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.

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SOCIAL MEDIA & How, in the words of #Luther, it increasingly “curves us inward on ourselves.”

“Social Media and Sin” by A. Trevor Sutton, The Martin Marty Center, University of Chicago Divinity School, 4/4/18.

…Religion may offer an important explanation as to why this social media platform is so problematic both for society and for individual well-being. Human depravity, original sin, and concupiscence are perennial themes, for example, within the discipline of Christian theology. Augustine and Martin Luther are known for describing the human condition as incurvatus in se (“curved inward on oneself”). Rather than living a life that is aligned toward God and others, human sinfulness directs our life inward, toward self-justification, self-gratification, and self-aggrandizement. The notion that sin has warped, twisted, maimed, and ruined human goodness is as ubiquitous in theology as Facebook is in modern life.

The burgeoning field of user experience design (UX), when put in conversation with the theological notion of human depravity, helps to put the problematic nature of social media into sharp relief. A central concern within UX is user-centered design. As the name suggests, user-centered design advocates for designing with end users in mind. That is to say, technology is designed to acknowledge and accommodate the needs and wants of the user, as designers seek to maximize user experience by creating products that are built around the user’s desires. User research is responsible for nearly all the design decisions at Facebook. In fact, there is an entire department at Facebook dedicated to Human Computer Interaction and UX. Teams of people at Facebook are thus dedicated to researching, and finding ways to capitalize on, the individual behaviors, thoughts, and impulses of users.

Donald Norman, a formative figure in user-centered design, has recognized how designers actually aim to facilitate human sinfulness through that which they design. In the foreword to a book by Chris Nodder, Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation, Norman writes: “But why should design be based on evil? Simple: Starting with evil means starting with real human behavior … And good design results from good understanding.” Norman’s point is rather simple: good design understands users, and it must therefore also consider the depravity of users.

This means that, according to user-centered design, human sinfulness ought to be accounted for and perhaps even exploited when creating products for the digital age. According to Nodder, designers must ask themselves the question: “how do we influence behavior through the medium of software?”

Theology recognizes that human hearts are curved inward, inclined to boast, and always looking for opportunities to prove their own self-righteousness. Human-computer interaction, UX, and user-centered design recognize that social media platforms should be designed to meet the wants and needs of real human users. Putting these two concepts in conversation with one another reveals why Facebook can be so dangerous. Facebook’s technology is designed to accommodate, encourage, and exploit human depravity. The “Like” button on Facebook is not there by chance; the “Like” button was created to satisfy our deep longing to be liked by others, lauded for our accomplishments, and acknowledged for our righteousness…


– Allen, Mike. “Sean Parker unloads on Facebook: ‘God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains’.” Axios. November 9, 2017.

– Murphy, Mike. “Why Apple’s Tim Cook doesn’t want his nephew to use social networks.” MarketWatch. January 22, 2018.

– Nodder, Chris. Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation. Wiley, 2013.

– Wong, Julia Carrie. “Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart.” The Guardian. December 12, 2017.

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#GCRN2018 #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork


THEOLOGY & The “quadrilateral” … What it means and how its 4 distinctive qualities define “evangelical.” #Bebbington #AlanYeh

by Emma Green, The Atlantic Monthly, 3/12/18.

… Most of the writers in “Still Evangelical?” (ed. Alan Yeh, Biola Univ.) rely on a definition first published by the scholar David Bebbington in 1989, called a “quadrilateral” for its four distinctive qualities. According to Bebbington,

  • evangelicals place the truth of the Bible at the center of their faith;
  • they focus on Jesus’s atonement for sins on the cross;
  • they emphasize a personal experience of conversion or salvation;
  • and they believe they must actively share the gospel and do good in the world.

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

Read more at …

CHURCH HISTORY & Ryan Danker’s insightful book on why the early Wesleyan Methodists & the Anglican evangelicals divided.

“Wesley and the Anglicans
Political Division in Early Evangelicalism” by Ryan Nicholas Danker


“The relationship between John Wesley and the growing number of evangelical clergy within the Church of England is a subject much in need of fresh treatment. Despite the fact that it seems obvious that ecclesiastical and theological differences in eighteenth-century England need to be located in rich social and political contexts, few scholars on either side of the Atlantic seem able or equipped to write in this inclusive way. Ryan Danker is an exception. He combines theological literacy with historical sophistication and serious research with accessible prose.”

David Hempton, dean of the faculty of divinity, McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies, John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity, Harvard University

“Challenging the ‘standard line’ that Wesley’s relationship with those evangelicals who remained in the Church of England during the eighteenth century was one despoiled largely by theological considerations, that is, his Arminianism and their Calvinism, Danker has carefully weaved social, political and ecclesiastical threads to offer a far more sophisticated and ultimately convincing picture. This is a splendid book on so many levels: creatively conceived, deftly contextualized and wonderfully executed. I highly recommend it.”

Kenneth J. Collins, professor of historical theology and Wesley studies, director of the Wesleyan Studies Summer Seminar, Asbury Theological Seminary

“This is a most welcome study, greatly advancing our understanding of the warm, yet often heated relationships between John Wesley and other evangelical clergy in the Church of England. It demonstrates that while theological factors played an important role, much more was involved in the growing divergence among the broad evangelical camp. In the process it sheds new light on continuing debates about the very nature of evangelicalism, and where (or whether) Wesleyanism may fit within that stream of the Christian community. Highly recommended!”

Randy L. Maddox, William Kellon Quick Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies, Duke Divinity School

“Wesley and the Anglicans is an important and timely discussion of the context and content of ecclesial shifts attributed to John Wesley and the rise of Methodism. Avoiding easy discourses with familiar anecdotes pitting Wesley against Calvin, Danker does the historical work to reintroduce the pressing issues of church, society and politics in the eighteenth century. Anyone interested in discovering or rediscovering how Wesley initiated and sustained an evangelical witness, both within the church and outside it, should read this book. Maybe these echoes of Wesley’s disdain for settled ministry can revitalize evangelical Christianity again.”

Joy J. Moore, assistant professor of preaching, Fuller Theological Seminary

“The last three decades have seen a revolution in scholarship on the eighteenth-century Church of England. Ryan Nicholas Danker’s Wesley and the Anglicans finally places John Wesley squarely and critically within the context of the vibrant and thriving eighteenth-century Church of England that newer scholarship has described. Danker’s highly nuanced historical narrative offers a fresh perspective on the Wesleyan movement—actually, on the ‘John-Wesleyan’ movement, since Danker is also conscious of Charles Wesley’s sharply delineated variance from John Wesley’s ecclesial vision. This is a must-read for serious students of the Wesleys and Methodist origins.”

Ted A. Campbell, professor of church history, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

“From beginning to end, Danker effectively locates ecclesiastical and theological differences within their broader context in eighteenth-century England. The result is an engaging and richly detailed account of the development of evangelicalism and early Methodism. Any readers—whether Anglicans, Methodists, Calvinists, Catholics, or others—who desire to learn more about this period of history and its implications will benefit from reading Danker’s contextualized and convincingly argued book.”

Kenneth M. Loyer, Catholic Historical Review


Why did the Wesleyan Methodists and the Anglican evangelicals divide during the middle of the eighteenth century?

Many would argue that the division between them was based narrowly on theological matters, especially predestination and perfection. Ryan Danker suggests, however, that politics was a major factor throughout, driving the Wesleyan Methodists and Anglican evangelicals apart.

Methodism was perceived to be linked with the radical and seditious politics of the Cromwellian period. This was a charged claim in a post-Restoration England. Likewise Danker explores the political force of resurgent Tory influence under George III, which exerted more pressure on evangelicals to prove their loyalty to the Establishment. These political realities made it hard for evangelicals in the Church of England to cooperate with Wesley and meant that all their theological debates were politically inflected.

Rich in detail, here is a book for all who seek deeper insight into a critical juncture in the development of evangelicalism and early Methodism.

Read more at …

THEOLOGY & What makes Wesleyan theology, theological #JohnDrury

by John Drury Ph.D., IWU Theological Reflection Seminar 2/5/17, based on a article to be published by the Wesleyan Theological Journal.

1) It relates to God as its object.

“Of, by and for God” describes theology.  Each is necessary. Theology that evades God is not theology. So, what is the object of theology?  Theology is about God.  Simply put, it is the human activity of talking about God.

a) Agreed upon actuality.

By grace, God has made the human discourse about God to be possible.  God makes God’s self available for a topic of our discourse.

b) Wesleyan theology.

This the process by which those with Wesleyan interest, identification, history and/or expertise talk about God.

It has focused upon a soteriological emphasis reflected in its founding.

And, it is enacted by humans with their subjective more than objective viewpoints.

c) “Theology chases God’s movement into ourselves.” (My paraphrase of John’s words.)

2) Theology is a human activity with human perspectives … or theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

The virtues are faith, hope and charity the “peculiar means.”  They are specified by their “object” i.e. God.

John made an important connection for me.  Martin Buber, in I & Thou explores this relationship as dialogue: who sees faith as “tribal, nationalistic and covenant-based dialogue which results in a communal type of trust … (and) as more or less individualistic persuasion or faith as believing in something.” (Robert Hernan Cubillos, Faith, Hope, and Love in the Kingdom of God, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2017).

3) What is the purpose or teleological end theology serves.

Theology works towards its end as it serves the church.  And in serving the church it works towards its end of serving God.

God is theology’s divine end, though the church is the milieu in which the discussion takes place.

The ecclesio-centric nature of this topic sees three themes:

  1. Worship (liturgically centric)
  2. Programs (program centric)
  3. Ethical (ethical theory centric)

Warning: We must be aware of eccles-idoltry, seeing our preference for centricity as superior to the others.

THEOLOGY & A review of David Bosch’s “Transforming Mission”

A review of David Bosch, Transforming Mission, 9/2008.

David Bosch, himself, says that when Transforming Mission was suggested as a title for this work he had misgivings about it, but in its ambiguity it has proved to be a most helpful reflection of both the major theses of the book. (Bosch: 2005: xv). The ambiguity lies in that mission is both something, which transforms and effective mission is itself something that is constantly transforming. Bosch’s argument throughout the three major sections of the book (New Testament Models of Mission; Historical Paradigms of Mission; and Toward a Relevant Missiology) is that there is no one meta-paradigm for missions, it is a constantly transforming paradigm.

Within the New Testament itself we encounter different models of mission; Matthew’s emphasis falls on disciple-making, Luke’s on solidarity with the poor and Paul’s has a definite eschatological dimension. Mission is being “transformed” and redefined by the biblical authors for and within the different contexts. The contextual nature of defining mission is a major premise for Bosch. “A basic argument of this book has been that, from the very beginning, the missionary message of the Christian church incarnated itself in the life and world of those who had embraced it.” (421)

Bosch’s aim in considering the different historical paradigms is again to show the constantly transforming nature of missions, although each paradigm is assessed in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Missions is a constantly evolving process; there exists a “pluriverse of missiology” (8). Bosch evaluates the history of missions using the Paradigm Theory of Thomas Kuhn and the six epochs of Christian history suggested by Hans Kűng. Kuhn’s original work was with scientific paradigms shifts, which he suggested were non-cumulative and revolutionary.[1]

The first two sections are a thorough laying of the foundations for the crux of the book the third section in which Bosch proposes his revised definition of missions (8), the new paradigm which will take us further. The new (or current) paradigm Bosch refers to as “post-modern” and (indebted to Kűng) the Emerging Ecumenical Paradigm. Here Bosch proposes not so much a paradigm as elements of a paradigm. These elements are diverse and are to be held in creative tension, without being forced together or polarised. Only as these elements are thus held in tension will we be able to both remain faithful to Scripture and relevant to the context. Just as in the New Testament and church history we see different models existing so we ought to recognise that the new model is a contextual mosaic rather than a meta-paradigm; “different theologies of mission do not necessarily exclude each other they form a multicoloured mosaic of complementary and mutually enriching as well as mutually challenging frames of reference.” (8)

Bosch’s work truly deserves the place it has assumed, in the last decade, at the head and as the foundation for missions studies. Embracing and straddling the fields of New Testament studies, Church History and Missiology with great competence and skill, Bosch’s work surely must be regarded as the foundation and launching point for the discussion both within and without Missiology for years to come. Bosch is at his best when he refusing to accept “either-or” thinking and calling for a “creative tension” or a third way in areas such as eschatology, evangelism and social action, contextualization and justice (Williams: 1993: 121).


BEVANS and SCHROEDER. 2005. Missiology After Bosch: Reverencing a Classic By Moving Beyond. International Bulletin of Missionary Research 29:2 (April), 69-72.

BOSCH, DAVID J. 2005. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, New York. Orbis

KREIDER, ALAN. 2005. Beyond Bosch: The Early Church and the Christendom Shift. International Bulletin of Missionary Research 29:2 (April), 59-68.

PILLAY, GERALD J. 1990. Text, Paradigms and Context: An Examiniation of David Bosch’s Use of Paradigms in the Reading of Christian History. (In Saayman, W. and Kritzinger, K. (eds.) Mission in Creative Tension: A Dialogue with David Bosch. Pretoria. The South African Missiological Society)

SUGDEN, CHRISTOPHER. 1996. Placing Critical Issues in Relief. (In Saayman, W. and Kritzinger, K. (eds.) Mission in Bold Humility: David Bosch’s Work Considered. Maryknoll, New York. Orbis)

TOWNER, PHILIP H. 1995. Paradigms Lost: Mission to the Kosmos in John and in David Bosch’s Biblical Models of Mission. Evangelical Quarterly 67:2 (April), 99-119

WILLIAMS, BRYAN A. 1993. The South African Baptist Journal of Theology 1993, 117-123.

[1] There exist within any scientific paradigm anomalies, but these are not considered significant until the growing number of anomalies forces the formulation of a new paradigm, which better explains more of the evidence. There is then a period of transition in which public consensus is gained for the new paradigm whilst proponents of the old paradigm fight for its survival. The transition period ends when the new paradigm gains normative status and the old paradigm is now discredited and disregarded (non-cumulative). It is the social acceptance of a new paradigm and not the discovery of new evidence, which results in the paradigm shift (or revolution).

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