Tuesday, January 29, 2008

After The Baby Boomers

I am halfway through reading the new and latest book by sociologist of religion
Robert Wuthnow called "After The Baby Boomers: How Twenty and Thirty Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion." www.amazon.com/After-Baby-Boomers-Thirty-Somethings-American/dp/0691127654/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1201632753&sr=1-1.

If you are likewise reading or have read it, what did you think?

It is heavy statistic-laden; reminds me of reading Lyle Schaller with so much packed in. A very good corrolary I think to the analysis and interpretation presented from a more conservative position by George Barna in his book UnChristian, and in the earlier book Revolution. In some ways for moderate and liberal church leaders there is hope within the statistics, but just because things might not be so awful for them as the mainstream media portrays, at least in comparison with the evangelical conservative churches. But beneath it all, ala Barna, there are signs of major quakes coming that will hit all established churches hard, once the baby boomers age out (as we will, you know, we really will, it just seems like it never will happen :) ).

My overall thought at this point in the book is that church leaders will read it avidly and quote it a lot and will try to structure their "growth plans" and "plants" accordingly, and in so doing will again be replicating the past and what the sociology shows of the glimpse into American religion which occurred from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, the period of time most up to date in the research Wuthnow uses. This is the bane of relying on sociologists (which also has its blessings) and not on theologians, on sociology that is and not on theology, for driving evangelism and the shape of God's people in the coming days. Statistics capture the way things were, and give credence to the ones who feel they need to have the assurance of numbers and analysis in order to plant. But we should be casting our nets in the waters roiling beneath us now and in what and where we see God leading us for the future. You might say that at least the figures and analysis are on the trends and stats of the past ten years and not like so much of our default mode actions and reactions on church growth come from by the boomers and olders who are doing the planning, and that is the trends and stats of thirty or more years ago....but ten years ago is still the ago, and increasingly is as remote as thirty years or more ago. I say spend time with the bible, the early church historians, and theologians, and a little at most with the sociologists, and let that guide us in mission.

But I will post more and say more as I get all the way through the book. End.

Another Encounter

It is wonderful to have unplanned encounters with others who are in the "different church" mission. My latest was on an airplane trip to Boston. I was reading one of the latest books by Brian McLaren--Everything Must Change. http://www.amazon.com/Everything-Must-Change-Global-Revolution/dp/0849901839/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1201631945&sr=8-1 which prompted my seatmate to ask what I thought of it. I asked back if he had read it or others by McLaren and indeed he had. Turns out he was on his way to a church gathering in the Boston area as well. He was the director of a house church network, or simple church movement, within the foursquare gospel association. Within his tradition, the movement is growing quickly of sponsoring house church networks. We talked about his presentation, how so many were beginning to look for something different than a theater-based, attraction model, spectator-oriented one-hour a week mega-spiritual thing called church. I left the plane both energized by our conversation and sharing of ideas, and sighing that most all of my encounters and shared experiences along this line happen with folks in very different faith communities than mine, and that as far as I know there is so very little planned conversations and programs in our association such as the one he was facilitating. He was a paid, almost full time, staff person just to help folks launch simple churches. End.

Wide Open Space: From Organized to Organic Church

My latest favorite attempt at "getting it" comes from the book "Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-number Christianity" by Jim Palmer, author of "Divine Nobodies" whom I quoted at Christmastime for his "walking wounded" Christmas message. In Wide Open Spaces and in the chapter subtitled "Can church be everywhere, all the time, with everyone?" he chronicles his move from organized church to organic church, though, as he makes clear, it is about adding to the mix of churches and faith communities and ministries instead of trying to hold out one way as the only way of being church. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from his book published last year (as we at A Third Place/The Living Room Church go forward this year this may lie behind much of what we decide to do. And note: In quoting, I stay true to his own use of language when it comes to God and gender, though I prefer a more inclusive use): Click and read on...

"My journey has involved leaving organized church. Even as God led me away from organized church, I'm sure God also leads people to organized church for various reasons. Throughout my life-time, I have encountered many different types of churches--liturgical church, traditional church, contemporary church, seeker church, purpose-driven church, home church, and emergent church. Each of these expressions of church has unique elements that I found meaningful in some way to my relationship with God.

"Though I've experienced many different forms of church, there have also been some common elements that have been true of all of them. These include: an organizational identity with a name and 5013c legal status; a specific location(s) identified as the primary place or central hub where church happens (such as a church building, community center, school, or someone's home); professional clergy or paid staff presiding over and managing the major affairs of the church; some configuration of public worship services, programs, groups, classes, meetings, events, and committees as the primary means for facilitating worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, benevolence, and mission. [He sums these up as functioning on three levels--a cause, a community, and a corporation. He says most people agree that the cause and community are the most important but that he spent most of his time as leader dealing with issues related to the corporate].

"First, too much of my personal identity was wrapped up in leading a "successful" church, which was measured in terms of size (attendance, budget, and buildings). The bigger the better!...Another reason I focused on the corporate side of church life was because of this idea I had that people needed such a system in order to grow spiritually and function together as a community and a cause. That's the nice way of putting it. The not-so-nice assumption was that if people were left to themselves to function without such a system and outside the watchful eye of trained pastors and staff leaders, they would digress spiritually, we would all risk falling into theological heresies, and everything would unravel into chaos....I came dangerously close to implying that organizational involvement was the very essence of Christianity. A Christian faithfully attended services, programs, events, and classes, tithed, filled a needed position or served on a committee in the church, and pulled his or her weight in contributing to a steady stream of visitors.

"Looking back, I sometimes wonder if we really were a "community." Seems like what we were facilitating was mostly meeting-based relationships....Here are some other ways I hindered people's relationship with God by focusing on the church as an organization...First, even though we all know church is people, verbally and nonverbally I implied that church is a place, location, and building, and happens on certain days and times during the week. In many cases, this emphasis defined Christian living almost solely in terms of organizational involvement. "Worship" was something that happened on Sunday mornings and "outreach" was a program you signed up for in the lobby... Second, [we] encouraged an unhealthy dependence by the congregation upon these few...Third, though Jesus emphasized that people change from the inside out, our church often focused on external things as measurement of Christian maturity. The people who dressed nicer, attended more services and activities, prayed out loud in front of others, gave the most money, quoted Scripture, were up on stage, held more jobs in the church, invited the most visitors, had well-behaved children, and had no bad habits were considered more spiritual than people with less of the above. Fourth, as a church we also separated the giver (tithing or otherwise) from the actual recipient of the gift.

"The last few years I've discovered it's not necessary to have buildings and classrooms, staff and programs, or even incorporate as a 5013c organization and have a name in order to be the church. You can if you want to, but you don't have to. Regardless of how you do it, what constitutes church is relationships--with God, people, and the world. For me, "church" is taking place in some form or fashion everywhere, all the time, with everybody. It involves an endless number of interactions and encounters that largely go unnoticed by the rest of the world. But it's through these very unassuming daily happenings that God is transforming others and me...This way of church depends on two things: 1. being consciously aware of who and what is happening around me as daily life unfolds, and 2. being intentional about discerning and acting upon the opportunities everyday living, interactions, and relationships offer. A few examples:

--A friend emails me to see if I want to have coffee on Saturday morning at the Billy Goat Cafe. He and I always have plenty to share in terms of what we are experiencing with God. When we get together, it's an iron-sharpening-iron time that fuels our desire to know God.--On Tuesday afternoon at the post office I get into a conversation with the guy behind me as we wait in a long line...Perhaps God is trying to place him and me in each other's lives.--Sunday morning we are hiking at Radnor Lake with some friends. During one part of the hike, the sun's rays suddenly break through the tall trees, causing everything to glisten. Everyone stops. We stand in wonder and marvel at the beauty, and our hearts are turned toward God in worship.

"That's not to say we don't ever plan something in advance. Most Wednesday evenings, a group of us meets at Starbucks for conversation. Every Monday night, some friends invite all their neighbors over for dinner...On Sunday mornings, except in the summer, Pam and Jessica are involved in the Good Shepherd children's program at an Episcopal church across town. Occasionally we attend a worship service or some event at other local churches in our community. For a time, a group of families met in a home to take Communion together. Right now we are in a season where we choose to celebrate Communion at home as a family. Another church in our community offers a monthly Taize service, which I sometimes attend and always enjoy. In the midst of all this diversity, I connect with a solid social network of people that keeps growing. It's a diverse network of folks involved in one another's lives. We love one another, serve one another, teach and encourage one another, give our financial and material resources to one another as there is need, and bear one another's burdens. We do life together. [He writes about having more time, away from programs, to be more spontaneous and more available to family and neighbors, and thus connecting more with people, in little ways like checking up on neighbors in need, going deeper with them, and therefore himself.] I've come to see the significance of my encounters with people is not pointing them to God as much as actually being an expression of God. [He remembers how he used to go with people to knock on stranger's doors in other neighborhoods to witness to them, and how it hit him he could just knock on his neighbor's door and start a friendship,]

"I guess to some people this idea of church "all the time, everywhere, with everybody" may seem somewhat chaotic, disorganized,m or flying by the seat of your pants. Admittedly, there's been a time or two I've considered trying to help things along a bit, but I've seen God is capable of working matters out just fine on his own...Jesus once said that the kingdom of God grows organically. It begins as a tiny and insignificant seed...If your spiritual radar is on, you will find these little mustard seeds all over the place...Day by day I'm seeing that under the radar, beneath the surface, and off the grid is a world of nobodies being the church. There is very little traction for marketing some sort of church-growth philosophy or strategy from it. It would never occur to my friends to use the word missional. We don't have a "strategy" to reach "unbelievers," because these people are simply our friends with whom we spend time and share our lives.

"In our way of "doing church" you can't click on a calendar and pull up a configuration of services, meetings, and programs. People are compelled by the Spirit to come together in various ways for various reasons and purposes, but these can dissolve, evolve, morph together, and multiply in all sorts of different ways. Our eyes have been opened to our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God and citizens of his kingdom. God is not somewhere up in the sky; he's living his life in and through us, the body of Christ, in the neighborhoods where we live, the places we work and play, and the people we come across each day."

New Monasticism and Emerging Church

Here are some observations and notes from a conversation we had here the other Sunday evening, based on concluding the discussion series of Shane Claiborne's book "The Irresistible Revolution." It is a good outline, I think, for church planting that seeks to make a real difference.

Passing On Some Words and Thoughts...
At our concluding discussion a few Sunday's ago of Shane Claiborne's book The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical, we talked about these aspects and how they related to what we have started in Turley:
1. being considered crazy in a crazy world is a way to stay sane
2. when we do so we follow in the spirit called crazy and worse of Jesus, Paul, and the early church, as well as those who formed the monastic movement keeping alive a communal anti-Empire spirit during the "Dark Ages."
3. We are not alone. In Shane's appendix alone there was one listing of "co-conspirators" of a New Spirit around the country. Another good source is the community links section of http://www.theooze.com/. Also the recent Sojourners magazine has a good article by Tom Sine of Mustard Seed Associates (http://www.msainfo.org/) about this movement, at http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0801&article=080128. "How to live as if another world were already here." Or find the Fall issue of Leadership magazine about ministry with those on the margins. Reports are coming in from all over, as from here. Last night on "A Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, this spirit and contagious spiritual movement was discussed by activist and preacher and author Jim Wallis who has a new book out about blending social justice and spirituality that breaks down walls and moves beyond barriers, The Great Awakening. See more at http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=special.TGA&item=TGA_main.
4. How it is okay, even necessary sometimes to despair of changing one's self or the world, in some ways it is the only path to truer, authentic, real hope as opposed to wishful thinking; just don't get stuck there, for "another world is possible" and "is here" and "is coming".
5. We talked about the "marks of a new monasticism" in our world and how much of what we do here coincides with it. Such as:
a. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire;
b. sharing resources, nurturing common life for both singles and families, going "glocal;"
c. hospitality to the stranger;
d. reconiciliation of divisions among peoples;
e. connection to the Church which is bigger than any one church;
f. following the way of Christ in community by pledging to have daily prayer/meditation, weekly worship, monthly support group, annual Retreat, and a lifetime pilgrimmage;
and g. caring for the earth and for peace-making.