Lessons learned by professional church spies

The first thing Chuck Lawless noticed when he entered the church foyer was that the welcome center was empty, which made it pretty hard for a newcomer to feel welcomed on a routine Sunday morning.After several minutes of hanging around trying to look conspicuous, a staff member at this particular Pennsylvania congregation approached him and asked if he needed help. Lawless asked a perfectly normal newcomer question: Was there a small-group Bible study of some kind that he could … [Read more...]

Southern Baptists without (many) baptisms

Visitors who enter Southern Baptist churches these days will usually see posters and pamphlets for everything from marriage enrichment retreats to tornado-relief fundraisers, from weight-loss classes to drives to find volunteers for African hospitals.But one thing is missing in the typical church lobby or fellowship hall, according to the leader of the denomination's LifeWay Christian Resources branch. It's rare to see appeals for members to join evangelism programs that strive to win local … [Read more...]

What Baptists can learn from craft beers

It would be hard to imagine a vision of Baptist life edgier than the one served up by a recent Wake Forest School of Divinity graduate named Zachary Bailes.This parable starts something like this: Once upon a time, America was dominated by giant breweries that produced rivers of ordinary beers like Budweiser, Coors and Miller Lite. Some of their local outlets grew into mega-franchises that could seat thousands of people in shopping-mall-like facilities featuring giant video screens, pop-rock … [Read more...]

God in the Gallup details

Decade after decade, the Gallup Organization reported some of the most familiar numbers in American religion.More than 90 percent of Americans said, "yes" when asked if they believe in God -- a number has changed little since the 1940s. Nearly 80 percent insisted they are "Christians," in some sense of that word. How many claimed to have attended a worship service in the previous week or so? That number hovered between 41 and 46 percent.These are the kinds of numbers religious leaders love … [Read more...]

Evangelicals learn to (heart) New York

Pastors have their own brand of insider humor, just like doctors, lawyers, accountants and other skilled professionals.The same is true for the missionaries, researchers and pastors who plant churches. Thus, Ed Stetzer once heard a veteran missions professor tell the following bittersweet joke at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.It went like this: How do you start a new Southern Baptist church in a big city up north? That's easy. You go into local grocery stores … [Read more...]

Quiet Lutheran worship wars

If members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have heard it once, they've heard their national leaders repeat this mantra a thousand times: "This is not your grandfather's church."That's certainly what musician Phillip Magness experienced when he took a sabbatical at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill., and began a research tour after the 2006 release of the Lutheran Service Book. Since he led the committee charged with promoting the new hymnal, Magness wanted to see what was … [Read more...]

Signs along the Methodist trail

Sex, sex, sex. That seemed to be the only thing United Methodists were talking about the year that the Rev. James V. Heidinger II took command at Good News, a national movement for his church's evangelicals.That was in 1981."Every time we turned around we were arguing about sex, and homosexuality in particular," said Heidinger, who retired last week. "Frankly, I was already weary of it and that was a long, long time ago. We wanted to get on to more positive things, like missions and church … [Read more...]

McChurch history 101

In the beginning, revival preachers used their dynamic voices and dramatic sermons -- framed with entertaining gospel music -- to attract large crowds and to pull sinners into the Kingdom of God.This formula worked in weeklong revivals and, when tried, it started working in regular Sunday services. Big preachers drew big crowds and created bigger and bigger churches. Then along came the big media, which helped create a youth culture that exploded out of the 1950s and into the cultural … [Read more...]


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