March 12, 2009

Googling the Bible- De-Signs of the Times

In staff meeting a few days ago, we were talking about the lectionary reading for the fourth Sunday in Lent, which contains John 3:16. So I shared the story about Tim Tebow, the QB for the national champions Florida who put John 3:16 under his eyes, and that day "John 3:16" was the top Google search. Check it out yourself here and here. The implications being that enough people, in fact several thousand people didn't know and had to google John 3:16 to find out what it means. Yes, the staple verse that every person slightly familiar with the church knows had to be googled.

I think I was more surprised that the staff was surprised that so many people didn't know what John 3:16 means. I posted a few days ago about this study which revealed the fastest growing religious population in the USA are the "Nones" (see CNN"s coverage here).. Via Alan Hirsch's blog post on this subject, I was tuned into some interesting thoughts by a missional leader:
In sum, the findings show or lead to the conclusion that:
1) Religion and Christianity are on the decline in the US;
2) Protestantism is doing worse than Catholicism due to Catholic immigrants;
3) Mormonism is keeping up with population growth, and Islam and New Age/Wicca are exceeding it;
4) Atheism, while still a small percentage of the population, is on the rise; and
5) "Spirituality,"--or non-organized belief in God--is still vibrant in the US.

What implications does this have for the church in the US?
- Attractional methods alone will have decreasing effectiveness, though they will reach some.-
- Not only theologically, but pragmatically, we must make the structure of the church be missional in nature and make dramatic changes in how we allocate our resources. This might mean moving all "Bible studies" off site, in coffee shops, Starbucks, homes, schools, meet people where they are. With antagonism and apathy towards religion, fewer will show up because we have better programs. And those that do will already be Christians.
- We need to train our members in knowledge of other faiths and resurgent atheism and methods to reach these adherents.

We must make dramatic changes. Sadly, however, most churches will do almost nothing to respond to these cultural changes. Those that do respond will respond incrementally only. With a shrinking pool of Christians, there will be an increasing competition amongst churches for members. This will, ironically, put more pressure upon church leaders to shore up "programs" to attract church members to shore up the decreasing member base.

In the midst of all of this, it is unbelievable to me that our fellowship is consumed on all sides with "doctrinal issues"--meanwhile our nation is hopelessly lost. And the resistance to making practical, methodological changes, such as replacing Sunday night worship or Wed. night classes with outreach and service, moving "classes" off site, planting new churches, changing times, making budgets missional, etc., is quite simply, absurd.

What do you think of these findings? How should the church respond to the changing (a)religious landscape of the US so that we can reach people today?
These are great thoughts and questions to ponder honestly in our cultural climate of religious change. There are doctrinal issues that are important, like how we read the Bible when dealing with women or homosexuals; but the church must start asking questions about true change. Yet, I wonder as I reflect upon my experience in staff meeting, if the church is capable of asking these questions. It seems, at least in my context, that the anomalies are just arising and when anomalies first pop their ugly heads our paradigms and plausibility structures have ways of ignoring them. What are the methodological, ecclesiological, budget, staff, small group, community development, worship, discipleship...what are the changes you see that we need to make?

Oh, and here are some other good thoughts on this article.


Adam Moore said...

Personally, I think any hope of change will come from outside the traditional church.

JoeBumbulis said...

I aspire to the belief that all truth is God's truth. Thus, to stroke a broad brush and de-legitimize any changes possible from within seems overly simplistic.

The church must be listening to the "others" voices, i.e. atheists, Muslims, post-evangelicals, post-Christians, etc. But, there are many voices from within bringing about change. I believe what you are attempting to do with Void will help shape and transform the church, but I don't think I'm willing to say as an outsider of that group that y'all are separate from the Christian tradition.

Personally, it seems to me many if not everyone forming it have been deeply shaped and impacted by the traditional church, thus coming from inside.

Adam Moore said...

Please allow me to revise.

I didn't mean to de-legitimize changes from within (though I did). What I meant was any hope of change must include change from without. That we are hopeless if we remain solely focused on what already exists. We must move outside the church (or at least what we currently call church) if any change is going to happen.

I'm actually a big proponent of changes going on within. I'm sorry my short comment communicated the opposite.

And yes, I think the Christian tradition impacts groups both outside and inside - personally I just don't care about the distinction too much.

(I'm not very good at the "comment on the fly" thing. I hope this one works out better...)

JoeBumbulis said...

Short comments and internet communication...always a challenge ;)

I appreciate your thoughts Adam!