Evangelicals

Church planting in Boston: Brilliant Alternet satire or, well, something else?

Church planting in Boston: Brilliant Alternet satire or, well, something else?

When I was a lad back in the early 1960s, my father left his work as a Southern Baptist pastor in inner-city Dallas and took a position in North Texas, near the base of the Panhandle, that was often referred to as an "associational missionary." It helps to know that Southern Baptists have regional "associations," as opposed to conferences, presbyteries or dioceses.

One of the primary duties of this associational leader, in addition to serving as a pastor or consultant to the region's pastors, was to direct efforts in what has long been called "church planting." The goal was to figure out logical places to "plant" effective new churches and then help people do precisely that. Click here for a rather mainstream take on this topic, from a middle-of-the-road Protestant flock up in Canada.

There was nothing sneaky or threatening about this work, at least not in Texas a half century ago.

It seems that times have changed, at least in some blue zip codes. Either that, or some journalists simply have zero familiarity with how church leaders think and talk? Yeah, that could be what we are dealing with here.

But maybe not! As several people have noted in emails to me -- including a former GetReligionista known as a wit -- the following Alternet piece may not, as it appears, be a stunningly tone-deaf look at a perfectly normal church topic.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

JOSHUA’S QUESTION:

Ed Stetzer suggests the rise of the “nones” -- the religiously unaffiliated -- is a dual trend. On the one hand, the more nominal “cultural Christians” are no longer self-identifying as Christians, and on the other hand the more theologically conservative Christians are becoming more robust. What are the political consequences?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Following Joshua’s posting, the Pew Research Center issued an attention-getting “Religious Landscape Study” of the U.S. that appears to support such a scenario. Introductory notes: “Nones” is shorthand for folks who say “none” when pollsters ask about their religious self-identity. The Pew study calls them “unaffiliated,” whether agnostic, atheist, or the largest subgroup,  those whose religious identity is “nothing in particular.” Stetzer is a church planter turned LifeWay researcher and seminary teacher on mission analysis.

Pew has produced a mass of data that will be chewed on for years. A huge sample size of 35,071 U.S. adults made possible accurate and detailed breakdowns for religious groups. The respondents were interviewed in mid-2014 by phone in either English or Spanish. Unlike most polling with its crude categories, scholars helped Pew frame careful questions to separate out “mainline” Protestants (in 65 sub-categories) from the more conservative “evangelicals.” Keep in mind that there are also significant numbers of self-identified “evangelicals” in “mainline” groups, and in the third Protestant category of “historically black” churches. Since Pew posed these same questions to another large sample in 2007, it can offer timeline comparisons.

The two surveys show that, yes, the “unaffiliated” are increasing. They constituted 16.1 percent of the population in 2007 and jumped to 22.8 percent as of 2014 to become the nation’s second-largest religious category. Evangelical Protestants maintain first place with 25.4 percent of Americans versus the previous 26.3 percent.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

It's complicated.

Asking where religious communities stand on capital punishment is not a simple question.

But in the wake of the death sentence handed down Friday for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, give the Boston Globe credit for recognizing the news value in that question.

The Globe's compelling lede captures the emotional nature of the faithful's reactions:

They are torn.
The congregation at St. Ann Church where the family of Martin Richard attends Mass is struggling with a federal jury’s decision Friday to sentence Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.
“You don’t want to see another life gone, but when you know the family, you’re sad,” said Kathy Costello, 54, a member of the Dorchester church and a teacher at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, where Martin went to school.
The video showed he placed the bomb very close to the Richard family, she noted. “We’re torn.”
A similar sentiment was expressed in Greater Boston’s churches, mosques, and temples Sunday as religious leaders and congregants largely condemned the sentence.

Keep reading, and the Globe quotes a half-dozen other sources, including more Catholics, Muslim leaders, a Jewish rabbi and Protestant pastors.

While I applaud the Boston newspaper pursuing this timely angle and reflecting a diversity of sources, the story itself presents a rather shallow view of this complicated subject. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Weekend think piece: A podcast on Pew Forum ink, church stats and boredom

Weekend think piece: A podcast on Pew Forum ink, church stats and boredom

Like many of our readers, I have been digging into tons of coverage of the new Pew Forum study (full .pdf document here) offering an update on the growth of the "nones" and the cultural-left coalition of religious liberals, agnostics, atheists, "spiritual but not religious" believers and simple unaffiliated people.

As our own Julia Duin noted the other day, the basic theme in the mainstream coverage is that the number of self-proclaimed "Christians" in America is falling, quickly. That's a totally valid, if a rather old and much-reported story.

Also, I noted another old story, which is the fact that the number of religious believers who say they are actively PRACTICING their faith seems to be rather stable. The numbers are level in some pews, slightly down in some (think Southern Baptists), way down in others (think liberal Protestantism and cultural Catholics) and actually rising in a few (think Pentecostalism). The importance of growing ministries to Latinos, African-Americans and Asians is another news story, at the moment.

This was, as you would imagine, the subject of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. However, after host Todd Wilken and I talked -- click here to tune that in -- it hit me that there is another way to frame this debate. In part, Christian leaders are arguing over whether churches grow when they are (a) culturally modernized and less doctrinally demanding or (b) when they hold firm to ancient doctrinal standards and, in many ways, reject trends in the modern world. Then, after that, it hit me that many modern churches -- think evangelical megachurches -- seem to be striving to look and sound modern, while claiming to stay orthodox at the level of morality and doctrine. So that is, kind of, a (c) approach, in their eyes.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Pew Forum survey reports show most media really happy to report on Christian 'decline'

Pew Forum survey reports show most media really happy to report on Christian 'decline'

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock lately, you’ve heard of this week’s biggest religion story:  "America’s Changing Religious Landscape," the Pew Research Center’s once-every-seven-years report. Click here for the full survey in .pdf form. And here is our own tmatt's first post on the topic.

Most mainstream reporters took their cue from the report’s headline: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow. They seemed unaware there’s been a ton of books out in the past seven years about increasing numbers of disaffected Christians -- especially the young -- who are leaving church. More on that old-news angle later.

To sum it up, the "nones" (2012 study found here) are still growing, other religions are up a bit or holding their own and mainline Protestants and Catholics are declining very, very fast. Evangelical Protestants, now the dominant stream of the nation's Protestants at 55 percent, went down by less than 1 percent, hardly a “sharp” decline. But it took some scribes awhile to arrive at that important distinction.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times looked at the survey through a political lense:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Yes, 'nones' are still a big story. Now we need a punchy label to define other side

Yes, 'nones' are still a big story. Now we need a punchy label to define other side

Way back in the early 1980s, when I was working at The Charlotte News (now gone, alas), I heard the Rev. Billy Graham make a very interesting statement about American religion. It was much easier, he said, to do an evangelistic crusade in a highly secular city like New York or Los Angeles than in a Bible Belt location such as Atlanta or Dallas.

Why? The problem with the Bible Belt, he said, was that most of the people like to think they are Christians, when they are actually nominal Christians who don't take the faith very seriously. It's like they have had an "inoculation of faith" that makes it harder for them to embrace the real thing. People In the big, secular cities were much more honest, he said, about what they believe or don't believe.

No, I don't think he used the word "nones" in that press session. But he could have.

I share this flashback, of course, because the Pew Research Center has released another blast of newsworthy information about one of the most important trends in the past quarter-century of so in American life -- the rising number of people openly identifying as atheists, agnostics or as "unaffiliated," when it comes to claiming a specific religious tradition. This new study -- click here for the full .pdf text -- follows the famous "Nones on the Rise" study in 2012 that generated a tsunami of headlines and coverage.

Once again, the big action in this study is on the doctrinal and cultural left, as well as in the muddy middle of American religious life, the sector I have long called "Oprah America."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

While faithful fill pews, movers and shakers can’t get enough of Sunday a.m. TV gabfests

While faithful fill pews, movers and shakers can’t get enough of Sunday a.m. TV gabfests

Movers and shakers from the realms of media and politics can’t get enough of those five Sunday morning TV news gabfests from Washington. Meanwhile, millions of churchgoers ignore the weekly action, unless they religiously remember to set their DVRs.

It’s an important season for these influential shows due to the upcoming  presidential campaign, tight competition for ratings, and three big changes in the cast of characters.

On behalf of his fellow geezers, the Religion Guy is tickled that spry Bob Schieffer, 78, the host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” regularly grabs more viewers than the younger hosts.  This summer he retires to be replaced by John Dickerson  (a former colleague at “Time” magazine). After last year’s tumult over David Gregory, NBC’s venerable “Meet the Press” is gaining ground with replacement Chuck Todd. In the third switch, CNN cable has tapped Jake Tapper as Candy Crowley’s “State of the Union” successor come June.

The other two personalities: Chris Wallace, Son Of Mike and a onetime “Meet the Press” anchor, has led “Fox NewsSunday” the past dozen years. It’s much the ratings also-ran on broadcast but nears audience parity due to Fox News cable reruns.  Onetime Friend Of Bill George Stephanopoulos continues on ABC’s “This Week.” (Religion beat veterans know his father Robert as the longtime dean of Greek Orthodoxy’s archdiocesan cathedral in New York, and his mother Nikki as the Greek-American church’s news director.)

Here’s what we got in the entirety of the five shows for May 10, chosen because there was no one commanding news story gobbling up air. That would have allowed for a timely little roundup on religion and the 2016 race.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

What's so controversial about those generic pre-game NBA chapel services?

What's so controversial about those generic pre-game NBA chapel services?

I'm going to dig into my GetReligion file of guilt for this post, in part because it's another weekend of NBA playoffs action and I have hoops on my mind.

The New York Times recently ran an interesting feature story about one of those new old trends that may have been around for many years but, once it's in the pages of the Times, its relevant again. In this case, we are talking about something controversial -- NBA players meeting for Bible study and prayers, as opposed to staying out late at night enjoying the bright lights and the other pleasures common among multimillionaire sports stars.

The headline: "N.B.A. Pregame Routine: Stretch. Tape Ankles. Join Hands in Prayer."

At the heart of the story is Andrew Lang, a former NBA player who now serves as a team chaplain -- which makes me wonder if he is now actually the Rev. Andrew Lang, an ordained minister. Why does Lang not receive a clergyperson's title, under Associated Press style? I don't know for sure, but I have noticed that this seems to happen more often with African-Americans than with white clergy, for some reason. Here's the opening:

ATLANTA -- Like so many of his N.B.A. peers, Andrew Lang chose to stay close to the game when his playing days came to an end. But the second act of his career did not relocate him behind a front-office desk or onto a coach’s chair or inside a broadcast booth.
It brought him, instead, to a small auxiliary locker room at Philips Arena, bare except for some padded folding chairs. There, before every Atlanta Hawks home game, Lang fulfills his responsibilities as the team’s chaplain, taking prayer requests and imparting a prepared message to players before they step onto the court.
Some nights, Lang might sit there alone. Some nights, he might find himself holding hands and praying with nearly a full N.B.A. squad. Whether or not anyone shows up, Lang has made it his duty for the last 14 years to be there, ready to help.

Truth be told, this story is surprisingly positive and well researched. But there are important holes in it.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Big picture: Will global Islam overtake Christianity by 2050?

Big picture: Will global Islam overtake Christianity by 2050?

The Pew Research Center scored ample ink at GetReligion and elsewhere with its important April report on global trends that all religion writers will want to keep on file: “The Future of World Religions: Growth Projections, 2010–2050" (.pdf file here). The 245-page publication provides religious population estimates as of 2050 for each of the 198 nations and territories that have  populations of 100,000 and above, by calculating such factors as birth rates, age distribution, migration, life expectancy and  rates of switching between religions in 70 nations for which we have data.

The headline item was the Pew team’s estimate that “by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.” (Pew explains that Muslims might have outnumbered Christians sometime between 1000 and 1600 as Muslim forces repeatedly invaded Christian strongholds and the Black Death decimated Europe. But we’ll never know because estimates for the Middle Ages are “fraught with uncertainty.”)

The most significant response to Pew’s report (.pdf file here) comes from another essential resource for journalists, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  That analysis tapped the annual CSGC survey for the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, which was expanded this time to include projections to 2050 (.pdf file here).  This center, which the Religion Guy recently visited, provides statistics for various reference books and has just began work on a 3d edition of its World Christian Encyclopedia.

As of 2050, CSGC projects a slightly lower global count than Pew for Muslims at 2.7 billion, and a considerably higher 3.4 billion for Christians.

Why the disparity?

Please respect our Commenting Policy