Sunday, April 16, 2006
The Revolutionaries are Coming! The Revolutionaries are Coming
Is the real Christian revolution to be found in the theo-left's dead-end of creeping non-belief, or in new forms of churches? George Barna, one never to be ignored, sees signs of life with new forms that institutional churches have trouble even comprehending. This article should supply us with great fodder for reflection and self-examination for church leaders. It reminds me of the central thesis of Art Jaggard's book, The Future of Religious Organizations: that small, nimble organizations are better equppied to thrive in chaotic times.
Same Faith, No Steeple
By MICHELLE BEARDEN , The Tampa Tribune
Tampa Bay Online
Apr 16, 2006
There's nothing in the Scriptures that says you have to get your spirit filled in a sanctuary.
So on this Easter morning, when crowds pack churches like no other Sunday of the year, the Rev. Roy Hayes will celebrate Christ's resurrection in a living room in Valrico.
"You go where the people are," he says simply. "And they don't always want to be in a traditional church."
Hayes, 57, pastor and founder of the nondenominational Anointed Word Church of Tampa Bay, is catering to a new generation of Christians. They're worshipping, studying and living their faith in home-based groups and workplace ministries, on the Internet, through community outreach programs, 12-step recovery groups and home-schooling networks. Some are members of a congregation. Others reject organized religion because the churches established by their grandparents don't meet their spiritual needs.
Although Hayes plans to lead a traditional Easter church service later this morning, he values the neighborhood Bible studies at the suburban home of his assistant minister, Sherron Small. A handwritten sign propped by the front door welcomes newcomers: "No need to knock. Come on in!"
"The church is ... where the people are gathered," he says. "If you want to go to another level, you have to think at another level. Some folks just want to put on their flip-flops and sit together in a laid-back setting like this. So this is what we give them, so they can know the word of God."
Researcher-author George Barna, who has studied religious trends for 22 years and is a paid consultant to Christian groups across the country, calls this new wave of seekers "the revolutionaries." He says they're the pioneers of what could be our nation's next Great Awakening - a definitive turning point in which Christianity experiences a major revival.
Ignore them, he warns, and the conventional church may not survive.
"This is not a fad," he says in a phone interview from The Barna Group's headquarters in Ventura, Calif. "This movement will reshape the Christian community as we know it today."
Among the findings detailed in his new book "Revolution": By 2025, the local church will lose half of its current "market share" to alternative forms of faith expression and experience. One example is the house-church movement, which claimed less than 1 percent attendance eight years ago. Today, Barna reports, that number has jumped to 11 percent.
Church leaders should rethink the $5 billion in construction planned across the country, he says.
"Most of [those] could end up being the shopping centers of 2025."
God In Everyday Lives
What drives the revolutionaries isn't fancy buildings and programming; it's their passion for God and a dedication to obedience, love and service to get more of God in their everyday lives.
They're people such as Rick Bennett, 37, a Seminole Heights father of two young children. Raised a Southern Baptist, he earned his master's in divinity. After working at a church for five years, he realized he had more questions than answers about his faith.
"The more I sought God in the Bible, the more sure I became of Jesus and less sure of the institutional stuff that gets thrown at us," he says.
Today, he and his wife, Kristi, host a kid-friendly group on Sunday nights called Something Different. Participants have a potluck dinner, do sacred readings and discuss Scripture.
The Bennetts also practice their faith by supporting and contributing to causes they believe reflect Christian values. They are environmentally conscious, support fair trade and nonviolence, and eat locally produced natural foods as often as possible.
Even Rick's career is a calling. In his first nonchurch job since college, he works as senior director of volunteer services at Metropolitan Ministries, an organization that jibes with his views on serving and empowering the economically disadvantaged.
One reason the Bennetts and others like them can pull away from the church is they no longer need it to find fellowship. When Rick Bennett wants to chat with like-minded Christians, he goes to Internet sites such as emergentvillage.com, described by its creators as "a growing generative friendship among missional Christian leaders seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ."
Bennett says he doesn't fit neatly into one category. He shares many of his Baptist friends' conservative values, yet his stands on social justice issues are liberal. He has been called a post-modern, post-congregational Christian. He prefers to be considered a middle-of-the-road moderate who strives to love and accept all people.
"I take my faith extremely seriously," he adds.
He suggests churches with no growth and little life in the congregation, "just close down for a while."
"They can keep the worship services, but shut down everything else and re-evaluate."
Cycle Of Renewal
Dave Travis of Leadership Network, a Dallas firm that consults on church innovation and empowering church leaders, says Barna "threw a curve" to the Christian groups that have hired him and relied on his expertise for years.
"He evolves his business in a new direction every five years or so," Travis says. "This is just part of the cycle."
To get feedback on "Revolution," Leadership Network conducted a survey on its Web site, asking "Have Barna's Revolutionaries Come to Your Town?" It drew about 500 respondents, most of them pastors and ministry leaders.
Only about a fifth of survey respondents observed a growing rejection of worship services, Travis says, but a majority agreed that churches have lost influence. They were split over whether churches will be effective, and on whether people increasingly see church participation as optional.
American Christianity is like everything else, Travis says, in that it has a natural renewal cycle. Effective churches will "constantly reflect on what they do and why they do it," he says, and be open to change.
"Not the message, but the methodology," Travis says. "I can see why a United Methodist bishop might be concerned about the future if a structure is in place that resists new thinking. But a pastor of a large independent church should be far less troubled."
That thinking doesn't reflect the ways society is changing, says Diana Butler Bass, senior research fellow and director of the Project on Congregations of Intentional Practice, a Lilly Endowment-funded study of mainline Protestant vitality.
She says the entire religious community should be on alert.
"There's a shift in Western culture that's turning away from eternal authorities and putting more responsibility on individuals," she says. "The churches with leaders who view this shift as an opportunity and not a threat are the ones that will survive and become stronger."
In her study of 50 mainline congregations, Bass found a hunger for "robust spirituality." But religious institutions tend to be entrenched in bureaucracy, she says. They are the first hurdle people face when they come up with creative ways to exercise their faith.
Offering a healing or meditative service, or dedicating part of the church building as a hospitality center for the temporarily homeless, for example, may be too "out there" for some traditionalists. Those seeking new paths for their spiritual walk will drift away or find a more accommodating environment, Bass says.
Sandy Kezar wasn't about to let them get away.
When she and her husband, Dennis, 59, an Episcopal priest, were based at Christ Church in Bradenton, she noticed that some people would drop off their spouses or children for choir practice or Bible study, then leave.
She proposed killing an hour or two while waiting for family members at church by gathering at a bar for some spirited discussion.
The group grew, its members ranging from secure Christians to atheists. They called themselves The Hedonists and Heretics. During the five years they met, their only rule was no one could say, "You cannot say that."
"Community can mean all kinds of things," says Kezar, 67.
Now she and her husband are at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Tampa, where some members rotate in small groups for a monthly dinner club. Kezar also teaches an iconography class and Christian yoga, opening the church to people who have no interest in becoming members or attending services.
"The Kezars are willing to meet you where you are, instead of dictating how you should think," says Rex Eaton, 54. He and his wife, Susan, 55, joined the parish in August because they wanted a community-minded church that provided a balance of tradition and innovation.
Eaton is reflective of those Barna revolutionaries who remain committed to their churches but also seek active ways to meet their spiritual needs. He devotes three hours every Thursday volunteering at the Trinity Cafe, a faith-based mission that serves home-cooked meals to the homeless.
"Jesus is very specific in his commission to help the poor," Eaton says. "With the government's role decreasing, the church has to do a better job of instructing people to get out and be more involved, instead of putting all the focus on what goes on inside the building."
Principles Of Faith, Charity
That's the focus of the new Grace Community in Wesley Chapel, led by Jeff Olsen, 29, a University of Florida undergraduate and father of four girls. He supports the notion that the church at large is undergoing a revolution, and must adapt or lose validity.
His church's mission - he calls it the community mission - is to be more externally than internally centered. Sunday's attendance is less important than what members do the rest of the week, Olsen says, whether it's volunteering at school events, coaching a soccer team or leading a neighborhood cleanup.
He's a Lutheran, but labels mean nothing here. Rather, bonds are forged on shared Christian principles.
Olsen moved here from Minnesota last fall after six years in ministry to build a diverse congregation that shared his vision. He knew he didn't want a church that claimed to be "new and different" because it had state-of-the-art technology, edgy music and a contemporary building. This would be a congregation that would be a "blessing to others, 24/7, where we live, learn, work and play."
Grace officially launched this month in a rented facility at the Kids Are Kids Learning Center in the Meadow Pointe subdivision. Attendance is about 100 people, with 30 or so active participants.
"The older generations built the buildings. The boomers set up programs. Now we've got an emerging group, much more interested in relationships and forming communities. Even television reflects that, with reality TV and programs like 'Extreme Makeover,'" he says.
"The revolution isn't coming. It's already here."