Some of my favorite headlines from The Onion are ones about your average Joe as if it's a big deal, like "Area Man Consults Internet Whenever Possible" or "Local Girlfriend Always Wants To Do Stuff." Those headlines came to mind when I started reading a story from the Chicago Tribune about a new church plant in Chicago.
A pastor walks into bar.
No, this isn't a joke; it's a new scene for American Christianity: Young guys in their 20s and 30s forming Christian communities in pubs, concert halls, cafes and art galleries.
Christians haven't met in bars, concert halls or art galleries before now? It's a little bit like the story on churches meeting in pubs that Elizabeth's Evans critiqued as "meet cute." I don't want to diminish the story because it is an interesting one, but the reporter could have gone in some different directions that would have made it more compelling.
For example, if the web headline is true, "New churches: Chicago seen as a fertile field for congregations to branch out," that's very interesting. I would love to see reasons why pastors see Chicago as a good place to plant a church. For example, what makes it more fertile than Dallas, Atlanta, or Boston? Are there attributes that Chicago has that makes it a more welcoming environment?
Reporter Kate Shellnutt provides some interesting data about church plants, including the numbers in Chicago.
Nationwide, about 4,000 churches are planted each year, a new church every two hours or so, according to Dave Olson, the head of the American Church Research Project and the Evangelical Covenant Church's church planting director.
There are more than 50 congregations considering planting churches in Chicago in the year ahead, said Sam Smith, of the Chicago Partnership for Church Planting, and the city has already seen a boom in new, hip churches.
In Lakeview, an indie-rock praise band performs before a few dozen people in the candle lit backroom of Schubas Tavern; in Wicker Park, Christians discuss God in an art studio; in Lincoln Park, churchgoers wear jeans and sip Intelligentsia coffee.
These are good examples of new churches being formed, but I'd like to know what kinds of churches they are (are they part of denomination, for example). The examples make it seem like all Chicago Christians are abandoning their traditional buildings. It would be interesting to hear from young pastors who have considered the bar, cafe, art studio approach but chose to stick with meeting in a church building.
The story focuses on a pastor who is planting a church by meeting with potential churchgoers through neighborhood coffee houses and bars.
In West Town, that guy is Mark Bergin, 29, who leads prayer meetings wearing a cap embroidered with the Guinness logo. The self-described "hot-dog-eating, baseball-loving, tool-owning missionary" is part of the church planting movement in the United States -- an effort to start thousands of churches a year that reach people in more culturally relevant ways.
The reporter makes it seem like church planting is a new idea or an American idea, but Christians have been planting churches for, oh, 2,000 years or so. The pastor is planting a church with financial assistance from Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Now that's interesting. How often are churches planting others half way across the country? I don't know, but it raises all sorts of questions for nondenominational churches, like does this pastor report to anyone? What happens if he gets in trouble, financial or otherwise? Does Mars Hill step in or is this pastor out on his own now?
I'd also like to know a little bit more about this new pastor's background, but this is a little bit of what we know:
Mars Hill's celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll coupled conservative, humble, Neo-Calvinist theology with a contemporary style of worship. His church-planting network has started more than 250 churches in the past decade. A year ago, Bergin was a new elder at one of Mars Hill's Seattle campuses. He preached before the congregation only twice before being called to start a church in Chicago.
Does Bergin hold Driscoll's "Neo-Calvinist theology" (an explanation of what this means would be helpful)? Where did he go to seminary? What does "being called to start a church" mean for Bergin?
The story is a good one--not many reporters are covering churches that are still planting in difficult economic times--but a few angles could have been strengthened.