Church competition

More from Methodist minister Morgan Guyton’s post entitled “Six Ways that Capitalism Fails the Church.”  He discusses competition between churches, the way churches “with bling” take members away from churches “without bling.” [Read more...]

The Millennials’ longing for liturgy & sacraments

Congregations that want to attract the millennial generation are now being told to ditch their contemporary worship services and to bring back the historic liturgy.   Also, it turns out that young adults today have a “sacramental yearning.”  Church growth enthusiasts, take note. [Read more...]

Church growth for confessional Lutherans

OK, I’ve been kind of hard on the church growth movement lately (e.g., here and here), but I acknowledge its good intentions and practical advice.  My CCLE colleague Paul J. Cain (not to be confused with Paul McCain), is a confessional Lutheran pastor in Wyoming who has published a little book entitled  5 Things You Can Do to Make Your Congregation a Caring Church.

He knows that God grows the Church by means of the Word and Sacraments.  But there are are some kingdom-of-the-lefthand aspects that can help encourage people to come to receive them.   He talks about common-sense things like parking and the state of the building, greeters and ushers.  But he cuts quickly to a far more important factor that can make a congregation attractive in a good sense (or, if this is not present, send both visitors and members screaming away).  Namely, the ethos of the congregation.  Do people here care about one another?  Does the congregation care about anyone besides one another, showing compassion to people in need and to others outside the church?  If not, how can that change?

The book is short, extremely practical, and illustrated with Pastor Cain’s personal experiences.  After the jump, the product description from Amazon and a link to buy it.

Discussion topic:  What are some things confessional Lutherans–or orthodox, traditionalist congregations of other church bodies–might do to “grow their churches” that would not compromise their doctrines or practice?

[Read more...]

A sociologist looks at Progressive vs. Conservative Christianity

In the context of a discussion about a growing movement of conservative Catholicism in England, Peter Berger–a giant in the field of sociology and an ELCA Lutheran–discusses some misconceptions about the appeal of progressive vs. conservative Christianity.  He says that “supernaturalism” increases a church’s appeal (despite Mainline Protestants’ [and I would add some ostensible conservatives'] attempt to appeal to the age by playing that  down by replacing the supernatural gospel with morality, self-help psychology, or politics).  He says that “sexual repression,” though, probably does dampen the appeal of conservative religion. [Read more...]

One fifth of Americans have no religion

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has published an important new study of Americans who are unaffiliated with any religion.

One-fifth of U.S. adults say they are not part of a traditional religious denomination, new data from the Pew Research Center show, evidence of an unprecedented reshuffling of Americans’ spiritual identities that is shaking up fields from charity to politics.

But despite their nickname, the “nones” are far from godless. Many pray, believe in God and have regular spiritual routines.

Their numbers have increased dramatically over the past two decades, according to the study released Tuesday. About 19.6 percent of Americans say they are “nothing in particular,” agnostic or atheist, up from about 8 percent in 1990. One-third of adults under 30 say the same.  . . .

But the United States is still very traditional when it comes to religion, with 79 percent of Americans identifying with an established faith group. . . .

Members can be found in all educational and income groups, but they skew heavily in one direction politically: 68 percent lean toward the Democratic Party. That makes the “nones,” at 24 percent, the largest Democratic faith constituency, with black Protestants at 16 percent and white mainline Protestants at 14 percent.

By comparison, white evangelicals make up 34 percent of the Republican base.

The study presents a stark map of how political and religious polarization have merged in recent decades. Congregations used to be a blend of political affiliations, but that’s generally not the case anymore. Sociologists have shown that Americans are more likely to pick their place of worship by their politics, not vice versa.

Some said the study and its data on younger generations forecast more polarization.

“We think it’s mostly a reaction to the religious right,” said Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, who has written at length about the decline in religious affiliation. “The best predictor of which people have moved into this category over the last 20 years is how they feel about religion and politics” aligning, particularly conservative politics and opposition to gay civil rights.

via One in five Americans reports no religious affiliation, study says – The Washington Post.

I’m struck by the comment that a typical congregations would include people of different political beliefs and how that isn’t the case so much anymore.  (My impression is that churches that don’t mingle politics with the gospel, such as Lutheran congregations, still generally contain both Democrats and Republicans.  That’s evident in the commentary on this blog, which has people who are very conservative theologically representing different political positions.)

I am also struck by the contention that churches getting involved in politics seems to be a major factor in the rise of the “nones.”   I wonder how many pastors who want their churches to be ‘missional” and who make a point of adopting all of the church growth methodologies designed to make their congregation more attractive to the “unchurched” endorsed a candidate on Political Freedom Day, not realizing that this kind of political activism is exactly what is driving people away from churches.

 

Who the unchurched actually are

You want church growth?  You want to reach the unchurched?  Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals.  The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar.  THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:

If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.

That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.

“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.

The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.

The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.

Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.

Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.

Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.

via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches?  What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off?  How might they be brought back into the fold?

UPDATE:  Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.


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