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A thought-provoking post from “Gospel-Driven Church” blog. I think this is spot-on true. What do you think?

Your Church May Not be A Church If . . .

You rarely, if ever, hear the word “sin” there.

When you do hear the word “sin,” it is only only briefly mentioned, or redefined as “mistakes.”

You can’t remember when you last heard the name of Jesus in a message.

The Easter message isn’t about the resurrection but “new opportunities” in your life or turning over a new leaf.

On patriotic holiday weekends, the message is about how great America is.

On the other weekends, the message is about how great you are.

There are more videos than prayers.

People don’t sing during “worship,” but watch.

The pastors’ chief responsibilities are things foreign to Scripture.

There is more money budgeted for advertising than for mission.

The majority of the small groups are oriented around sports or leisure, not study or service.

You always feel comfortable there.

Church membership just appears to be a recruiting system for volunteers.

You only see other church people on Sunday mornings at church.


WARNING: If your church meets one or more of these, it might be a spiritual pep rally, a religious performance center, a Christian social club, or something else entirely, but it is probably not, biblically speaking, a gathering of the Church.

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By Catherine Cheney

A new national study indicates a link between the size of a congregation and the religious and political behavior and beliefs of its members. “There are clearly significant differences between the smallest and largest Protestant churches in terms of the theological beliefs of its adherents,” concluded the Barna Group, a conservative Christian research company.

But two other religion researchers, Cynthia Woolever of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey and Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, caution that the Barna study does not account for differences within congregations, nor does it consider other contributing factors related to church size.

The Barna study, “How Faith Varies by Church Size,” says that “attenders of large churches were substantially more likely than those of small churches to be active,” in such activities as attending church, reading the Bible, and volunteering.

But Thumma found just the opposite in his survey of people attending churches of different sizes. “Megachurch attenders are less likely to attend frequently, give less, and are roughly equal in their spiritual growth, reported spiritual fulfillment and prayer life,” Thumma wrote.

The Barna study also says that adults attending large Protestant churches — or megachurches — were more likely to be registered to vote and more likely to vote Republican. George Barna, President of Barna Group, said in a phone interview that people who attend services at megachurches tend to have a more orthodox interpretation of the Bible and tend to be more politically active because of that.

“There are biblical teachings about the importance of supporting the government, participating in community life, and being a good citizen,” Barna said. “So I think a lot of people would then make the jump to think therefore I should be registered to vote, I should vote as consistently as possible, I should vote with the way I interpret biblical teachings.”

Woolever and Thumma agree, based on their own findings, that those who attend megachurches tend to have a more “by the book” interpretation of the Bible, but neither have found any evidence to substantiate the claim that Protestants in megachurches are more likely to be registered to vote. “I don’t think there is a difference by size of church if you control for other factors,” wrote Woolever.

The Barna study says that those who attend megachurches are also more likely to vote Republican. Thumma agrees, citing 2008 data gathered by the Hartford Institute on 400 megachurches, which revealed that “a majority of those who go to megachurches are Republican.”

But Thumma warns that the increased likelihood of Republican political leanings among adults who attend megachurches is not necessarily related to the size of the church. “There are also many other variables [aside from size] that also contribute to the distinctions found between small and large churches, and the differences between their attenders,” he wrote. “Contributing factors could include the fact that very large churches are far more likely found in older and newer suburban areas of major metro sprawl cities, their attenders are far more likely to be educated, middle class, younger, and therefore wealthier.”

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Twenty years ago, megachurches might have rated an asterisk in a journalistic overview of U.S. Christianity. Today, an estimated 12 million Americans consider one of these mammoth congregations to be their church home, making the megachurch phenomenon one of the most important for religion in modern times.

LakewoodMoreover, some of the most prominent pastors in the U.S. today are megachurch clergy, including Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. Their profiles and messages — through best-selling books, speaking tours and television broadcasts — have a visibility and audience beyond the large congregations they preach to every weekend.

What’s behind the accelerated growth of these churches? What are the implications for congregations – and in some cases denominations – that are left behind? How might megachurches shape the Christianity of tomorrow? Too often, misconceptions affect Americans’ understanding of these matters and more. ReligionLink offers sources and background for exploring the questions.

Why it matters

It’s been estimated that megachurches represent just one-half of 1 percent of all U.S. religious congregations but that they account for roughly 10 percent of churchgoing Protestants. As a result, megachurches are reshaping the religious landscape – and in some cases their surrounding secular communities, as well. In addition, the megachurch story is a global story, as the explosive growth of Christianity in Asia and Africa has been accompanied by a rise in huge congregations.

The basics

Just what is a megachurch? Academics apply the term to Protestant congregations averaging at least 2,000 worshippers at weekly services. There are at least 1,200 megachurches in the U.S., according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. More than 43,000 people a week attend the biggest one, Lakewood Church in Houston, according to Forbesmagazine – but the Hartford Institute says even Lakewood is dwarfed by some megachurches elsewhere in the world, particularly South Korea.

Story angles

Story possibilities involving megachurches are nearly as vast as the churches themselves. Here are just a few:

Going off-label? The 2007 book Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn From America’s Largest Churchesdetails a number of misconceptions about megachurches. One of the most common is that they’re all nondenominational; in reality, about two-thirds are affiliated with a national denomination, with Southern Baptists claiming the largest share (16 percent), say the book’s co-authors, Scott Thumma and Dave Travis. Even so, megachurches often downplay the denominational connection, and their very size tends to foster a sense of independence. Many don’t rely on denominations, for example, for educational resources or mission trips – they simply create their own. (See this September 2008 article from Travis’ organization, Leadership Network, a church networking group.) How does this functional independence affect denominations? What tensions or possible benefits result from it? What is the relationship between megachurches and denominations in your area?

Different schools of thought? Megachurches also tend to be less dependent than other churches on seminaries. The largest churches often cultivate and train their own leaders from within; some pastors – most famously, Joel Osteen – are not seminary graduates. Meanwhile, the recession has left some seminaries struggling. (See a July 14, 2009, story in The Christian Century.) What does the megachurch model mean for the future of seminaries, especially in light of the difficult economy? What are the challenges for seminaries in preparing students for very large as well as very small congregational environments? How does a lack of formal seminary training affect pastoral leadership and ultimately congregants’ spiritual growth?

The elephant in the neighborhood? Multisite campuses are becoming common for megachurches. Advantages can include convenience for outlying members and less impact on the main campus’s neighbors than expansion of the central site would cause. The arrangement can have downsides, too, though. How do megachurches in your area see it? Has rapid membership growth brought conflict with other property owners over land use and traffic? Do neighborhood associations and municipalities prefer the satellite approach rather than one supersize campus? What are multisite churches doing to encourage a sense of unity among their campuses?

What next? Megachurches are known for embracing new ways of doing things, from worship and music styles to social networking. What trends and tools are they experimenting with in your area? Is virtual/online worship being tried? If so, what’s been the response?

Extra-large help for extra-large needs? For some churchgoers, size can mean important programs and services that might not be possible at a smaller church. Parents of children with autism or other disabilities, for example, may find that megachurches are better-equipped to meet their needs because there are multiple families in the congregation with similar situations. Check with local churches, parents and advocacy groups to see if this is the case in your city.

Competition or cooperation? What kinds of relationships have developed between your community’s megachurches and nearby congregations? Are they collegial, strained or something in between? Some megachurches offer conferences and coaching to leaders of smaller churches. What’s happening in your town?

Growing pains? In 2008, one of the nation’s biggest churches, Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago, began shifting away from “seeker-centered” services in order to better meet the needs of more spiritually mature believers. The decision came after a study found that many of those members felt stalled or dissatisfied with the church. Have other seeker-oriented churches followed suit? What are megachurches in your area doing to accommodate the spectrum of members’ spiritual maturity levels?

Economic stimulant, or unfair advantage? Some megachurches have shown an entrepreneurial streak, with cafes, bookstores, athletic facilities and even retail and residential developments. Advocates say these activities provide jobs and other benefits, but critics suggest that they might also unfairly compete with private business – and cause people of other faiths to feel excluded from community gathering spots. Has this been an issue in your city?

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – A federal judge has ruled two Connecticut public high schools can’t hold their graduations inside a church because that would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall made the ruling Monday in the case of Enfield High School and Enrico Fermi High School, both in Enfield.

The Enfield school board says it voted to hold services June 23 and 24 at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield because it had enough space at the right price. But two students and three of their parents sued.

The judge says Enfield had unconstitutionally entangled itself with religion by agreeing to cover much of the church’s religious imagery. She also says the town coerced the plaintiffs to support religion by forcing them to enter the church for graduation.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.– People who don’t go to church may be turned off by a recent trend toward more utilitarian church buildings. By a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other option, unchurched Americans prefer churches that look more like a medieval cathedral than what most think of as a more contemporary church building.

The findings come from a recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research for the Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN), a group of church-focused facilities development firms. The online survey included 1,684 unchurched adults – defined as those who had not attended a church, mosque or synagogue in the past six months except for religious holidays or special events.

“Despite billions being spent on church buildings, there was an overall decline in church attendance in the 1990s,” according to Jim Couchenour, director of marketing and ministry services for Cogun, Inc., a founding member of CKN. “This led CKN to ask, ‘As church builders what can we do to help church leaders be more intentional about reaching people who don’t go to church?’”

When given an assortment of four photos of church exteriors and given 100 “preference points” to allocate between them, the unchurched used an average of 47.7 points on the most traditional and Gothic options. The three other options ranged from an average of 18.5 points to 15.9 points.

“We may have been designing buildings based on what we think the unchurched would prefer,” Couchenour concluded. “While multi-use space is the most efficient, we need to ask, ‘Are there ways to dress up that big rectangular box in ways that would be more appealing to the unchurched?’”

“Quite honestly, this research surprised us,” said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research and LifeWay Christian Resource’s missiologist in residence. “We expected they’d choose the more contemporary options, but they were clearly more drawn to the aesthetics of the Gothic building than the run-of-the-mill, modern church building.”

Stetzer suggested that the unchurched may prefer the more aesthetically pleasing look of the Gothic cathedral because it speaks to a connectedness to the past. Young unchurched people were particularly drawn to the Gothic look. Those between the ages of 25 to 34 used an average of 58.9 of their preference points on the more ornate church exterior. Those over the age of 70 only used an average of 32.9 of their 100 preference points on that particular church exterior.

The Gothic style was preferred by both unchurched Roman Catholics and unchurched Protestants, according to the survey. The average unchurched Roman Catholics gave the design more than 56 of their preference points.

“I don’t like modern churches, they seem cold,” said one survey respondent who chose the Gothic design. “I like the smell of candles burning, stained-glass windows, [and] an intimacy that’s transcendent.”

More than half of the unchurched indicated the design of a church building would impact their enjoyment of a visit to church. Twenty-two percent said the design of the church would strongly impact their enjoyment of the visit and 32 percent indicated it would have some impact. More than a third said it would have no impact whatsoever on their visit.

Stetzer noted that despite these survey results, most of the churches that look like a cathedral are in decline. Just because someone has a preference for the aesthetically pleasing, Gothic churches doesn’t mean they’ll visit the church if that’s the only connection point they have to the congregation, he said.

“Buildings don’t reach people, people do,” Stetzer said. “But if churches are looking to build and are trying to reach the unchurched, they should take into consideration the kind of building. Costs and other considerations will play into the decision, but the preferences of the unchurched should be considered as well.”

What the unchurched look for in other parts of the church

The survey also looked at what the unchurched thought about other elements of church design. While still favoring a more traditional look, the preferences of the unchurched were less pronounced on internal elements of church design. Respondents allocated more than a third of their preference points to the most traditional worship space option they were given – which received more than twice as many preference points as the most contemporary choice.

The more church design mattered to unchurched respondents, the more likely they were to prefer the more traditional and ornate worship setting. Those who said church design would affect their worship experience allocated an average of almost half (47 points) of their preference points for the most traditional worship space.

The unchurched also preferred the traditional-looking church foyer, although the preference allocations were more even for this question. All of the foyers received an average of at least 20 preference points. While older unchurched people (70 years old and older) were the least likely to prefer the more traditional exterior, they were more likely to prefer the traditional foyer than the youngest segment surveyed.

Places for the unchurched to connect

Finally, the survey looked into what sociologists call “third place” gathering spots. First place gatherings are where a person lives. Second place gatherings are where a person works. Third place gatherings are where a person comes “to hang out,” according to Stetzer.

“In the last few years churches have begun creating third place environments where the lost can come and just hang out,” Stetzer said. “This study asked the question, what kind of places do the unchurched like to come to do this?”

More than three times as many people chose a sit-down restaurant (47 percent) rather than any other single response. Other locations that topped the list include: a bar or nightclub (15 percent), a local coffee shop (13 percent), and a sporting event or recreational activity (5 percent).

According to the survey, the reasons they meet with friends where they do is because these places are relaxing (62 percent), casual (55 percent), and fun (29 percent). When asked to describe in their own words design features of the kind of place they’d like to meet a friend, 16 percent of respondents referred to a quiet environment. Another 14 percent mentioned comfortable seating as a factor, and 12 percent said that the spaciousness and openness of the setting was important.

“CKN wanted to give churches another tool for churched and unchurched people to connect well to each other,” Stetzer concluded. “One of the things this study revealed is the importance of space in relationships. Insights into these preferences enable churches to include space in which community can be built.”

The online survey was conducted on Feb. 4 and 5, 2008. The representative, national sample was controlled for a variety of factors including age, race, gender and region of the United States. The sample of 1,684 unchurched adults provides 95 percent confidence that sampling error does not exceed 2.4 percent for the total sample.

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money-in-collection-plate-~-cb064060SANTA ANA, Calif. —  A father and son, both pastors, have been sentenced to two years in state prison for stealing $3.1 million from their Orange County church.

Prosecutors say 76-year-old Richard Cunningham of Moreno Valley and his son, 52-year-old Philip Cunningham of Laurinburg, N.C., pleaded guilty to felony grand theft and fraud charges Friday. Philip Cunningham also pleaded guilty to forgery.

Over five years, prosecutors say the Cunninghams stole from Calvary Baptist Yorba Linda Church and School bank accounts, and used the money to buy time shares in Hawaii and Palm Springs, golf club memberships and a Cadillac.

Prosecutors say the men have paid $3.1 million in restitution to the church.

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. —  A Kentucky pastor is inviting people to bring their guns to church to celebrate the Fourth of July and the Second Amendment.

New Bethel Church is welcoming “responsible handgun owners” to wear their firearms inside the church on June 27, a Saturday.

An ad says there will be a handgun raffle, patriotic music and information on gun safety.

Church pastor Ken Pagano says guns must be unloaded and private security will check visitors. He says recent church shootings make it necessary to promote safe gun ownership.

Marian McClure Taylor is executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches.

She says churches work to prevent violent harm and promote peace, but most “allow for arms to be taken up under certain conditions.”

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