Monday, August 31, 2009

Inside Look: Andy Stanley's North Point Church Describes Creative Process

Quick post: The media department of Andy Stanley's North Point church in the Atlanta area posted a blog today walking through their creative process for a new sermon series.

North Point in Atlanta is a large, multi-site church that invests time strategizing their communication process.

This is more than just "making sermons interesting." The ambitious effort to craft ideas based at the heart of Christian concerns that connect to a mainstream audience is routinely performed.

Here's one video that came through this particular process.

Of course, North Point is not alone in their concern to craft image-saturated, symbolically-rich content. In my own research I've described Mosaic in Los Angeles and Oasis in Hollywood at length (yes, yes, "read my book...").

Nevertheless, it is important to realize the degree to which religious creativity is channeled through the construction of mission-driven religious content.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dan Kimball Gives Update on New Network of Entrepreneurial Evangelicals

Thanks to Dan Kimball, we now have a nice update of what's coming through the initiative of a group of missional, innovation-friendly Christians this coming year.

Posting an "insider's view" of the Origins Project on his website, pastor and author Dan Kimball from Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, describes a series of new initiatives coming out of a meeting at Eriwn McManus's house with David Gibbons, April Diaz, Margaret Feinberg, Josh Fox, Amena Brown, Eric Bryant, Marc McCartney, and other staff members from NewSong Irvine and Mosiac Los Angeles. (Others like Scot McKnight and Mark Batterson were unable to join.)

If you don't know these names, together they constitute a dynamic collection of evangelicals who write, speak, and perform across the world on matters of mission, relevance, innovation, and church leadership. Dan expresses in his own words the core of this Origins group:
Origins is a network/community being birthed for those who are passionate about Jesus, Humanity and Innovation. So this means it is for anyone who desires to join in on the hopeful mission of people experiencing and knowing the love, and saving grace of Jesus. And using our God-given creativity and innovative thinking in this mission.
There's a lot happening with this very passionate, highly mobilized, and well-networked group. We're getting in on the ground floor through this post. Some highlights include:
Origins festival-event - July 2010: We will be doing an event next summer (most likely in July). It will have a festival-like feel to it with lots of break out groups for connecting, music, art creating, poetry and spoken word creating and inspiration of stories and various sized meetings. Part of the event will be actual serving the community - so it will be about the gospel of Jesus being both proclamation and in deeds.

"Listening" tour - Fall and Spring 2009-2010: We are taking the development of this seriously as we want to be listening to people who have ideas and how they envision Origins to be. It is already happening in the "community" section of the website. But this Fall we will have meetings all across the country where we will be asking questions and listening. Questions like "What would you envision this network to be like?

Regional Groups: part of this will be forming regional groups around the country who can connect for inspiration, discussion and encouragement and learning from one another.

A kick-off book: We discussed some really great ideas for a kick-off book which will hopefully be an inspiring one and a different approach to what a book like this normally would be.
One thing that stands out here is how religious innovation involves a communal network of zealous participants. It is a social movements model invoked by this group that is discontent with staid, "churchy" ways of doing ministry and instead stretching to reframe Christian discipleship as a dynamic, vision-driven, world-involved, and relationally-saturated way of life.

And while the words and actions of this group are involved in a problematic critique with mainstream Christianity, they are spending less time speaking about the enemy of dead religion (as they see it) and more about coordinating their efforts to foster new congregational forms.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

iPhone Church - Religious Media Jumps on the Digital Bandwagon (Again)

As part of their expanding digital offerings, Pastor Wayne Cordeiro explains a new service provided through the IT department of New Hope Church in Hawaii. The "iPhone devotions" borrows the iconic Apple style to communicate relevance to the digital literati.

Even more, entire church services at New Hope can be streamed live.

It appears that New Hope Christian Fellowship, a large Foursquare Church in Hawaii, is the first to launch iPhone services on July 4th of this year. A press release indicates that "live streaming to the iPhone was one of the most requested features from church attendees" and that the live streaming capabilities of the 3.0 software allowed this to happen.

SAN FRANCISCO - JUNE 19:  The new iPhone 3Gs i...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

"Typically, churches are years behind other organizations when it comes to technology and innovation. We have tried to reverse that trend and pioneer new ways to spread the Gospel using the most current tools available," explains New Hope's Technology and Innovations Director, Michael Sharpe. "We don't mind the long hours and stress that comes with innovating because we know that if we can come up with something useful, it can be used by other churches around the world."

You can check out their dedicated e-church site here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Young, Amateur Sikhs Lead New "Emergent" Congregations

NY Times reporter Samuel G. Freedman shows young professional Sikhs participating in amateur-led services as part of the "emerging movement."

Today, I caught another intriguing article by the Samuel Freedman on young Sikhs in Manhattan.

Seems they are creating new forms of worship, "youth gurdwara" or youth temple, created by and for young professionals. News of their meetings are spread by word of mouth, email, and social networking sites like Facebook.

NEW YORK - APRIL 25: Members of the Singh fami...By Getty Images via Daylife

Mandeep Singh remembers his first diwan located in a rented multipurpose room in a luxury condominium:
What most caught Mr. Singh’s eye, though, were the other members of the congregation, or sangat. They were, like him, young professionals, the BlackBerry crowd, and as the worship service, or diwan, proceeded over the next several hours, these amateur clerics took turns leading the chanting of sacred poetry and the singing of devotional hymns.

According to Freedman, this is "the Sikh version of what religion scholars call the emergent movement, a growing trend toward small, nimble, bottom-up, laity-led congregations that especially attract young adults."

Kanga, Kara and Kirpan - three of the five art...Kanga, Kara and Kirpan - three of the five articles of faith endowed to the Sikhs via Wikipedia

This is "not your chacha’s (in Punjabi, your uncle’s) gurdwara."

On reading about all this, my friend John Schmalzbauer called these "Sikher sensitive services." Yow!

The article describes how worshipers enter with bare feet and covered head, bow before the holy book, and so fulfill centuries-old obligations. "The service follows the time-honored sequence of readings, hymns, a discourse called katha, the distribution of the sweet sacramental food karah parshad and finally the sharing of a communal meal known as langar.

"But the words of the liturgy are projected from a laptop, both translated into English and transliterated phonetically for the many members who cannot read Gurmukhi, the script of the Sikh religious texts. One set of projections carries the logo 'Sikh to the Max.'”

While a diwan in a conventional gurdwara goes four or five hours, this one finished in two.

Freedman mentions other emergent congregations, evangelical Christian and Jewish ones, but the focus of the article is how 28 year old Singh has become a more religiously active person through this peer-led temple. Being with other young adults seems to motivate attenders.

Freedman notes, "For while news media coverage of Sikhs in the United States has tended to focus on controversy — bias crimes against Sikh men, who are mistaken for Muslims because of their turbans, or civil rights suits by Sikhs to allow men to wear turbans and keep beards in various workplaces — the more prevalent, day-in-day-out experience is of finessing the balance between accomplishment and assimilation."

"Balance between accomplishment and assimilation..." Nicely said.

Sikh weddingBy eyesplash Mikul via Flickr

Another attender Amit S. Guleria said, “When you’re living the life of someone in your 20s, it gives you a different energy.” He added, “When you go to a traditional gurdwara, you feel more like an observer than a participant. Here, the onus is on us. And that’s a responsibility we want to have.”

Who are these 20 somethings? "Well-educated and upwardly mobile... the diwan includes doctors, lawyers, bankers, engineers, computer consultants, graduate students and at least one chef. Perhaps half are the American-born children of immigrants, half are immigrants themselves...

Either way they have a foot apiece in tradition and dynamism."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sabbatical Ends - New Year Begins

Well, I'm coming off of being on sabbatical from Davidson this year. That meant few responsibilities at the college, yet taking on other commitments elsewhere. Far from a quiet year at home, this past year was one of the "fullest" schedules I've ever had.

wedding at calvin collegeImage by Joits via Flickr

The "Year of Research and Rest" really kicked-off with a seminar headed by the esteemed Steve Warner, professor of sociology at University of Illinois, Chicago, and hosted through the Seminars in Christian Scholarship program at Calvin College (see Michael Emerson's very cool seminar coming 2010). Michigan is so pleasant in the summer, and our family enjoyed connecting with old friends as well as making new ones. It was great to see other colleagues who visited as "guest lecturers" as well. Nice job, Steve! Especially memorable is a morning service led by Steve and his lovely wife Anne Heider at Calvin's chapel (pictured on the right). I'm looking forward to a reunion of sorts with the team at the annual meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Denver later this year.

While in Grand Rapids, I had a nice interview for the show Inner Compass broadcasting through PBS. That was fun.

Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA - Statue ...Image via Wikipedia

From there, it was off to Houston.

Special thanks to the Humanities Research Center at Rice University who hosted my stay in Fall of 2009. My colleagues there in Religious Studies and Sociology (with my fellow "HRC Fellows" alongside) provided sustained kindness and camaraderie.

I completed several projects at Rice (including a forthcoming article titled "Ego-Affirming Evangelicalism" in Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review and made significant progress on my book manuscript for Oxford). And my students in my Race and Religion Seminar were great - pleasure to have wide-ranging, immersive conversation on issues both personal and public.

Happy to see my new book Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church published last October. Reviews are just starting to come in - so far, so good! Thanks to colleagues using the book in their class (see Dr. Walt Bower's review at Barnes and Students seem to relate to the "Hollywood angle" while sneaking in some sophisticated sociological theorizing. Relevance structures and teaching - that's how we roll...

Although it was back to Davidson for Spring, it really was more of a launch point for a schedule full of speaking, traveling, and consulting in a mix of academic and congregational contexts. Thanks to Bill McKinney, I've enjoyed getting to know the community at the Pacific School of Religion. These are my California kin-folk who are so willing to embrace a wide-ranging dialogue on the future of American religion. Scott Thumma and Warren Bird provided an opportunity for me to join a team of scholars studying the "megachurch phenomenon" using extensive data they've collected. Our time at the Innovation Gathering in Dallas (notes & audio here) was productive and fun. More coming from that project, including presentations in Denver and a possible edited book.

Color: Fiber FestivalImage by >>>WonderMike<<< via Flickr

Thanks also to Bayside Church in Granite Bay, a huge center for new-style evangelicalism in Sacramento, and to the American Baptist Church General Executive Council, for each hosting a set of conversations focused on an overlap between their questions and my own research concerns.

In addition to continuing projects, I am excited about a new ethnographic project started this past year on political identity. I found a fascinating congregation in Charlotte, NC, that strives to negotiate the conservative-liberal political dimension in a way that reveals significant trends happening in Obama-Age American Christianity. Special thanks to leaders and members who have been interviewed so far -- their rich experiences contribute to all of us understanding the new changes occurring at the intersection of politics and religion in the US.

In the midst of all that, my first book is coming back to get some fresh attention. With a new preface, a second edition of my book A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church will arrive sometime in early Fall. Nice to see a slim, affordable edition available for students, church leaders, and anyone interested in where religion may be headed.

There's no way to represent all the happenings this year. So many new friends, so many exciting projects, so many relationships that continue to deepen. I'm looking forward to another exciting year!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Religious Nones Spark Even More Sociological Research

Quick Post: The annual meetings of the American Sociological Association and the Association for the Sociology of Religion have kept my last several days full bouncing between meetings, presentations of research, catching up with friends, and a little bit of sleep here and there.

Scholars don't accomplish much all by themselves. While it can be a lonely business, and we can publish papers with our names on it, the foundation of our work is how we all participate in larger conversations on broad topics and questions. These large, yearly get-togethers become critical for our work.

Image by ruSSeLL hiGGs via Flickr

In attending these conferences, one of the most important things for me to do is to listen to what other people are paying attention to. This year, so much attention is focused on "religious nones." Religious Nones are people who do not mark a religious preference or affiliation on surveys. The percentage of Nones have gone up (lots of news this year on this like here), but we are still trying to figure out what this really means.

Everyone agrees on one thing - being a Religious None does not mean a person is an atheist.

Religious Nones is a survey category, and it can be asked in a lot of ways. For example, there are people who go to church and others who do not. Among those, there are people who go to church who believe in God (as we expect), but there are people who go to church who say they do not believe in God (not many). This simple example shows how there are different ways to discover types of Religious Nones, adding further complications about what it means.

In a session with sociologist Michael Hout, he demonstrated using new data how over the past decade the proportion of Conservative Believers becoming Religious Nones is greater than any other religious group. Conservatives are moving toward Nones more than any other segment of the religious population. Hout thinks this may be due to the growth of attention on the Religious Right from the media - he showed a striking parallel between the two - and that Conservatives are eschewing the label of religion to get away from the stigma of being part of those fundamentalist-moralistic crazies.

Think about that for a moment. If Conservatives are leaving a label, are they leaving religion? Or is something else going on?

In short, are Religious Nones less "religious"? Hmmmm...

A chart showing the relationship between weak/...Image via Wikipedia

Well, we frankly don't know in part because we do not have a commonly agreed definition of what it means to be religious. Working with notions of "atheism" doesn't seem to help either. But other research out there seems to suggest that we need to pay attention to how people are defining and living out their religious practices rather than relying on these survey scores.

There are probably lots of ways to be a Religious None.

Still, the notion of a Religious None has filtered it's way into congregational leader's thinking about ministry for a long time. Here's one thought -- From my own research, I believe much of the vitality we see among entrepreneurial evangelicals comes from the attempt to craft a church that will appeal to a growing culture of "Religious Nones". This has some relationship to the "unchurched" or "seeker" ideas of the last decade.

Catch the irony here - creating church for people who have rejected religion. Doing so is based on crafting our own understanding of who is rejecting "church," "God," or "religion" and why they do. Then create church (in language, ritual, style) that seeks to overcome those things.

Anyways, this is only one of several dozen ideas that flow through my head as rich information and new perspectives are being brought by the bright, curious, and ambitious scholars I encounter here every day.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Religious Historian Ed Blum Brings New Jersey Sensitivity to Reading Hollywood Faith

Over at the Religion in American History blog, historian Edward J. Blum, author of WEB Du Bois: American Prophet, brings a suburban New Jersey sensitivity to reading my book Hollywood Faith.

Professor Blum writes,

Cover of Cover via Amazon

Growing up in suburban New Jersey – where making money, just saying “no” to drugs, and interrupting people as a way to show you care were the cultural norms and the entertainment industry was something way out there – I never thought too much about religion and film.

I tried to avoid movies with too much swearing or nudity (except for the time a youth group friend compelled me to see
Natural Born Killers, which I still haven’t recovered from; yes, Kevin Pepper, you scarred me for life). Southern California is a different animal. If you aren’t in a band or trying to land your Screen Actors’ Guild card, you can’t be very important. The entire culture confuses me.

Thank goodness for Gerardo Marti. An incredible interpreter of congregational life...

Blum is a gifted historian who brings a wealth of understanding to the intersection of race and religion, especially in the African American experience,

WASHINGTON - APRIL 28:  Invited guests stand a...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I think Marti is at his best analyzing how Oasis appeals to aspirants in the entertainment industry in ways similar to how historically black churches have appealed to embattled African Americans who often experienced economic problems, setbacks, and frustration more often than whites.

Marti suggests, I think brilliantly, that Oasis bridges the gap between older black congregations that looked to “advance the dignity and rights of African Americans as a racial group” and the newer black churches that emphasize “individual upward mobility.”

Blum's expertise makes his assessment of my discussion of the Black Church sooooo very much appreciated.

Read his full post is over at the Religion in American History blog.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Workshop on Theology and Social Science - Jürgen Moltmann Conversation in Chicago

Quick Post: Scheduling for the coming year is in full gear, and I'm happy to have a few opportunities to dialogue and develop new directions in my thinking with others.

The annual Emergent Village Gathering this year features the notable theologian Jürgen Moltmann in Chicago in September.

In addition to four sessions with Moltmann, the conference is adding several workshops on various topics connecting his work with a variety of issues. I'm pleased to host one that centers on possibilities for connections between theology and social science.

From the workshop announcement:

Can We Bridge Social Science and the Theology of Hope?

Gerardo Marti

For most of the 20th century, the study of God and the study of humanity have been at odds. The uneasy and often antagonistic relationship between sociology and theology might yet become productive - if we realign the paradigms guiding the conversation. Jürgen Moltmann's theology offers several points of connection that can energize a new dialogue centered on a common concern over the future of humanity.

Other workshops are listed on the conference website.

Registration is limited to 300 participants, but as of today there is still room for more. Join us in Chicago!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Innovation, Social Change, and the Emerging Future of American Congregations

Hartford Seminary asked me to lead a 3-day intensive course in January. Here's the catalog description. Scroll down or search this page for more info.

Innovation, Social Change, and the Emerging Future of American Congregations
A Continuing Education Course with Dr. Gerardo Marti
Monday, January 4 – Wednesday, January 6
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Social change labelImage by Aleksi Aaltonen via Flickr

Much of the recent conversation on "secularization" among social scientists or "postmodernism" and "the emerging church" among church leaders is an attempt to reflect on social change and its impact on religious structures. This special course takes "change" as a fundamental, yet highly negotiated, dynamic of congregational life. More specifically, the course will continually connect contemporary (post-1960) societal arrangements with adaptation, reaction, innovation, and experimentation in congregational beliefs and practices with implications for church leaders.

By incorporating a historical sensitivity and scholarship rooted in a sociological perspective, the course seeks to develop more textured, more layered, and more sophisticated approaches to the ongoing changes and negotiations that religious congregations always make in relation to the broader social world.

This is an essential leadership program for all pastors and other religious and lay leaders.

Find more info on upcoming events page at Hartford Seminary.