Hitting the 500-year wall

Every half a millennium or so, waves of change rock Christianity until they cause the kind of earthquake that forces historians to start using capital letters."What happened before the Great Reformation, we all know," said Phyllis Tickle, author of "God Talk in America" and two dozen books on faith and culture. "We know, for instance, that some sucker sailed west and west and west and didn't fall off the dad gum thing. That was a serious blow."So Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and then a … [Read more...]

Trying to market the Mass?

It's the kind of devil's advocate question that Roman Catholic priests discuss when no one else is listening.How short do you have to make a Mass to appeal to parishioners who don't want to get out of bed to go to Sunday Mass in the first place? Would more people attend if Mass was 40 minutes instead of 50?"There are priests who can do a weekday Mass in about 22 minutes and the people know that father has left his car running out back and his golf clubs are in the trunk," said Father John A. … [Read more...]

Have yourself a megachurch Christmas

During the last five days before Christmas, at least 55,000 people were planning to attend the eight multi-media worship services at Willow Creek Community Church.The leaders of this famous megachurch outside Chicago can be precise about this number because that is how many people had, at mid-week, visited WillowCreek.org and claimed seats in the 7,200-seat auditorium. A few solo seats remained."We don't sell the tickets, of course," said spokesperson Cally Parkinson. "Most people really like … [Read more...]

That Church Calendar Christmas Crunch

In the beginning, there were humble Nativity pageants for the kids and Christmas choir extravaganzas for the grown-ups.As the decades passed, some big Protestant churches began hiring orchestras and buying advertisements, creating a music-ministries arms race that pitted the Baptists against the Pentecostals and the Presbyterians against the Methodists. Some prosperous churches even began moving these performances on stage or outdoors, adding elaborate sets, costumes and lights. But the leaders … [Read more...]

Edgy Orthodoxy 4 Seekers

One of the Rev. Dwight Moody's favorite perks as dean of the Georgetown College chapel is that he is free to spend most Sundays exploring other churches in Lexington, Ky.That's how the Baptist preacher ended up in St. Andrew Antiochian Orthodox Church in a cloud of incense, trying to figure out what the worshippers were chanting, why they rarely sat down and when the 9 o'clock service was going to end so that the 10 o'clock service could begin.Everything was a mystery."When the main service … [Read more...]

Pulpits, pews and CEOs

Anybody who knows anything about religion knows that people in pulpits have a different view of the world than people in pews.Years of data and front-line reports have yielded two clich? The first is that most ministers in the old mainline Protestant churches are more liberal on matters of doctrine and morality than their people. And the second is that most evangelical and fundamentalist pastors are more conservative than their people."There's actually a lot of truth in both of those, especially … [Read more...]

The Church — going, going, gone?

For two millennia, if you knew a church's name then you knew something about the people inside its doors.Church names stood for timeless saints and traditions -- from the Church of the Nativity to the Church of the Resurrection. A potluck supper at St. Patrick's would be different than one at Santi Giovanni e Paolo or Our Lady of Guadalupe.In some flocks, a name might tell a church's location or hint at its origins. The Southern Baptist Convention's directory includes almost every name under the … [Read more...]