Here’s an interesting take on what is happening in evangelical churches, a strain of Christianity which is seeing the decline of places like the Crystal Cathedral, shown here.
These days, young Christians in Orange County attend very different kinds of churches, some unrecognizable as churches at all. Laundry Love, a ministry in Santa Ana, is an ad hoc community of young Christians who gather monthly at various inner-city, coin-operated laundries and wash patrons’ clothes for free. The ministry is an offshoot of Newsong Church, a mostly Asian evangelicalcongregation founded nearly three decades ago by a pastor named Dave Gibbons, who sought to reach people like himself, mixed-race descendants of immigrants (his parents are white and Asian) who felt out of place in mainstream American society. Newsong now has branches in Thailand, England, Mexico, and India—all of which function like self-sustaining Christian communes oriented around humanitarian relief initiatives. Gibbons has emerged as one of a growing number of in-house critics of evangelical Christianity’s wholesale adoption of corporate American values. “The church has become involved in big business,” he told me by phone. “That’s why artists and creatives don’t want anything to do with church. What’s unique about how we’re trying to do things is we focus on people who aren’t like us. We don’t have to build our own brand.”
A decade ago, Newsong, with 4,000 members, was on its way to becoming America’s latest Asian megachurch. Unsettled by its relentless focus on growth, Gibbons abruptly changed course, rededicating Newsong to ministering in low-income neighborhoods and providing a haven for artists. More than a quarter of the congregation left. But now Gibbons’s move seems prescient. In the past decade, evangelical churches, especially in culturally diverse urban areas, have been forced to choose between adopting urban cultural values and extinction. “The megachurch was a baby-boomer suburban phenomenon that folks under 45 typically aren’t perpetuating,” says Ryan Bolger, who teaches contemporary Christianity at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Young evangelicals “want to start communities in cafés, and this isn’t just whites. We’re starting to see with Koreans and Latinos a desire to move away from the churchiness of church, to be multicultural and in an urban context, church in the profane areas of life.”