Friday, January 30, 2009

The End of Evangelicalism?

Quick post - When I read this small piece from David Sessions this morning, I felt like I was walking into the middle of a conversation. And I stayed because it's an interesting conversation, you know what I mean?

David Sessions is a writer in New York who wrote an extended comment on the fate of evangelicalism in the near future. It comes on the heels of near-apocalyptic comments from Michael Spencer. Spencer wrote,

I believe that we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Whew - strong words. And there's even more. This guy's got a lot on his mind.

In turn, David Sessions measured response is worth reading. If nothing else, he knows evangelicalism is not going to change radically in such a short time, there are more complicated developments than most people want to consider, and the variation within evangelicalism continues to be colored by its own history.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Embedding Innovation at the Core of Your Organization Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote how Whirlpool re-organized itself around innovation as a core competency and successfully created a constant "innovation pipeline." Today, I want to focus on what their innovation techniques could mean for congregations. Here is part 2 of 3 of some thoughts on innovation and congregation.

Innovation and Tradition
A picture of Pisgah Baptist Church in Four Oak...Image via Wikipedia
There's a great discussion about the relationship between innovation and tradition among contemporary church leaders. Is change-orientation a legitimate aspect of congregational ministry?

In my research on evangelicals, I've found that many see innovation is not an inconvenient "extra" to ministry but actively developed as a core competency in their churches. I will write about that here and in my final post in this three-part series.

Principles for Creating an Innovation Pipeline

Taking principles derived from the experience of Whirlpool, today I am taking the freedom to re-invent them to apply to congregations.

In a bit of speculation, here are a few guidelines. First, begin creating an "church innovation pipeline":

  • InnovationImage via Wikipediapublicly solicit every member to contribute toward church innovations;
  • include in every "new member class" a segment that ties the mission of the congregation to an ongoing process of innovation;
  • create periodic events for volunteers and lay leaders that 1) articulates goals for the congregation, and 2) invites the congregation to re-think people, principles, and process;
  • reward people not just for "faithfulness" but also for "innovativeness";
  • create innovation communication portals (both face-to-face and online) that provide everyone in the congregation a common forum for learning and discussing principles of innovation;
  • keep up with recent research on congregations and their negotiation of social change and distribute that knowledge widely;
  • track the progress of ideas from concept toward realization; and
  • encourage members and leaders to volunteer to work on one another's projects.
Next, once you have a flow of ideas champion ideas that met three criteria:
  1. Who does it serve? It benefits the new (visitors and new members), the needy, and/or the not-yet-connected.
  2. Will it survive? It is sustainable over time, including multiplying "leaders" and other people responsible for the project over time.
  3. What does it contribute to the culture? It inspires established members toward the shared mission of the congregation.

Finally, identify "Innovation Mentors" (more than just the Lead Pastor) from the congregation who volunteer to facilitate the innovation cycle throughout the congregation.

Stay Tuned for Part 3 of this Series

On Feb 1st, I will post the last of this series, Embedding Innovation at the Core of Your Organization Part 3. The final part in the series will draw on a case study -- describing how innovation principles are found in one, innovative congregation.

This second post should be also read with the previous one, titled Embedding Innovation at the Core of Your Organization Part 1.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jay Bakker calls Christian LGBT Community to Love Ted Haggard

Just came from hearing Jay Bakker speak this morning at the PSR Earl Lectures. He expresses a Bible-saturated, heart-felt message to both "liberal" and "conservative" Christians to practice the grace they both believe in...

I had the pleasure of meeting Jay Bakker on Monday night, driving him from Oakland airport to our hotel in Berkeley, California. Both of us are on the program to talk about the movements and margins happening in Christianity.

Well, today Jay spoke, and it was a funny, daring, vulnerable, bold -- what some of my students would call "real."

Jay just talks. But when Jay talks, he talks from a lifetime of experiencing the exile of his parents and their work of forgiving the abuse they experienced, the still-emotional loss of his mother, the raw shock of the break-up of his marriage, and his own transformation from being angry to being desperate for others to experience what he simply calls "the grace of God."

Martin Luther King, Jr.One of Jay Bakker's heros. Image via Wikipedia

He's a preacher. He uses his Bible while quoting Martin Luther King Jr. (he loves Dr. King). He exhorts toward love, care, and reconciliation.

His boldest move today was calling on the LGBT community to love Ted Haggard in his time of need rather than allowing his, his wife's, and his children to suffer pain out of a sense that he "deserves" to suffer. He intertwined his life, the life of Jesus, and the ever more public life of Ted Haggard in this unique and timely talk. He said he knew what it was like to live out of a UHaul. He knew what it was like to be abandoned by many who had been friends. He said he knew how hard it was to try getting through school, having enough money for clothes, and getting the few gestures of kindness amidst so much hate. He said all people, liberal and conservative, and even the gay community, needed to reach out and actually love Ted Haggard.

And the crowd cheered.

This was a marvelous moment of seeing a type of liberal-conservative exchange. After 15 years in ministry, Jay is still a young man. Even though attendance at his Revolution church that meets in a bar in Brooklyn is around 50 people, I suspect his "parish" is rapidly expanding. His passion is to preach the love and grace of God. He's driven by compassion. He has two books coming in the next few years. And his unique platform of being marginalized (the outsider) while still believing the the physical life and resurrection of Jesus (the evangelical) is forging yet another potential path for bringing together the problematic divisions of American Christianity.

Bottom Line: Watch for Jay Bakker. (Actually, because he's such a media-magnet, you might be forced to watch Jay Bakker, so what I'm saying is to just pay attention when he's on.)

Read more about Jay here.

Embedding Innovation at the Core of Your Organization Part 1

Innovation is often thought of as "edge activity," something that happens on the margins and eventually breaks mainstream. Not necessarily. Some of the largest corporations in America put innovation at the center of their business. Whirlpool has an "innovation pipeline" at the core of its operations. What would creating an innovation pipeline mean for congregations? Here is part 1 of 3 of some thoughts on innovation and congregation.

Innovation at the Center

I found an interesting article on about Nancy Snyder, a leader in stimulating innovation at Whirpool. Look around your house and it's likely you have more than a few Whirlpool products -- it's the world's largest manufacturer of household appliances.

For Snyder and her colleagues, innovation is not an "extra" but a core competency to be developed in their organization.

From the article:
Under Nancy's leadership, Whirlpool began a bold initiative in 1999 to greatly increase the new ideas emerging within the company and change where they came from and how they were implemented.

In other words, her team's goal was nothing less than embedding, as she put it, innovation as part of the core of the company's operations.

Creating an Innovation Pipeline

What is key to making innovation central at Whirlpool? From my reading of the article, it lies in creating an "innovation pipeline" which includes:
  • InnovationImage via Wikipediaenrolling every salaried employee in a business innovation course,
  • tying management's long-term bonuses to its innovativeness,
  • building an innovation Intranet portal that would offer everyone in the company a common forum for learning principles of innovation,
  • keeping abreast of recent research,
  • tracking the progress of ideas from concept toward realization, and
  • volunteering to work on one another's projects.
A team suggesting an innovation has to prove that the idea or concept it was championing met three criteria:
  1. It had to bring a benefit to the customer,
  2. it had to create a competitive advantage and
  3. it needed to return value to our shareholders.

Whirlpool now has a team of about 1,100 innovation mentors, what they call "I-Mentors." They volunteer to facilitate the innovation cycle throughout the company.

Resources from the Whirlpool Innovation Gurus

Snyder is co-author of two books on innovation:

Unleashing Innovation: How Whirlpool Transformed an Industry

Strategic Innovation: Embedding Innovation as a Core Competency in Your Organization

The article is at and includes an interview with Nancy Snyder.

Stay Tuned for Parts 2 & 3 in the Series

Tomorrow, I will apply these principles to congregations in Embedding Innovation at the Core of Your Organization Part 2.

The day after in Part 3, I will share some of my research -- examples of innovation processes from an innovative congregation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Suburban Evangelicals and Christian Pop Culture

A bold, new history on modern evangelicalism titled Witnessing Suburbia came through my email today. Here's a quick look.

Christian Pop in the Suburbs

Historian Eileen Luhr has written on how religion, family, and media came together to reshape politics.

Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture

The book is described as a new "cultural analysis" on how national politics moved decidedly "right" in the Reagan-Bush era. She writes, "this study explores Christian conservatives' shifting attitudes toward youth culture to provide insight into how religious conservatives attempted to reenter public conversations about culture at the end of the twentieth century."

From what I gather in the publisher's description and preview, Luhr brings us the story of how Christian parents and concerned ministers became "activists" in the 1980s for protecting their youth. She focuses much of the work on music -- as rock-and-roll became saturated in American life, evangelicals reconsidered their approach to culture and introduced new innovations.

Overall, she privileges the ability of evangelicals to infiltrate American suburbs and adopt consumer themes. She shows how conservative evangelical involvement with meda had wide political implications.

Concern for Youth Leads to Political Shifts

In the book, Luhr writes "how conservative Christians linked youth culture and social problems and how they aggressively sought to reestablish 'youth' as a category of innocence in need of adult protection during the late-twentieth-century culture wars." She writes about the rise of pop music that included Christian heavy metal (remember Stryper?) and Christian rock festivals.

What makes this book important is how it connecting these developments to the political surge of the Religious Right.

Reading the first chapter, I see how she captures a moment in evangelical culture in the early 1980s when record-burning and exposing Satan's hidden lyrics through backward masking moved conservative families to reject the rock-and-roll culture and the sex, drugs, and wild living that went with it. This set up a context for crafting a new Christian pop culture.

She says the creation of a new approach to "popular" (read "mass media") culture was part of a "modernization" project. And I think she's right. She describes the shift from Old Right to New Right:
Evangelicals' cultural interventions reflected a critical shift in conservative religious affinities from Old Right to New Right as evangelicals developed "modern" middle-class suburban sensibilities and consumer habits.

In both old and new mindsets, the family provided a critical building block of Christian society, and believers worried that a secular worldview encroached on familial authority. Proponents of both views feared that popular culture had replaced parents and church as the primary source of children's socialization.

Strict fundamentalists avoided contamination of the Christian worldview by swearing off secular culture—at least in name.

Conversely, suburbanized evangelicals...cautiously accepted television and music into the domestic circle but attempted to maintain careful adult guidance over message and interpretation.

As far as I can tell, playing out this transition is the theme of the book.

Understanding this piece of history a bit more closely, we come to understand yet another aspect of how modernity re-shaped evangelicalism in various ways. This contributes another piece of the puzzle to marking the rise of megachurches, the incorporation of entertainment, the shift in dress codes, the bringing in of movies and top 40 music into "contemporary" services, and a whole host of other developments thousands of church-goers consider quite "normal" today.

And it gives us another opportunity to reflect on religion and culture.

Check It Out

There's more in the book. Here are the core chapters (and Chapter 1 is now available online):

1. Home Improvement: Christian Cultural Criticism and the Defense of "Traditional" Authority
2. Rebel with a Cross: The Creation of a Christian Youth Culture
3. Metal Missionaries to the Nation: Christian Heavy Metal Music, 1984-1994
4. "An MTV Approach to Evangelism": The Cultural Politics of Suburban Revivalism

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Three People in Every Megachurch

Reporting from the Innovation3 Gathering in Dallas, Texas -- I just finished giving a presentation that breaks down the members of every megachurch. "There are only 3 people in your church," I told them.

The best and most recent information on megachurches available was collected by Warren Bird (Leadership Network) and Scott Thumma (Hartford Seminary). They invited me and a small group of other scholars to look through their data. Here's a small sample.

I used focus group transcripts to look at the process of joining a megachurch. I call it "The Three People in Your Church":

The powerpoint is presented here as a "movie". Enjoy!

Also, you can read more on megachurches here.

PBS Video Explores Interracial Churches

A new PBS news video brings attention to racial and ethnic diversity in churches.

Interracial Churches are Rare

The PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly recently featured a video on interracial churches - an uncommon occurence among American churches.

Looking at racial diversity in churches broadly, it also focuses on the experience of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston. It also focuses on the African American experience.

Friends Michael Emerson (Rice University and pictured here) and Korie Edwards (Ohio State University) are featured.

Recent Books on Interracial Churches

Michael Emerson is author of

People of the Dream:
Multiracial Congregations in the United States

and, Korie Edwards is author of

The Elusive Dream:
The Power of Race in Interracial Churches

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'm on PBS - Interview on Striving Towards Multiethnic Church

This was fun. While visiting Grand Rapids, Michigan, I was invited to talk about my research on racial and ethnic diversity in churches as part of season nine of the show Inner Compass.

This is a regular program broadcast over PBS in western Michigan and beyond and also available online.

For the full video through, click here.

Japanese Jesus Manga Comic Book

A Comic Book Jesus is not new, but a Manga Jesus is. Missionaries in Japan have distributed widely a newly printed Manga Messiah for children and adults.

Old-style Western comics just don't cut it.

Paul Beck of Operation Mobilization writes how the gospel of Jesus is getting new packaging. OM has produced a comic book of the Savior in the Japanese Manga style.

From the description:

Published by New Life League, the Manga Messiah is a 300-page comic book that depicts Jesus’ life from birth to resurrection.

Unlike their Western counterparts, young and old Japanese alike love comics, and it’s not unusual to observe a train full of commuters in the Tokyo rush-hour with their heads buried in the latest manga.

“For reaching Japanese, this book is far more effective than showing The Jesus Film,” stated one long-term missionary based in the country.Manga Bible (series)Image via Wikipedia

Can't read Japanese? Don't worry, I found other editions of Manga Messiah available, and a Manga Bible, is also available. Here's another The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation.

Products like these continually remind us how religious media is used (and re-used) to accommodate emerging visual art and carry a missional imperative forward to convey religious messages in forms familiar to local cultures.

What do you think?

Innovation 3 Gathering

I'm traveling today to Dallas for a pre-conference consultation with megachurch leaders at the Innovation3 Gathering, organized by Leadership Network. It seems about 1,000 people are registered for the conference.City of DallasDallas, TX, Image via Wikipedia

This gathering is a new type of conference, one that focuses less on plenary speakers and more on face-to-face dialogue.

The website says,

Innovation3 is a chance for you to do some real networking. You won't just be adding "Facebook friends", but you'll be interacting one-on-one with peers that will help you sharpen your views and collaborate to help change the world.

Parachurch organizations like Leadership Network interested in spreading and stimulating innovation really love these kind of conferences. It's a chance to see people you've heard of, get "behind the scene" details on how things actually work, and hear directly from some of the biggest names in pop-Christianity today. The list of presenters and churches is quite impressive -- evidence of how Leadership Network continues to maintain its credibility of providing worthwhile programming. Scroll over the "Featured Innovators" on the front webpage to learn more.

Anyways... if I hear anything interesting I'll let you know.

I leave early from the conference. From Dallas I'll head to Berkeley, California, to speak at the Earl Lectures at the Pacific School of Religion. If you're there, come say hello.

Tithing - Historian Discusses the First Tenth

Quick post --

Noted Professor of American History Patrick Allitt (Emory University) provides a thoughtful and historically-saturated discussion on church donations, "surely the most potent form of fund-raising."

(Thanks to John Fea's blog.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bob Dylan's Jesus Years

Cover of Cover of Slow Train Coming
"You gotta serve somebody," sang Bob Dylan in the 1979 album Slow Train Coming that publicly announced his conversion to Christianity. Love it or hate it, the evangelicals I knew in Southern California were ecstatic to claim Dylan as their "brother in Christ."

I heard Bob Dylan live in concert when he came to the Davidson College campus -- a great show with only one disappointment. All of us had been imitating Dylan's distinctive way of talking, joking and playing around, in anticipation of hearing the legend himself speak. Two hours later, the concert ended -- and he didn't say even one word the whole time!

Anyways, here's a chance to give yourself a well-after-Christmas treat. Two documentaries on Bob Dylan's Jesus Years are out, the first documentary,

Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years: Busy Being Born... Again!

is a film that documents the years Jesus was most prominent in the artists songs. It's a biography with lots of commentary, one that plays on the shock felt through the music world by Dylan's Christian music. His conversion was unexpected, the reactions mixed, and the continuing relevance uncertain.

From the description:

In late 1978, Bob Dylan fell into the Arms of the Lord through the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church. In his first-ever interview, Dylan's Bible class teacher, Pastor Bill Dwyer, details Bob Dylan's embrace of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Dylan then made three Gospel albums, winning a Grammy for Gotta Serve Somebody. However, Dylan's radical new direction alienated fans and enraged critics as he preached apocalyptic messages from the Book of Revelation.

The film offers "an insider's view of Bob Dylan's "Born Again" transformation, and its effect on his life and music."

There's a trailer and full website. Also, here's a quick review of the film.

I also found another documentary,

Bob Dylan: 1978-1989 - Both Ends of the Rainbow

From the description:

Reviews the years from late-1978 to the release of 1989's Oh Mercy - an album that was seen by many as a huge return to form.

Both DVD's cover Dylan's overtly Christian years. Many question whether Dylan abandoned the faith, or if it's just a more subtle aspect of his life today.

What do you think?

Friday, January 23, 2009

New De-Con Motto: Love the Believer, Question the Belief

I just read another compelling de-conversion story from my favorite "former-fundie," Christine Vyrnon. You can also go back and read my other recent posts on de-conversion.LAKE FOREST, CA - DECEMBER 1:  Saddleback Chur...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

In the wake of Rick Warren's inaugural prayer comes another story (and a few rants) from former Christian and de-conversionist Christine Vyrnon. Oooh boy, she seems kind of mad.

Still, her post is an interesting, emotionally-saturated response to the mix of religion and politics.

Most interesting to me?

First, her description of her pre-de-conversion "JC Posee,"

I had miraculously survived an Evangelical Lutheran liberal arts college with barely a scratch to my Faith and therefore they considered me quite world-wise (ha! joke's on them).

We compared notes and occasionally made fun of the intolerance of our evangelical, fundamentalist belief system. We encouraged each other not only in our Faith, but our spiritual and secular musical and thespian endeavors. We “broke bread” together with irony and laughter. We discussed how to not get hung up on the letter of the biblical law while honoring God’s Word, the Bible, as ultimate Truth.

Post-grunge, mid hip-hop, pre-hipster… my JC Posse.

(Here's Christine's re-worked Jesus image on right.)

Second, her absorption (or re-absorption) of the tenets of forgiveness and love,

...while I try to sort through my emotions of yet another evangelical pastor blessing a head of state, while I steel myself for potentially 8 more years of yet another brand of evangelical christianity, while I test my ability to stomach 8 more years of watching politicians and religious leaders giving head and hand jobs to each other above and below the table to the point of a twisted orgy, I HOPE to practice overcoming my (self)righteous anger.
This Gutenberg Bible is displayed by the Unite...Image via Wikipedia
Love and forgiveness is the evangelical christian's cornerstone. I am determined to return it to them “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).

Third, her determination to "out-evangelical the evangelicals" brings her to her new "de-con" motto. She writes,

"Love the Sinner - Hate the Sin" is soooo Bush era politics.

My new motto:

LOVE the Believer. QUESTION the Belief.

Once again, Christine surprises me with her remarkable compassion for people while utterly rejecting the conservative beliefs they hold.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What We Know about Megachurches

An excellent review of research on megachurches is now available in the December 2008 issue of the journal Sociology Compass. Here's a preview. A great book on megachurches is also now available.

The State of the Megachurch

A new article comes from the award winning author of

which won the annual best book award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Here's the article:

Review Article by Stephen Ellingson
Department of Sociology, Hamilton College

A brief overview of the article says,
Megachurches represent an emerging and powerful force within American Religion. These large, Protestant churches that average at least 2,000 attendees per week are reshaping religion locally, regionally, and nationally as well as at the denominational and congregational levels.

Megachurch leaders have been leaders in religious innovation since the 1970s, ushering in major changes in church architecture, ritual practices, polity, and marketing. In this essay, I review the nascent literature on megachurches.

First, I discuss the major descriptive findings from several surveys and case studies of megachurches. Second, I examine scholars' efforts to explain how and why megachurches have emerged and grown over the past forty years. Finally, I suggest several lines of future inquiry that may allow sociologists of religion to extend or refine existing cultural and market based theories of religious change and church-sect theory."

Highlights on the American Megachurch

The article is a tightly-packed summary of what we know about megachurches today.

For example, Ellingson tells us the growth of megachurches really began in the 1970s:

(expand browser for full image)

Ellingson also tells us most megachurches are denominational, but one-third are non-denominational (mostly evangelical and conservative Protestant):

And Ellingson also includes a section about how megachurches are restructuring American religion:

This is just a brief sample. The full article can be found here (sorry, subscription required).

Best Book on Megachurches Available Today

Beyond Megachurch Myths:
What We Can Learn from America's Largest Churches

(Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series)
by Scott Thumma and Dave Travis

The book includes a forward by Rick Warren.

My own published review of this book appears in Reviews in Religion & Theology
Volume 15 Issue 3, Pages 336 - 338.

Other quick reviews:
"In this groundbreaking book, Scott Thumma and Dave Travis share their keen insight and unique understanding of the megachurch phenomena in one accessible volume. This book is a significant addition to the literature and knowledge of megachurch studies."
—Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., senior director and missiologist, Center for Missional Research, North American Mission Board

"Megachurches are here to stay and will attract continuing interest. Thumma and Travis have done us all a great service by setting the record straight."
—Robert Wuthnow, Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor of Social Sciences and director, Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University

"This is the most thorough, insightful, and helpful book ever written on megachurches."
—Mark Driscoll, pastor, Mars Hill Church, Seattle, Washington