Movement lifecycle

The coming collapse of the PC (USA)

PCUSA_logo The Presbyterian Church (USA) has released a report on the “Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians 2011.”

The report reveals that the PC (USA) is old and white. 94% of the randomly selected members reported their race as “white or Caucasian.”

The racial-ethnic makeup of the denomination has remained virtually unchanged in the last forty years. This discontinuity makes the future of the denomination untenable since it has not reached either immigrant communities or people of color in any meaningful way.

The denomination also continues to age. The median age of members rose from 60 to 63 between 2008 and 2011.

This is the same PC (USA) that recently banished the wrath of God from their hymnals.

The PC (USA) is just another example of the demise of mainline churches that have wandered away from the faith that gave them life in the first place.

Meanwhile a new generation of "progressive" evangelicals is repeating the same mistake today.

The turnaround of the Australian Christian Churches

hillsong.jpg For the first forty years of its existence the number of ACC* attenders and churches grew steadily. Something changed in the late 1970s and the movement took off.

Attendances grew from 9,446 people to 215,000 between 1977-2007 — a staggering 2276%. The number of churches grew from 152 to 1120 — or 736%.

Despite this history, the number of ACC churches has recently fallen — from 1133 in 2008, to 1073 in 2011.

If the number of ACC churches continues to shrink, so will attendances.

What could be at the heart of this dramatic turnaround?

The ACC may be suffering from is the “failure of success.” In their early stages, movements risk everything for the cause they believe in. Success can change movements. They become risk averse. They have attained a place in society, they have resources, their clergy are increasingly educated and respected. They have more to lose.

In a plateaued movement, the next generation of leaders would prefer to be on the staff of a large successful church, than take the risk of planting a new church. Larger churches would prefer to reproduce what they know works, rather than risk planting new churches.

Growing something bigger is safer than starting something new. Success is measured by the size of a church, rather than the number of generations of new churches it has produced.

The challenge for the ACC is to make an innovative return to the best of its traditions . . .

*The Australian Christian Churches was formally known as the Assemblies of God in Australia

The turnaround of the Australian Christian Churches

hillsong.jpg For the first forty years of its existence the number of ACC* attenders and churches grew steadily. Something changed in the late 1970s and the movement took off.

Attendances grew from 9,446 people to 215,000 between 1977-2007 — a staggering 2276%. The number of churches grew from 152 to 1120 — or 736%.

Despite this history, the number of ACC churches has recently fallen — from 1133 in 2008, to 1073 in 2011.

If the number of ACC churches continues to shrink, so will attendances.

What could be at the heart of this dramatic turnaround?

The ACC may be suffering from is the “failure of success.” In their early stages, movements risk everything for the cause they believe in. Success can change movements. They become risk averse. They have attained a place in society, they have resources, their clergy are increasingly educated and respected. They have more to lose.

In a plateaued movement, the next generation of leaders would prefer to be on the staff of a large successful church, than take the risk of planting a new church. Larger churches would prefer to reproduce what they know works, rather than risk planting new churches.

Growing something bigger is safer than starting something new. Success is measured by the size of a church, rather than the number of generations of new churches it has produced.

The challenge for the ACC is to make an innovative return to the best of its traditions . . .

*The Australian Christian Churches was formally known as the Assemblies of God in Australia

Yes we can

201112051927.jpg On Saturday the ruling Australian Labor Party's conference committed the Party to a policy of support for same-sex marriage. The move was supported by a rainbow coalition of activists including members of the clergy.

History teaches us that this is not the end of a long battle, just a pause before the next push begins. What was unthinkable a decade ago will soon become a reality in Australia and other parts of the Western world.

Brace yourselves for new campaigns—polygamy, group marriage, and whatever else our foolish hearts can conceive.

We shouldn't be surprised. We live in a broken world. Sin has taken its toll on the most precious of God's gifts—our sexuality. It's why Christ came to rescue us from the guilt and shame.

Or maybe there's another way. Perhaps there can be salvation without the need to face our sin. Could we remake ourselves and save ourselves from the burden we bear?

Could we recreate God in our image? Could we dictate to the Almighty our standards of sexual behaviour? Could we bow before our preferences and desires?

Yes we can.

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How can I, a heterosexual who's been very happily married for 50 years, tell anyone else they don't have the right to form a loving, committed, lifelong union and enjoy the fruits of marriage as I have done? Marriage is not a club to be restricted to some. Like the Gospel, it is a blessing to be shared.

Rev Dr Rowland Croucher Baptist Minister

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Recognizing same-sex unions will help return marriage to its rightful place in society.

Rev Matt Glover Baptist Minister

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We haven't even really begun to ask what role the affirmation of the 'homosexual', the 'intersexual' and the 'transsexual' might play in awakening the church to its full glory as the body of Christ.

Dr Keith Dyer Professor of New Testament Baptist Theological College

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I cannot understand how a man can appear in print claiming to disbelieve everything that he presupposes when he puts on the surplice [clerical robe]. I feel it is a form of prostitution.

Clive Staples Lewis, 1963 Mere Christian

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In religion, Liberalism may be characterized by a progressive discarding of elements in historical Christianity which appear superfluous or obsolete, confounded with practices and abuses which are legitimate objects of attack. But as its movement is controlled rather by its origin than by any goal, it loses force after a series of rejections, and with nothing to destroy is left with nothing to uphold and nowhere to go.

TS Eliot

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Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

Jesus King of Kings, Lord of Lords

I guess that means, No we can't.

You foolish Lilydalians

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Matt Glover, freelance cartoonist and pastor, is an advocate for same-sex unions.

His church, Lilydale Baptist, is in turmoil. They've only just found out via this gay website or maybe this one?

A church meeting to deal with the issue was cancelled a few days ago. A newspaper report states confidently that Pastor Matt has the numbers.

I'd be surprised.

Matt assured the reporter that his church members were not "homophobic," just a bit uptight about public displays of affection between gay couples."

[Ed. I suppose if any church members were "homophobic" they may need psychiatric treatment. Homophobia is not to be confused with homilophobia (fear of sermons) or homichlophobia (fear of fog), or hobophobia (fear of beggars). Anyway, let's hope there's counselling and medication available for any sufferers out there].

I remember Lylidale Baptist as a thriving evangelical church of around 400 people, once active in planting churches like this one.

The article states that "Lilydale Baptist has a strong community presence, offering financial services, counselling, an opportunity shop [pictured above], cafe, food bank and welfare assistance. Besides the usual youth and play groups, it has a Burmese congregation and a Tuesday night meeting of 'hard-core'' music fans."

All these ministries were set up before Matt arrived by previous pastors who were evangelical.

Lilydale Baptist is in trouble. Expect the church community shrink, and the ministries above to become unsustainable, if they aren't already.

The tragedy is, this was all avoidable.

If you want to know what decline and decay looks like at a local church level, this is it. This story is being played out all around the western world, in mainstream churches, missional churches, theological seminaries, and denominational headquarters. The drift starts with the clergy who are less likely to uphold biblical orthodoxy than ordinary disciples.

Matt is not the only well known Baptist leader who has come out publicly in support of gay marriage. What has happened at Lilydale is part of a general trend in the local denominational leadership.

The slide gains momentum because nobody wants to admit there's an elephant in the room.

Decline and decay is always the result. There may be a time lag. But there are no exceptions.

You foolish Lilydalians. Get back to basics.

UPDATE

The Baptist Union of Australia has made it's position clear by defining marriage as  the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life, although not all Baptist pastors, college lecturers and denominational executives agree.

UPDATE

Paul Kelly, editor of the Australian, on the political and social agenda behind the push for "marriage equality."

UPDATE

Rev Matt Glover is no longer the minister at Lilydale Baptist Church. The Age newspaper reports that he had been "sacked" at a "secret meeting." Rev Andrew Woff, acting Director of Ministries for the Baptist Union of Victoria (BUV), denied Rev Glover had been sacked. Although Woff agreed the process was not "all fair." On behalf of the BUV, Woff stated, "He [Glover] is a competent and gifted minister, and there is no reason he can't be called by another church."

So where does the BUV stand on same-sex unions?

A monument to lost causes and missed opportunities

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When Saffie the Wonderdog and I take our morning walk, we head out along the creek at the bottom of our street that leads to Blackburn Lake.

Along the way there’s a gum tree whose fortunes we have been following for the last few years. The tree fell on hard times. Literally. It began with a lean, which became increasingly serious.

Into the fray came whoever it is who looks after ailing trees. They built a system of supports to save our tree. But a new problem emerged. The tree was now so low to the ground that it was a danger to anyone walking, or cycling under it.

Imagine the headline in the local paper: Falling tree crushes mother, baby, and puppy dog!

Warning signs were erected either side of this danger to humanity.

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That was not enough to satisfy the public liability insurers, so in came the heavy machinery and excavated the pathway below our propped up, ailing tree. They brought in crushed rock and relaid the path so that mother, baby and puppy could pass safely.

Hundreds of dollars has been spent in the fight to save our tree. Meanwhile it continues to decline, and is all but dead.

Imagine, if instead, the tree had been allowed to fall, and then cut up for firewood. They could have planted hundreds of new trees with the money saved.

Here’s the lesson Saffie and I have been pondering . . . .

How many of us are wasting our lives on the worthy cause of propping up what needs to die, instead of planting for the future?