My friends at Church Planter Magazine are running a contest and giving away books on church planting, including one of mine.
Nothing like some more statistics to confirm what we already know. The church in the western world has been is serious decline for over fifty years. The gains are far outweighed by the losses.
In Britain we’ll be saying goodbye to the Methodists in a few decades while the last light will go out for the Church of England at the end of the century. Good news for the Roman Catholics, they’re holding their own against the trend of decline.
In 1963, Anglicans made up 64.5 per cent of those questioned, compared to 31.1 per cent this year. Other Christian denominations also declined from 23.1 per cent to 7.6 per cent, while other faiths grew from 0.6 per cent to 7.5 per cent and Catholics also grew from 8.6 per cent to 9.1 per cent.
The biggest growth was among the “nones” (people with no religious affiliation), though, up from 3.2 per cent to 44.7 per cent.
What is to be done? Here’s some advice from Ruth Gledhill of Christian Today:
The findings present an enormous challenge for the churches over how they make faith appealing to young people, in a world where many young will be appalled at how the male-dominated church leadership has made discrimination against women and homosexuals a defining feature of orthodox mission.
If what the Christian Today is suggesting is correct the Episcopalian Church in the US must be doing well. Perhaps they could set their sites on expanding to the UK?
Changing what Christians have always believed about sexual ethics to appeal to a market segment is a recipe for disaster. If faithfulness to the teaching of Jesus and the witness of Scripture results in decline, so be it.
Movements adapt everything about themselves to reach the world, except their core beliefs.
Archbishop Cranmer takes a different approach. Let’s revisit the risen Lord’s instructions to followers concerning their mission:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
What did Jesus say when he sent out his 12 into the towns and villages?
As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.
What could that look like? The Archbishop provides and example:
One such church is Causeway Coast Vineyard in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. In the last seven months they have seen 2,200 people become Christians in their town. This is remarkable, but they are keen not to label it as a revival. It is the fruit of 10 years of presence in their local community, which God is now blessing in an incredible way.
Alan Scott, the church’s Lead Pastor, has said that the surprising aspect of these numbers is that:
More than 60 percent of those coming to faith have surrendered their yes to Jesus on the streets of our town and surrounding area. The move of God we are experiencing is happening beyond the building. It is not a movement IN the church, it is a movement OF the church.
Visit the Archbishop for a short video interview with Alan Scott on Viewing Evangelism Differently. It’s worth the effort.
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David Broodryk interviews author Jerry Trousdale about his book Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus.
Visit David’s website and register to gain access to other outstanding interviews and resources from around the world on disciple making movements.
Jeffrey Walton reports on another year of decline for the Episcopal church.
The 2013 reporting year saw a continuation of the downward trend, with a membership drop of 27,423 to 1,866,758 (1.4 percent) while attendance dropped 16,451 to 623,691 (2.6 percent). A net 45 parishes were closed, and the denomination has largely ceased to plant new congregations.
The new numbers do not factor in the departure of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, of which the church continues to report over 28,000 members and over 12,000 attendees, despite the majority of South Carolina congregations severing their relationship with the Episcopal Church at the end of 2012. If South Carolina departures were factored in, the membership loss would be closer to 50,000 persons.
The decline offers contrast with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which reported growth in membership, attendance and number of congregations in its 2013 statistics this June. ACNA was formed in 2009 by departing Episcopalians who disagreed with the liberalizing direction of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.
I’m working through Romans with the help of Douglas Moo. Moo does a great job of unpacking the importance of Paul’s phrase, “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5). He argues that “the obedience of faith” captures the full dimension of Paul’s apostolic task. Paul was not just an evangelist making converts, he was an apostle making disciples and forming communities.
The obedience of faith is the goal of Paul’s apostolic task. A lot of people are running around these days using the term “apostolic,” a term that is functionally equivalent to “missional”. It means different things to different people. How does Paul use the term? According to Moo,
Paul saw his task as calling men and women to submission to the lordship of Christ (Rom 1:4b and 7b), a submission that began with conversion but which was to continue in a deepening, lifelong commitment.
The obedience of faith begins and ends with submission to the Lordship of Christ. You can’t have the kingdom without the King.
Obedience alone is just another form of legalism. Paul works for “the obedience of faith” among people who were far from God. Moo again,
This obedience to Christ as Lord is always closely related to faith, both as an initial, decisive step of faith and as a continuing “faith” relationship with Christ. In light of this, we understand the words “obedience” and “faith” to be mutually interpreting: obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience. They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience.
The obedience of faith is not a second level of Christian experience post conversion. You can’t separate faith and obedience, obedience and faith.
Paul called men and women to a faith that was always inseparable from obedience — for the Savior in whom we believe is nothing less than our Lord — and to an obedience that could never be divorced from faith — for we can obey Jesus as Lord only when we have given ourselves to him in faith.
Evangelists might feel that their work is done when someone believes. Not an apostle. Paul won individuals to faith in Christ, then he always formed them into disciple-making communities. No discipleship without church formation.
Viewed in this light, the phrase captures the full dimension of Paul’s apostolic task, a task that was not confined to initial evangelization but that included also the building up and firm establishment of churches.
Over at First Things, Andrew Walker responded to the reports on the Hillsong press conference in New York in which the church leadership has decided not to take a public position on LGBT issues.
Brian Houston has since clarified his position and explained that he was misunderstood. Andrew Walker’s response is still worth reading. Some good insights from a movements perspective.
First, if I were writing the Art of Cultural War, this is the strategy I’d use to bring the opposing side to heel. The steps look something like this: Relativize the issue with other issues. Be uncertain about the issue. Refuse to speak publicly on the issue. Be indifferent toward the issue. Accept the issue. Affirm the issue. Require the issue. Hillsong is currently on step three. I don’t think they’ll stay there.
Second, a non-answer is an answer. Let’s be very clear on that. It’s also a very vapid answer. What we’re seeing in many corners of evangelicalism is a pliability that makes Christianity an obsequious servant to whatever the reigning zeitgeist (spirit of the age) is. With non-answers like this, it isn’t Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. Culture is. Perhaps Hillsong would rather abide by a “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy on matters of orthodoxy. That’s their prerogative. But let’s be clear that this is not the route of faithfulness.
Third, this isn’t an issue over whether gays and lesbians should or should not be welcomed in church. This also isn’t an issue over whether young individuals within the LGBT community have faced bullying. Bullying of all sorts is deplorable and should be condemned, and not because the Human Rights Campaign says so, but because Jesus says so (Matthew 7:12). What this issue is about is whether the church models faithful obedience to Christ in a way that both honors Scripture and loves its neighbor. Hillsong thinks it’s doing both; but is actually doing neither.
Fourth, Hillsong thinks itself a contemporary and culturally relevant church. Perhaps it is. But as Christians, we don’t get to define what “relevant” means in terms that are unquestioning of what our culture means by “relevant.” I submit that Hillsong is a church in retreat. A church in retreat doesn’t give answers. It doesn’t storm the gates of Hell. It settles and makes peace where there is no peace (Ezekiel 13:10). A church in exile . . . is one that is faithful amidst the culture, regardless of whether that culture looks more like America or more like Babylon. It knows that it may lose the culture, but that it cannot lose the Gospel. So be it.
UPDATE: Some more wisdom from Andrew Walker following Brian Houston’s clarification. Every Christian leader who wants to remain both faithful to the teaching of scripture and engaged with the culture should take note.
Brian Houston has put out a clarification regarding his comments on homosexuality at a New York press conference.
Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage. I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.
I was asked a question on how the church can stay relevant in the context of gay marriage being legal in the two states of the USA where we have campuses. My answer was simply an admission of reality – no more and no less. I explained that this struggle for relevance was vexing as we did not want to become ostracized by a world that needs Christ.
He urged people to read the full tex of what he said not just the newspaper headlines.
Good to have the clarification. Even better to be clear from the start. This issue is not going away.
According to Jonathan Merritt
At a press conference for the Hillsong Conference in New York City today, Michael Paulson of The New York Times asked Houston to clarify their church’s position on same sex marriage. But Houston would not offer a definitive answer, instead saying that it was “an ongoing conversation” among church leaders and they were “on the journey with it.”
Houston says that he considers three things when evaluating the topic: “There’s the world we live in, there’s the weight we live with, and there’s the word we live by.”
He notes that the Western world is shifting its thinking on this issue, and churches are struggling to stay relevant. The weight we live in (sic), he added, refers to a context where LGBT young people may feel rejected or shunned by churches, often leading to depression and suicide. But when Houston began speaking about the word we live by or “what the Bible says,” he refused to offer a concrete position.
Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong’s New York City location, made similar statements on CNN in June, saying Hillsong in New York City has “a lot of gay men and women” and he hopes it stays that way. But he declines to address the matter in public because, in part, Jesus never did.
“Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent,” Lentz told CNN. “And I’m still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won’t find it because he never did.”
Lentz’s wife, Laura, chimed in: “It’s not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That’s their journey.
Have Hillsong decided to go all Brian McLaren on us?
I hope I’m wrong, but it doesn’t look good.
When I catch up with someone like Peter Roennfeldt I expect to learning something.
Our coffee by the lake the other day was no exception. Here are a few insights. . .
Many of us are working hard hoping that somehow that what we do will result in making disciples. It doesn’t and we don’t know why.
Often it’s the “tweaks” that make all the difference. But we can’t see it without input from another practitioner outside our situation.
The couple in Bosnia signed up to make disciples and plant a church. They established many relationships. Yet no one had come to faith and gone onto discipleship. The couple were disappointed.
Many of us are well connected in our communities, but we’re silent witnesses. There are people out there ready to learn more about Jesus, but we’ll never find them if we don’t ask. We need simple methods like Discovery Bible Study, sharing our story, sharing God’s story, praying for needs. Someone like Peter needs to train us and help get us started.
Peter will no doubt circle back with an email, a Skype call or another visit and find out how the new groups are going? He’ll want to know are people coming to faith in Christ? Are any groups reproducing? How will you help the groups form into churches? How can you train others to do what you are doing?
Get some basic training. Start reaching out. But don’t go the journey alone. Make sure you have other practitioners and mentors like Peter speaking into your life and ministry.