nondenominationalism

Time for another journalism look at the rise of U.S. Protestant megachurches?

Time for another journalism look at the rise of U.S. Protestant megachurches?

Religion writers are well aware that notably large Protestant “megachurches” have mushroomed across the United States this past generation. But they’re still expanding and it might be time for yet another look at the phenomenon.

 If so, the megachurch database maintained by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research is an essential resource.  The listing is searchable so, for instance, reporters can easily locate such citadels in their regions through the “sort by state” feature.

Hartford defines a megachurch as having consistent weekly attendance of at least 2,000.

There’s a big caveat here: The statistics on attendance, necessarily, are what’s reported by the churches themselves. Such congregations numbered 350 as recently as 1990 but Hartford has by now located 1,667 and there are doubtless others, so untold millions of people are involved.

Overwhelmingly, these big congregations are Bible-believing, evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal -- with only half of one percent labeling themselves “liberal” in doctrine.  

Hartford’s data will be a mere launching pad to get experts’ analysis of these newfangled Protestant emporiums and how they are changing the style and substance of American churchgoing. A starting point for that would be this 2015 overview (click for .pdf) from Hartford’s Scott Thuma and Warren Bird of the Leadership network.

They report, for instance, that “the megachurch phenomenon hasn’t waned” and “newer and younger churches are regularly growing to megachurch size.” More and more of them are spreading to multiple sites. An increasing population of adherents participates with church online rather than in person.

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The Daily Beast digs into case of a generic 'youth pastor' who preyed on young boys

The Daily Beast digs into case of a generic 'youth pastor' who preyed on young boys

It's a truth your GetReligionistas have discussed many times. When you are covering a story about people linked to a faith with a clearly defined hierarchy it's pretty clear who you are supposed to call.

I'm not just talking about Roman Catholics. If a United Methodist pastor gets in trouble, there is a clear regional and national structure linked to the work of the clergy. Southern Baptist congregations are part of regional associations, state conventions and then they have ties of various kinds to the national Southern Baptist Convention. You have some place to start digging.

But when a minister goes REALLY off the tracks, it's hard -- especially in the world of nondenominational, independent evangelicalism or Pentecostalism -- to find a paper trail anywhere, along with people who were responsible for supervising the work of this or that clergyperson. And what about people who were only "sort of" clergy?

I thought of all of that while reading this recent piece at The Daily Beast that had this genuinely hellish tabloid headline: "UNHOLY: Pastor Arrested for Chopping Up Teen Kept Counseling Kids for 23 Years."

Now, in terms of facts linked to church life, the key word in that headline is "pastor."

When you hear "pastor," you kind of assume that we are talking about an individual who has gone to seminary, been ordained and has a pulpit somewhere in a church. Pastors fill a specific leadership role in a specific faith community, one with a tradition of some kind (even if its an independent local congregation). You hear "associate pastor" and you think someone who carries out a specific ministry, working in a larger church that has a senior pastor in the pulpit.

Now in this case, things are much murkier and the Daily Beast team never offers readers a clear look at the facts, in terms of the man at the heart of this nightmare. Once we make it past the mysteries linked to the sniffing dog and the headless torso, what we get is this:

Fred Laster, 16, was last seen with local youth pastor Ron Hyde several days earlier. Laster hitched a ride with Hyde after a family argument, according to his sister. Laster and his five siblings were living with their elderly grandparents at the time, after their mom died from cancer four years earlier.

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Lone wolf pastor of tiny 'Baptist' church in California scores national PR win for ... What?

Lone wolf pastor of tiny 'Baptist' church in California scores national PR win for ... What?

It's time to head back into the confusing world of nondenominational and totally independent churches. There are thousands of them, many of which can accurately be called "fundamentalist." Most are very small and they are often dominated by the personality of a founding pastor. However, in this rather post-denominational age, there are more than a few independent megachurches with several thousand members.

Journalists, please consider this question: In terms of news value, which matters more, a statement by the pastor of an independent flock (with no connection to a larger regional or national body) with 200 or so members or a statement by leaders in a denomination with, let's say, 15 million members?

Let's think about that dynamic in light of a story that has received major news attention in the wake of the hellish massacre in the Pulse gay bar in Orlando.

Raise your hand if you are surprised that there were a few self-proclaimed fundamentalist leaders out there who said some wild and truly hateful (and heretical) things about the massacre.

Let me stress: It is perfectly valid to cover these statements. However, our earlier question remains: How important are these leaders and their churches, how representative are their voices, in comparison with the leaders of major denominations, seminaries and parachurch ministries? Also, it is crucial that readers be given information that places these wild statements in context, that lets them know that these voices are small and isolated.

In other words, the goal is to avoid doing what USA Today editors did with their story that ran with this headline: "California Baptist pastor praises Orlando massacre."

Now, is this "California Baptist" as in a reference to a Baptist pastor who happens to be in California or is it to a pastor linked to a major body of California Baptists, such as the California Southern Baptist Convention?

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This one will make you chuckle: You'll never guess what kind of Christians pray before meals

This one will make you chuckle: You'll never guess what kind of Christians pray before meals

Full disclosure right up top: I'd never heard of Chloe and Halle before a few minutes ago.

But according to New York Magazine, the teenage sisters are "the first Superstars of the Beyonce Generation."

At the very beginning, the magazine hints at a potential religion angle:

You were not expecting this, but here you stand, transfixed, in the doorway of a Hollywood rehearsal studio, your throat clamping up and your chest tightening, watching 16- and 17-year-old sisters Halle and Chloe Bailey sing a single word, “Hallelujah,” in gorgeous, repeating crescendos, like a church choir sending a dying loved one off into the light. Those harmonized “Hallelujahs” aren’t even a song, just their way of saying grace. You are not religious. But you will start to cry.

Alas, as my wife described it, the religion content in this piece doesn't turn out to be too deep. It's — as my wife described it — "vending machine God for happy giggly girls." So this will not be a long post.

But it will be a happy one — if you're looking for a nice chuckle to start the week. As the person who tipped GetReligion to this story put it, "This is a tidy profile, but the media really doesn't get religion."

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After the hate-cake blitz: Where is the actual flock behind Pastor Brown's open door?

After the hate-cake blitz: Where is the actual flock behind Pastor Brown's open door?

Is there anything new to say, at this point, about the Rev. Jordan Brown, his Church of Open Doors and the mysterious case of the alleged Whole Foods hate cake?

The short answer is, "no." Of course, that tells us something about these viral, digital media storms that blow up on Twitter and then fade away. At some point, there is real reporting that needs to get done.

The key, is this point, is that there is little evidence that the same mainstream media that ran with the story early on -- The Austin America Statesman, for example -- are interested in exploring the next stage of the drama. In a post the other day, and in our "Crossroads" podcast this week, I suggested that it would be important to find out more about Brown's congregation -- such as whether it's alive and viable. (I just noticed that it's last schedule worship service was at noon on April 3 -- the week after Western Easter).

So what happens this Sunday?

Now, a GetReligion reader went online and dug out some basic, very helpful information that would have added some depth to the tsunami of early online items about this alleged hate crime:

I am not a journalist but I did do some checking on the Church of Open Doors. The "congregation" meets in the community room/area of an apartment complex. The official mailing address is a post office box at an establishment named "Drive Thru Postal". On the "church" website, there is no mention of governance or oversight.
According to Facebook link, the "church" utilizes MailChimp, I went to MailChimp and found the archive of emails for the "church" and the majority of them are pleas for money. This is the most recent:

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What can experts tell us about growing 'nondenominational' churches? (Also, new podcast alert)

What can experts tell us about growing 'nondenominational' churches? (Also, new podcast alert)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out Richard Ostling's update on the next wave of mainstream media coverage of trends in atheism, in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

In the recent Pew survey showing America’s religious changes, how were nondenominational churches categorized?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Rachael asked previously what America’s biggest Christian groups are, and now has another demographic item about the Pew Research Center’s important “Religious Landscape Study,” which continues to spur discussion. (.pdf here) This blog scanned key findings May 20).

Pew’s 2014 polling tells us how 35,071 U.S. adults identify themselves on religion, with important new fundings about these independent (a.k.a. “nondenominational” or “interdenominational”) local congregations without national affiliations. The huge sample size provides accurate breakdowns for groups, and Pew’s similar survey in 2007 shows trends over time.

The 2014 survey establishes independent congregations as a growing factor in American life and American religious life. By definition, they’re Protestant (neither Catholic nor Orthodox).

U.S. Protestantism gets more complicated by the year and, because they’re nearly impossible to track, the independents are often neglected in religious analyses. Now, thanks to Pew, there’s solid current data.

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Define 'mainstream,' give three examples: Joshua Harris kisses nondenominational evangelicalism good-bye?

Define 'mainstream,' give three examples: Joshua Harris kisses nondenominational evangelicalism good-bye?

If you have never heard of the book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," by Joshua Harris, then you probably didn't know any homeschooling parents during the past generation or so. Whether you agreed with this 2003 bestseller or not, it would be hard to imagine a more counter-cultural book being jammed into the backpacks of legions of American teen-agers.

This was especially true if you had friends who attended one of those nondenominational, often "seeker friendly," generic or community churches that had vaguely biblical names on the signs out in their vast suburban front lawns.

The essence of nondenominational evangelicalism is its tendency to be defined by inspirational celebrities and the media products that they produce. If that is the cast, then Joshua Harris -- the man behind the book with the classy hat on the front -- had his share of years in that niche-marketing spotlight.

Thus, I genuinely appreciated the recent Washington Post piece that dug into the decision by Harris to step away from his nondenominational life and reboot his approach to ministry. However, before we look at this story, we do need to take a look at a rather strange word in that headline:

Pastor Joshua Harris, an evangelical outlier, heads to mainstream seminary

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