thom-rainer-points-way-forward-despite-denominational-challenges/

SPIRITUAL TRAMSFORMATION & Christians more intentional, but less likly to share the message of the Good News since 1993.

by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 5/1

… According to a new study from Barna, compared to 25 years ago, Christians today say they try to be more intentional about sharing their faith, but fewer say evangelism is the responsibility of every believer.

In 1993, 9 in 10 Christians (89 percent) who had shared their faith said every Christian has a responsibility to share their faith. Today, only two-thirds (64 percent) of Christians who had a conversation about faith agree—a 25-point drop.

When asked about how they share their faith, modern Christians are more likely to stick to a set formula or certain strategy than were Christians in the early ’90s. More than 4 in 10 Christians in 2018 (44 percent) say they use the same basic approach each time they have an evangelistic conversation, compared with 33 percent in 1993.

The most common approaches today are asking questions about the other person’s beliefs and experiences (70 percent) and sharing their faith through their lifestyle (65 percent).

Those methods were common a quarter of a century ago as well, with 74 percent saying they ask questions and 77 percent saying they share with their lifestyle rather than their words.

The most common method in 1993, however, has since fallen out of favor. Almost 8 in 10 of Christians who had a conversation about faith (78 percent) said then they spoke about the benefits of accepting Jesus. Today, only 50 percent do that.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/05/16/christians-more-intentional-less-evangelistic-since-1993/

COMMUNICATION & ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ packs a punch, hits on spiritual themes.

by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay, April 28, 2018.

… The threat of death is woven throughout Infinity War as Thanos seeks to “balance” the world by eliminating half the population. We’re told he can do this with a snap of his fingers if he accumulates six Infinity Stones scattered across the universe.

In the comics, Thanos is in love with a personification of death and attempts to court her through this act of mass murder. While Infinity War tones down the plot from the comics, it still tackles the subject of death head-on.

I won’t give away which characters bite the dust in the movie, but the directors didn’t shy away from insisting there be real repercussions to fighting a villain obsessed with genocide.

This hit especially close to home for me when I had to comfort my elementary-aged daughter who was visibly upset at the death of her favorite character. For a superhero movie—the kind that often presents heroes as bulletproof—this one helps audiences take death to heart.

This can be a good thing, according to Scripture. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart.”

…In this sense, the film can be helpful in raising discussions about the inevitability of death and the need for a Hero who can actually defeat this haunting aspect of the curse…

Almost all Marvel movies to date have dealt with the theme of personal sacrifice. Whether it’s Captain America surrendering his body to drive a plane into ice or Ironman risking his life to divert a nuclear missile, audiences expect superheroes to demonstrate a willingness to trade their safety for the benefit of others.

Infinity War certainly continues these storylines with its heroes; however, it also explores the idea of sacrifice through the eyes of a villain—one with a disturbing view of martyrdom.

For a big purple monster, Thanos is a very complex character driven more by a sense of mission than a raw lust for power. He believes his intentions are noble and that his mass killings—which he describes as random and unbiased—are inspired by mercy.

Nowhere does this warped idea of sacrifice play out more strongly in the movie than when Thanos seeks to gain possession of the soul stone and learns that the price of a soul is a soul itself.

Through all this, Thanos is an inverted version of Christ—a villain willing to save the world, but only through the sacrifice of others.

Like Jesus in Gethsemane, Thanos sheds tears in the face of sacrifice. He even has his own “it is finished” moment in the movie when he thinks his mission is finally complete.

Thanos tells another character it cost him everything to save the world. However, unlike Christ who emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, Thanos’ “sacrifice” has him seeking ultimate power by assuming the form of a God.

Todd Miles touches on such comparisons between comic characters and Christ in his new book, Superheroes Can’t Save You.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/04/27/avengers-infinity-war-packs-a-punch-hits-on-spiritual-themes/

GENERATIONS & The surprising reasons members of Generation Z become Christians: #Family #ChristianSchool #SundaySchool #Bible

By Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 3/28/18

A recent survey sought to find out the spiritual temperature of British members of Generation Z. Researchers were so shocked by the results they delayed releasing the results until they could analyze it more.

More than 1 in 5 British people (21 percent) between the ages of 11 and 18 describe themselves as active followers of Jesus, with 13 percent saying they are practicing Christians who attend church.

The perception had been that Christianity was much lower among British teens. “There was disbelief among the team [of researchers] because it was so high,” Jimmy Dale, the Church of England’s national youth evangelism officer, told the Telegraph.

The survey, commissioned by Hope Revolution Partnership, a Christian youth organization, also asked young people why they became Christians.

While almost half (45 percent) say their growing up in a Christian family was one of the most important reasons they became a Christian themselves, many listed some unexpected reasons for their faith.

Researchers asked: “When you think about the reasons you became a Christian which two or three of the following, if any, were most important for you?”

Here’s how the members of Generation Z responded:

45% growing up in a Christian family
17% going to a religious school
15% Sunday School
15% reading the Bible
13% visiting a church building
13% going to a church wedding, funeral, christening, baptism, confirmation
12% going to a regular church service
11% a youth group
10% a spiritual experience

Even fewer spoke about other church youth activities or specific courses on Christianity popular in England like Alpha or Christianity Explored.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/03/27/the-surprising-reasons-generation-z-become-christians/

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 … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/03/08/can-mental-illness-prayed-away

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

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2015/02/20/hollywood-producer-uses-oscar-season-to-teach-theology/