Sometimes it is hard to know how to gauge these things…overt religious behavior is not necessarily the only "sign" of spiritual vitality. Yet Jesus said some powerful things about a "tree is known by its fruit." Now, these types of behaviors are the types of things that are easier to measure than what's really going on in a person's heart. You can test a person on bible knowledge where it is a bit more difficult to test a person on how they are "loving" or patient or demonstrating gentleness of spirit in relationships. It is easier to see how a person is acting in terms of ministry volunteerism than it is to check a person's financial "house" to see if they have a generous spirit or to put people through a "beatitudes grid" to see how that aspect of their character is being shaped by the power of the Spirit. You can measure church attendance but it is more difficult to watch a person LIVE kingdom realities in their life…so, some of this information must be taken contextually from a broader perspective. YET, and I mean that, these are interesting statistics on how the nature of the public faith is taking a hit in a post-christendom culture…so, take a peek. Barna promises that more information is coming soon…I have met George and I know he is sincere and passionate about what he does and how his ministry benefits the Church as a whole…although I always try to contextualize and couch his findings with a bit of a broader perspective, his work IS important and "prophetic" (in a sense that it does grab and demand attention). You can check it out on your own HERE.
Religious Trends over the past twenty years:
- Bible reading undertaken during the course of a typical week, other than passages read while attending church events, has declined by five percentage points. Currently an estimated 40% of adults read the Bible during a typical week.
- Church volunteerism has dropped by eight percentage points since 1991. Presently, slightly less than one out of every five adults (19%) donates some of their time in a typical week to serving at a church.
- Adult Sunday school attendance has also diminished by eight percentage points over the past two decades. On any given Sunday, about 15% of adults can be expected to show up in a Sunday school class.
- The most carefully watched church-related statistic is adult attendance. Since 1991, attendance has receded by nine percentage points, dropping from 49% in 1991 to 40% in 2011.
- The most prolific change in religious behavior among those measured has been the increase in the percentage of adults categorized as unchurched. The Barna Group definition includes all adults who have not attended any religious events at a church, other than special ceremonies such as a wedding or funeral, during the prior six month period. In 1991, just one-quarter of adults (24%) were unchurched. That figure has ballooned by more than 50%, to 37% today.
You know, sometimes you just need to give yourself a break. Today, I'm in one of those modes…a lot of writing and thinking lately. In fact, I'm not feeling any burn out but my "head hurts"…not physically, just mentally. I was sitting at my desk attempting to come up with something interesting, witty, provocative, engaging, or entertaining on which to post…I have a book I'm reading on "pervasive interpretive pluralism"…ooo, that's tasty. Then again, I just finished talking to a group of other followers of Jesus about the book of Revelation…can't go wrong with that. Even more so, I'm heading off in a bit to see another movie…could wait for a quick review to post. Instead, I just sat back in my chair, breathed a sigh of relief and said, "time out". NO significant post…just a few thoughts and a moment of no pressure. Good enough?
So, consider this…I read this week some statistics about what percentage of institutional church "members" were actually participating in the flow of LIFE in their local faith communities. OF course, this particular magazine (which, at this point, will remain nameless) was attempting to downplay the significance (rather "shocking" nature of the statistic) by saying "well, every other denomination is experiencing the same thing." And that's my point…institutional membership is irrelevant and unnecessary. I know that it is a good "nose counting" technique to have a "membership" that people can count on…but trust me, people aren't making "membership" commitments anylonger and if they do, they really don't mean much. Just so that you are in the loop on the numbers, this one denomination was reporting only 27% of their membership across the nation attended a worship experience over the course of a YEAR. You read that right…a whole year. That's why a person's commitment needs to be focused in the right place…having a membership in a church isn't what is necessarily motivational for a person's involvement and investment in their faith journey…a vibrant relationship with Jesus and HIS mission and purposes is that which makes a difference. Now, there are many, many factors on why a person does or does not involve themselves in a local church's activity…so we can't be too simplistic. But just because someone is on the membership roles does not mean that they are in any way, shape or form being "proactive" in cooperating with the Spirit's leadership in their lives or even interested in sharing the life of spiritual community. There is this "old thing" that I've run across with some people that membership in a local church means that they got their "heavenly ticket" and they have that particular question in their life covered…unfortunately, that's a ticket that won't be punched. Now, I'm all for participation and commitment to a local faith community…that's vital. As followers of Jesus, we are wired up for community and we NEED community…but membership issues have got to be reevaluated. I don't have any answers…all I know is that having a membership and then having dismal statistics on people acting on that membership simply begs the question, "who are we kidding?" You see, the people involved in community are making a commitment NOT to a what (a local church) but to a WHO (Jesus – who call them, draws them and nurtures them through community). The vitality of participation in a local church's life (i.e. ministry) must find its motivational power in other dynamics than what USED TO BE the primary motivator…membership. So friends, what's your solution? One that I've heard is to simply "pair down" membership to those who participate on a more "regular" basis…in other words, if your name is on the rolls and you don't "show up" for (whatever timeline you want to insert), your membership is dropped. A second solution is to NOT have a membership at all…I know a number of people who are doing that. Another is to have a membership that is more "exclusive"…membership tied to specific "actions" (e.g. giving levels, involvement in leadership in ministries, etc.) that would cause the membership to be deliniated from the "attendees". I know that there are other solutions out there…but to have a membership and then read statistics like that noted above makes a mockery of our "numbers." Somebody once told me, "you value what you measure"…well, if that is the case, we are valuing mediocrity and spiritual apathy. I don't want that…so the debate goes on. Membership or not? And, if you have a membership, why? What is its purpose? It isn't salvific (unless you belong to a church that believes it is THE ONLY WAY)…so what is the point? You tell me…I'm open…really!
I ran into this blog post a couple weeks back and saved it for JUST A TIME AS THIS…post Harry Potter. Yep, Vicky and I joined the millions who dropped some serious dollars for the final installment of Mr. Potter and his pals (and demons and antagonist). Frankly, I was sad to see the series end. I have enjoyed the Potter saga…in print and on film. Yes, some of the early movies were a bit "childish"…more child-like considering the fact that they starred and featured a child's story. But the movies got increasingly sophisticated and proved that all the critical and negative Potter hype by some within the community of faith was unfounded. Here was a true struggle between good and evil…conflicted, human characters…imagery that is downright biblical. Yes, it is NOT a perfect film…the books will continue to be, in my mind, the premium Potter experience (Rowling's writing style is simply delightful) but the movies were fun and acted in a manner that pulled the audience into the character's journey (and ultimate struggles and celebrations). Without saying more and making this post unbearably long, I ran into a good article that actually encourages some good stuff regarding movies…something unique and novel – being purposefully reflective. See what you think and check out the original post on his blog:
Thinking Critically at the Movies (http://www.jrbriggs.com/)
I have a confession to make.
One of the things that irks me when I go to the movie theater is when the movie is done, the credits begin to roll and everyone gets up out of their seats and leaves.
Why do people do that?
We’ve just spent 2 hours investing our lives in this movie. We’ve paid good money (too much, if you ask me) to watch this film. Why are we all rushing to get up and leave so that we can sit in traffic in the parking lot trying to leave like everyone else? We can’t invest another four minutes of our lives to sit quietly and think about the film during the credits?
This may sound silly or nit-picky, but this is a big deal to me. I wish it were a bigger deal to other people, too. As followers of Jesus, we’re asked to love God with all of our minds. Why can that not include the movie theater?
Some people go to the movies for amusement. “To amuse” literally means to “not think.” [a- not, muse – think]. I go to the movies because I want to learn and be moved by something. And I know its not very popular. My wife strongly dislikes when I do this. After the movie, she leans over, sighs and then whispers, “I’m going to the restroom. I’ll meet you in the lobby.”
And I sit there until the very end, until the lights come up again. Why do I do this?
Several reasons: I learn things that all the other rushed moviegoers don’t. Who the stars are. Where the movie was filmed. I get to listen to a usually beautiful and thoughtful song or two. And I get a chance to slow down and think.
9 times out of 10 I’m the only one left in the theater. On my way out, I usually receive an awkward glance from the teenage employee with broom in hand who’s paid minimum wage to sweep the cinemuck off the floor.
But I don’t care.
The best mental processing of the film happens while the credits roll.
Sometimes the film has moved me deeply. I’ve felt something significant.
During the past two hours the film may have made me laugh or cry or think in new ways or I’ve been appalled – or all of the above. Something moved me deeply. Why rush onto the next thing until I’ve paused long enough to ask why? Does the bottlenecked parking lot offer me a better environment to process what I’ve just learned? Hardly.
As the credits roll slowly, I try to ask myself these sorts of questions:
-Why did the director invest so much time and energy into making this film?
-If he/she were next to me, what would they want me to feel/think? What would I tell them?
-How does this film impact my life or how I think about how life is lived?
-What values run contrary to the gospel story? What values are consistent with the gospel story?
-What does this tell us about life? Is this consistent/inconsistent with my worldview?
-Why did that one scene make me cry? What was it deep within me that moved me so much?
-How am I to respond to this film? Was it just simply ‘entertainment’ or is there a deeper reason behind why this film was created?
-What implications does this film have on how I interact and care about God? How I interact and care about people?
Next time you’re at the theater, try it. I dare you.
Resist the urge to get up and run to your car like everyone else. Just sit there.
Tell your friends and family members to go the restroom and meet you in the lobby. (It’s an extra four minutes. They can handle it).
And, hey, you’ve already paid for it. Why not enjoy the film all the way to the end? Sometimes you may see some outtakes or even find an extra (hidden) portion of the film that others miss (remember the extra ending of Napoleon Dynamite?)
Just sit there. Relax. Be still. And think.
Actually, this video was produced by another “denomination”, that being, another gathering of like-minded followers of Jesus who are attempting to live out their faith and understanding of God in relationship with each other. Denominations gather around a number of different factors – commonality of heritage, ethnicity, theological frameworks and understandings as well as interests and strategies. Believe me, no one denomination has a “corner” on truth…that’s why I embrace my heritage but also listen with a keen ear and open heart to what others are saying and thinking about their journey in living God’s promises and experiencing God’s love. We all take our best shot at doing and being what Jesus calls us to do and be. For now, here’s a video that caught my attention…a number of my facebook pals brought it to my attention. Enjoy!