Can hipster Christianity save churches from decline?

“Christianity’s true relevance lies not in the gospel’s comfortable trendiness but in its uncomfortable transcendence, as a truth with the power to rebuff, renew and restore wayward humanity at every epoch in history.

“Research also indicates that millennials do prefer ‘real’ churches over ‘cool’ ones. Contrary to the belief that churches must downplay their churchiness and meet in breweries or warehouses in order to appeal to millennials, a 2014 Barna study showed that millennials actually prefer church spaces that are straightforward and overtly Christian. The same study reported that when millennials described their ‘ideal church,’ they preferred ‘classic’ (67 percent) over ‘trendy’ (33 percent).”

Read the entire article: Can hipster Christianity save churches from decline? (source: Washington Post)

Can hipster Christianity save the church?

Can hipster Christianity save the church?

5 reasons why young people are seeking old ways of doing church

This migration began in earnest back in the 1990’s and is not coming into its own. I look at my own experience and understand that those of us, back then, were on the forefront of this migration among X-er’s, and now even more so among Millennial’s.

These are the general 5 reasons:

  1. Authenticity
  2. Rootedness
  3. Mystery
  4. Icons & Symbolism
  5. Participation

From the article:

“The departure of young people from “new” churches to “old” ones can be deeply confusing to many who grew up with strict denominational boundaries. However, it has the potential to lead to healthy, restorative spaces for many of God’s people. After all, we are all one church. As Brian Zhand expresses it; ‘we need the whole body of Christ to properly form the body of Christ. This much I’m sure of: Orthodox mystery, Catholic beauty, Anglican liturgy, Protestant audacity, Evangelical energy, Charismatic reality — I need it all!’

Read the post, here

http://www.churchinacircle.com/2015/03/31/why-young-people-are-seeking-old-ways-of-doing-church/

How are we influenced?

American exceptionalism today – the same as or similar to American “messianism” of the mid-nineteenth century… right before the Civil War? Yes, I think – and what it does, negatively, to the religion, the common perception of it all, and the spiritual welfare of Americans.

Professor Mark Noll in his book, “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis,” writes about the debates going on between pro- and anti-slavery theologians and biblical scholars leading up to the Civil War. The following quote comes from his analysis of Moses Stuart, considered one of America’s most competent biblical scholars of the time, a Reformed theologian, and how Stuart allowed his American citizenship (American messianism/exceptionalism) to overwhelm his scholarship and common application of scripture.

According to Noll, Stuart was compromised and thus blantantly inconsistent – his advocacy for slavery within his sense of “America” clouded his exegesis to the point of believing in the scriptural allowance of it. Are we are doing the same, today, in allowing notions of “America” to infringe upon and cloud what we are supposed to be and do as citizens of a different kingdom? We (many of us who claim Christ) make an idol of this nation-state and this notion of American exceptionalism. (This need not infringe upon the imagination of the American Ideal grasped by so many around the world and often forgotten by us, the supposed holders of it.)

From Noll, dealing with the specific debate over returning escaped slaves to their owners:

“Stuart, however, did not seem to feel that escaped slaves – considered as either Christians or potential Christians – had a higher claim on fellow believers than did Southern slaveholders considered as fellow American citizens. Rather, by overriding his commitment to standard Reformed theology, Stuart’s strong sense of American national messianism constrained his interpretation of Scripture. Even for this rightly honored defender of strict biblical exegesis, race exerted a powerful sway. White fellow Americans counted far more than black fellow Christians. Analogical Israel meant more than Spiritual Israel. A dubious theological warrant (treating America as the chosen people) exerted more force than a strong theological warrant (including blacks in the fellowship of the Church.” (Noll, p. 61)

Deep Trends & Christian Institutions

For those who have ears to hear… What do you think?  It is my experience, and from what I witness and read concerning leadership in many denominational and even “emergent” structures, that we honestly only want to gather around us those who scratch our itching ears… we don’t want to step back and carefully consider what is going on around us and what then is necessary to do.  If it fits our preconception and personal want, fine, but it if doesn’t, we ignore or reject it – to our own peril.  Click on the link, below, for the article.

Deep trends affecting Christian institutions

What do you think?

We’re rethinking…

So, I’m in the midst of rethinking the “Imago Dei Initiative.”  Part of our DNA is an understanding that rethinking has to occur regularly and constantly.  As folks engaging with emerging generations and culture, what else can we do?

Up-front-and-center is the need to refocus ministry development in the midst of parish life. After nearly 20-years of observing “Emergent” or “Fresh Expressions” models of being “the church” – at least that part that eschews larger gatherings of people for the “intimate-alternative” – I find that those models tend to be transient and temporary.  As valuable as they may be for the people in them, such small groups over time are not particularly sustainable and certainly do not do things like pay diocesan assessments. I fully support those trying alternative things – that’s what we are doing, frankly. It just depends on how “alternative” is conceptualized and experienced. 😉

There are reasons why aspects of the Christian Faith and Tradition have endured for nearly 2,000 years, even as our understanding and experience of society, humanity, and technology have changed.  The institutional Church must realize that those experimental forms of “church”, as valuable as they may be, are not the future. The fringe never is.  The fringe, however, will inevitably change us!  Yet, that which has endured will continue to endure no matter how radically-whatever we try to be, and the rest will fall away.

The current Church bureaucracy of technocrats still function under a perceptional framework based in Modernism and Christendom – no matter how much they try, otherwise.  It is obvious to anyone who was not formed to perceive in such ways. So, the real re-invigoration of the institutional Church will rest with those younger – so shall it be as it always has been. The holders of elder-wisdom who get-it will be there to guild and support.  Those who don’t – well, they will hinder until they can hinder no more. Thankfully, the emerging generations at present have a keener understanding of and value for that which endures.

So then, how do we perpetually put aside our own “stuff” for the sake of the Church-becoming… for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in present contexts… for the sake of those who do not yet have a knowledge of God?

Pay attention clerics and search committees…

Attention clerics and search committees of the Church – This short blog post: Rectors (Pastors): The Odds are Against You! from an experience, retired cleric (Fr. Robert Terrill) is simply the reality and everyone has to face up to it – particularly those bishops with jurisdiction, especially the Executive Council, and finally the General Convention (throw into the mix seminary deans and professors).

From the Episcopal Journey of Hope blog of

“Again the question, ‘Parish clergy, do you want to improve the odds?’ First, you must be a strong leader.  Barna’s [Barna Research Group] studies found that churches that ‘call’ caretakers, healers, managers, administrators, teachers or consensus builders fail to gain ground.  Good intentions coupled with the title of Pastor or Rector is not enough.  Barna states, ‘toughness is requisite for leadership in making decisions that disturb the status quo but benefit the body.’  The point is that leadership is not about being loved by everybody.  It is doing what is best for the parish even though it may stir up some complaints or disturb tranquil settings.”

Read the whole post here.

Trans-cultural

“Oddly, I leave this project [the National Study of Youth and Religion] strangely hopeful. The best news about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is that teenagers do not buy it as faith. They but _into_ it – it shapes them nicely for fitting into American society, since it conforms so neatly to America’s dominant cultural ethos. Youth and parents are correct if they think Moralistic Therapeutic Deism will outfit them better for success in American society than Christianity will. Those who want to succeed in American life, and attain high levels of visibility in it, will find that being theologically bland helps immeasurably. Yet the gospel is very clear: God wants to liberate us from being defined by these circumstances, so that we are free to follow Jesus regardless of the culture we call home” (“Almost Christian”, by Kendra Creasy Dean, p. 192)

So then, what is our goal as the Church, as priests of the Church, and as the people who are the Church?

Will it be whatever gets us the most attention from the general public? Will it be what makes us the most successful within general society? Will it be whatever we think will cause those in power to like us? Will it be bland conformity to the cultural zeitgeist? Will it be the vain presumption that we (of a generation) can make up the religion that comes from the Faith under our own volition?

Or… or will it be faithfulness to the enduring way if Christ? The way that has not only survived but thrived through the millennia, through a vast array of cultures and languages, through very divergent circumstances – will it be by way of the wisdom of generations past who found life-to-the-full in the troublesome Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Change and adaptation are always with us! Change isn’t the enemy, but we must be wise about the change we engage in. We must be discerning concerning the change agents.

The adaptation we need most right now revolves around perception and intention. We will be, must be even now, trans-cultural with respect to the prevailing American culture and the Way of Christ – in the world and all that is positive and negative, yet not of it. We chart an independent course. We will acquire by the way if grace the strength and resulting freedom for doing so.

Changing perceptions

prattshowposterIt was interesting to me to see and hear what these young “creatives” from the Pratt Institute are thinking about in their design theory, creative process, social understanding, and sense of where things are going through their art (fine, graphic, communications, media, digital, etc.) and design (architecture, industrial, interior, fashion, furniture, etc.).  300 of Pratt’s most accomplished graduating students are presenting their work at the annual Pratt Institute juried exhibit at the Manhattan Center.

One observation deals with their projection of the “post-digital” age – their words.  Did you “hear” that? A rediscovery and assertion of the analogue concept – not really about sound recording, but applied to all manner of things.  There is a sense that their current reality is within a developing “post-digital” age in conceptual ways, but most profoundly in relational ways.

The other interesting observance deals with social understandings.  In the “interior design” exhibit, there is a presentation of interior space as a means for relational community generation and development.  The project deals with ways of designing large, interior gathering spaces, and in this instance a “mega-church” is the project focus.  Remember, these are all incredibly well thought out projects – many have won national awards. Smack-dab in the middle of the interior depiction graphic of the “mega-church” are people in pews (yes, pews) as if right after the service is ending.  Along with others, there are two guys holding hands, a couple.  There are a good number of Christians at Pratt – and they are very adept at naturally integrating their faith in their creative work, but not like what general society is used to.  My assumption is that a project depicting a “mega-church” is probably a Christian student’s.

Which leads me to this: The profoundly destructive battles being waged in the Culture Wars are just not there for these folks (a war mostly being fought by Baby-Boomers and the first part of GenX – like me).  The dualistic tendencies (and frankly, fundamentalistic whether political or religious) are not present, as of yet.  Yet, I say, because moving into adulthood in these times seems to dictate a giving up of hope, excitement, wonder, and discovery for something like cynicism, drudgery, abject anger, bitterness, and forlornness.

In these students, there is still hope!  That’s why I like working with students – there is still positive hope!

The “Faith” and the “Religion” of Jesus

The recent interview in Rolling Stone of Marcus Mumford of the Grammy awarding winning music group “Mumford and Sons” gets at a developing distinction being made between the “faith” and the “religion” revolving around Jesus Christ.  Marcus was raised by parents who were instrumental in the development of the Vineyard Church in his native land, the U.K.

Increasingly, I’ve been making this distinction over the last couple of years.  This is not the same thing as “spiritual but not religious.”  The “faith” contra “religion” of the endeavor of following Jesus Christ tends to come from those who truly are engaged in their “faith” even if they don’t purport to engage in the “religion.”

Among the attitudes of younger people, generally, this isn’t necessary a negativity toward organized religion per se, though they will certainly point out the hypocrisy of and the negative things about those who call themselves Christians.  Can you blame them?

I found this comment made by a person reading the article interesting:

BRAVO for Marcus Mumford! Jesus’ person and life is the great equalizer and exemplar of FAITH. Not of Church-codified “Christianity” which, while theologically and liturgically may be the “body” of Christ, is NOT the essence of FAITH. An inability to distinguish between these two, and the ignorant over-indulgance in dogmatic, punitive and politicized theology has veritably severed the (Church) body of Christianity from Jesus, its head. Leaving it an amputated appendage bleeding out–useless and fruitless, for those whom Jesus most intended its spiritual, and Religious embrace.

This can be said of both the present-day liberal or conservative churches and para-church organizations.

I think this sums up the attitudes developing within emerging culture.  This doesn’t mean the institutional Church with its “cultic ritual practices” (technical term in theology) and doctrinal stuff involved are rejected out of hand. This does mean, however, that the hypocritical attitudes, words, and behaviors of people within those institutions who call themselves “Christian” are rejected – that which any outside observer knows does not particularly match up with how Jesus calls us to act and be.  That’s the “religion” that is rejected – that which comes from the people calling themselves Christians but doesn’t mirror Jesus.  The “faith” is the authentic engagement with Jesus Christ whether found inside or outside the institution.

Where we are…

I’m reading Proverbs – seek wisdom!

Within the Church (and greater American Christianity) there is much “wisdom” that is going around these days on how to “save the Church” and increase involvement in Christianity among the increasingly disinterested and disaffected.

There is a standard and official, “This is what you have to do to survive and grow…” But, we tend to not really look around to see what is working, instead we tend to want to double-down doing what is subjectively familiar (even if not objectively working).

The parish I’ve served in for the past nine years has nearly doubled its average Sunday attendance within this time frame – and most of the new people are twenty-thirty somethings, singles, young-families.  Yet, if you listen to the “wisdom” of the zeitgeist that is going around concerning how our churches need to be situated, by what we do and focus on, we should have no one attending.  We seem to be the anti-zeitgeist (but not intentionally – we just don’t get caught up in all that “stuff”).

We never talk about inclusion or welcome.  Yet, we have tea-party people and Communists (literally – except for the religion part).  We have Socialist and stanch Capitalists.  We have people who think the next Pope should be a woman and people who think women shouldn’t be priests.  We have gay people marrying and people who think marriage is only between a man and a woman.

We never talk about diversity.  Yet, we have African-Americans, West Indians, and African-nationals; we have Hispanics and Asians and Middle-Easterners.  The majority is now Caucasian, but in the past they weren’t.  We have people who struggle mightily with belief in all this stuff and people who have amazing, deep, and simple faith.  We have people who have been members for literally 80-years and four new babies this past month.

Worse yet, our music is traditional (hymns for the 1982 hymnal with anthems and the like) our liturgy is non-fussy Anglo-Catholic with old fiddle-back chasubles (not all) with maniples, three sacred ministers, and “smells & bells.”  We are absolutely straight Prayer Book.  We use Rite I in our Sunday Mass and don’t change the words.  We celebrate “East-facing” with the priest leading the people all facing “East” together.  Frankly, we should be driving people out of the church screaming.  Yet, we are growing and struggling to keep up with the new people coming in.  Right now, we aren’t doing a good job with youth group ministry.  We don’t glory in all this, we don’t fight to maintain it, we just do it – it is just us.

Our sermons tend to be long for Episcopalians – probably closer to 15-minutes than not.  We don’t use all the buzzwords.  We rely on Scripture to do the talking.  We don’t emote all over the place, we don’t tell people that they should be liberals or conservatives or support the latest, greatest causes – we trust the people do determine for themselves what to be involved in as long as they obey the two great commands of Jesus (which they hear every week in the Rite I liturgy).

We don’t have an agenda, other than being the Body of Christ in this location – loving God with all our being and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

If we listen to the “powers that be” in current American Christianity we should stop doing just about everything we do.  Except, that is, if we listen and look around with humble hearts and seeking-to-learn attitudes and with open minds to listen and observe where God is building up His Church – those places that are growing like gang-busters, particularly among younger people – and observe what God is doing.

You see, those in power don’t need to be a block to what is coming.  There doesn’t need to be a “new movement” separate from the established institutions that live into new methods and approaches that resonate with the emerging generation.  They don’t need to be the block or hindrance, but too often they are.  At some point, we will learn or we will fade away.  “How do we not fade away?  Into the wild” we should go!

That, I think, is a good beginning point for employing wisdom.