The Latest in Church Trends

In the most recent edition of Christianity Today I could not help but notice their reports on the continuing growing trend among mainline churches to go back to the future. In terms of theology, worship, devotion and spiritual development what was old seems to be new again.

Back in 2006 I wrote in this blog about the Return of Orthodoxy. According to CT writer Charles Armstrong this trend is only gaining more momentum. Reporting on the growing numbers of Christians returning to orthodoxy in his article entitled The Future is the Past he writes:

“The recent growth of this trend, especially among the young, suggests that evangelicals are still struggling with an identity crisis. Many 20-and 30-something evangelicals are uneasy and alienated in mall-like church environments; high-energy worship and boomer-era ministry strategies and structures modeled on the business world. Increasingly, they are asking just how these culturally camouflaged churches can help them rise above the values of the consumerist world around them.”

To me, this is fascinating- and challenging- especially given that my fellowship in the Churches of Christ tends to be about ten years behind the curve when it comes to responding to such trends. For instance, we are still fussing about praise teams when the greater Christian world is actually moving away from that type of performance-based worship.

Another trend which CT noted is the rise of Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention churches. I will admit that this one semi-shocked me. I don’t get and have never gotten this doctrine of predestination. To me it makes God seem to be cruel. I do understand and appreciate the emphasis Calvin placed on salvation being God’s work and not mans, but pure, hardcore Calvinism (Anyone know what TULIP means?) is a tough pill for me to swallow biblically. Yet it is back and gaining adherents even in churches not of that tradition.

I think all of this revisiting of dusty doctrines and liturgical practices are just indicative of our times. In our post-modern, post-Christian world truth has been turned upside down. Many churches have abandoned their traditional roots to embrace the church growth performance-based mega-church model. The result- among other things- has been a loss of a sense of security and personal connection- and a rediscovering of the ancient traditions.

The challenge now is- at least for me- how to repsond to these trends.

I would appreciate your input.

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23 Responses to The Latest in Church Trends

  1. J D says:

    A praise team can be a performance-based worship schematic, but it is not necessarily so.

    As boomers gain control of churches through natural selection, those who are younger are not contented with the worship styles and church functions being handed down to them from their forefathers. Maybe now the boomers will see why the builders regarded them as ingrates who could not appreciate all that had been worked for on their behalf.

    When a teenager says to me “let’s do it without power point this time” I want to scream at him about how hard we all worked to be able to use it in the first place.

    To everything there is a season.

  2. J D says:

    Not to mention that the SBC is not exactly a great example of unity and offering a consistent voice.

  3. The praise team does not have to be entertainment. At Sycamore View, they sit on the first two rows with mikes and everyone can hear their part. That harmony is a wonderful part of C of C tradition that I’m not ready to let go of and with the use of power point, it was becoming less and less heard. Now with the praise team, that beautiful harmony is coming back and and singing services goes from one song directly into another (numbers and names are printed in the hand out for those who need them) and our song service is awesome! the whole church sings and it is beautiful!!!!

  4. dannydodd says:

    Great comments so far- especially JD’s take on how the boomers are getting a little taste of thier own church medicine so to speak.

    But to be clear, my post was not anti-praise teams. I just used this as an example of how us CoCer’s are always playing catch up. (Let’s be honest our praise teams are our answer to other church’s praise bands)

    I have worshipped where praise teams (like the one Tammie describes) have non-intrusively enhanced our vocal harmony, but I have also experienced worship where praise teams took over and hindered my effort at singing.

    I think it may be the latter- in a broader sense- that people now are reacting to. They don’t want anyone worshipping for them or to be a part of a worship experience that is so intrusive (think loud music) that it hinders their ability to personally connect to God and to one another.

    To me this gives us- Churches of Christ- a great opportunity since we have always been about a simpler style of worship anyway. We have the perfect platform and background to approach people looking for this kind of alternative. We just have to be willing to meet them where they are, use good judgment in our outreach and have the right spirit in our leadership and in our worship itself.

  5. lesjr says:

    It makes me realize that because we are working with folks who are all over the map, we have to try all the harder to be balanced…

  6. Spend some time reading John Piper’s material for the appeal of Calvinism among some of the younger Evangelicals. Piper has some outstanding stuff and I have valued him greatly. Jonathan Edwards has also had a resurgence among thinkers. These trends are both good in helping us think about culture and Christianity … I just have not found myself embracing many aspects of the tulip.

    Bobby V

  7. Steve Lavin says:

    I am not a big subscriber to the study of church growth. I also believe any growth achieved, from following one trend and then another, will be short lived. Is this not what the point of your blog is? Trends come and go. The church and our God are everlasting. In my opinion, the church has to look beyond trends in order to reach the level of fulfillment it was designed and ordained for.

    My experience tells me that the only people who have an opinion on praise teams or a lack there of are us CoCer’s. I believe seekers are looking for significance, meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging in an ever disjointed and disconnected society. Why we ever thought seeker services were about praise teams, or not, is beyond me!

    When welcomed by a friend to church, the unchurched care not one iota about the musical style (although they may be curious about it). What they want, desperately need, and we too often fail to offer, is an atmosphere of unguarded embrace. When our people in the pulpit, classrooms and small groups begin to foster an atmosphere of trust, vulnerability, and naked honesty that most of us are scared to death of, then the world will beat a path to our assemblies.

    Danny, didn’t you just write about the Frigidaire Church? People are not attracted to cold assemblies and distant relationships. (Church growth trends have no ability to address this.) And I am not condemning specific churches either within or outside the CoC. I am just noting, as your friend in the umbrella hat did, that perhaps church people have somehow forgotten what really attracts the unchurched. Perhaps, just perhaps, the trends in the assembly are just an insignificant sidebar to the real reason certain churches grow.

    People will flock to places where there is love, support and an opportunity to belong…really belong, to something that address life’s struggles and gives their lives meaning! I believe people will travel miles, endure terrible parking conditions, crowded assemblies and any number of other inconveniences if they know that friends…true and rare friends…await them at each assembly. When a group of Christians fosters this atmosphere their buildings will not be large enough and they will never have to admonish people for forsaking the assembly. Do this and our conversations will turn from wondering about trends and what will attract people to one of where are we going to put all the people.

    Sorry, your blog pushed my button!
    Steve

  8. dannydodd says:

    Glad I pushed Steve.

    There is no doubt that “seekers” today are looking for a transparent genuineness amoung believers. They are also seeking authenticity in Christian behavior and worship. The big-band, blowout performance based worship has turned a lot of people off and away. They are looking for something real they can put their hands on and get involved with. And when they can find that- like you wrote- they will do whatever it takes to keep it.

    Trends, however, are important- at least I think so. Not as church growth tools to use as some type of gimmick to get folks in the building, but to try to understand where people are and where they are going- so we can meet them there and minister. So I do not apologize for writing about them and trying to learn something from them in my feeble attempt to become all things to all people.

    As JD mentioned earlier- some of this is generational, but the need to model genuniness in our faith to a world full of skeptics will always be vital.

    And thanks Bobby for the references!

  9. Donna says:

    I think I agree a lot with Steve. I LIKE a more entertaining worship time. I LIKE a good motivating speaker, but what drew me back to the place I am now is being NEEDED and LOVED. I don’t think the people outside of church feel any differently.

    The first step is to get back to LOVING those who are not part of us, not just trying to “attract” them.

  10. Steve Lavin says:

    Even though it may not sound like it, I agree with you Danny. It’s just that I have come to believe that relationships with each other, Christ and God are far more important than the packaging they are wrapped up in. Put 90% of our energies into relationships and 10% into assembly dynamics and we will grow. The added benefit to this is – and don’t miss the significance here – people will begin to cherish relationships above assembly preferences. While not unimportant, assembly dynamics are generally given a way too disproportionate amount of our energies.

  11. dannydodd says:

    Steve said “people will begin to cherish relationships above assembly preferences. While not unimportant, assembly dynamics are generally given a way too disproportionate amount of our energies”

    AMEN! I could not say this one wit better and could not agree more.

  12. dannydodd says:

    Here are some exerpts from the CT ariticle I reference in the post.

    “‘Traditionlists’ focus on doctrine… on ‘being right’. They pour their resources into Bible studies, Sunday school curricula, and apologetic materials. The ‘pragmatics’ ‘do’ church growth, spawning the culturally engaged (and hugely successful) seeker-sensitive trend, with full-service megachurches and countless outreach programs. Currently the ‘younger evangelicals’ seek a Christianity that is ’embodied’ and ‘authentic’- distinctively Christian.”

    “For the younger evangelicals, traditional churches are too centered on words and propositions. And pragmatic churches are compromising authentic Christianity by tailoring their ministries to the marketplace and pop culture. The younger evangelicals seek a renewed encounter with a God beyond both doctrinal and super-successful ministry programs.”

    “So what to do? Easy, says the youth movement: Stop endlessly debating and advertising Christianity, and just embody it. Live it faithfully in community with others.”

  13. Steve Lavin says:

    Danny quoted CT as saying, “says the youth movement: Stop endlessly debating and advertising Christianity, and just embody it. Live it faithfully in community with others.”

    I would only add that this should never be confused with a youth movement. “Liv(ing) it faithfully in community with others” speaks to young, old, rich, poor, black, brown, white, whether 2000 years ago or 2000 years from now. This is the timeless truth that we must grasp the significance of. It is so far beyond any trend! It speaks to the very relationships God gave us His son and the church for.

  14. dagwudandblondy says:

    In the OKC area, many young people (late teens, early twenties) flock to the Life Church assembly. They do it for two reasons. The incredible music and the hard hitting, youth focused messages. Many develop no relationships from Life Church that they didn’t have before. They may seek these relationships later, and they may or may not find them there. But right now, when I talk with young people who are there on Sunday morning, it’s about the music and the message. See lifechurch.tv

    Dag

  15. benoverby says:

    A part of why I’m doing what I’m doing at New Genesis Communities has to do with these trends and the negative way we’ve (CoC’s)reacted to them (and on a personal level, the effect it’s all had on my family). Too many churches treat Sunday worship as if it’s the “product” they take to market. Evangelism is equated with inviting someone “to church.” I’m addressing this by constantly reminding our new, little group that the Sunday assembly isn’t our identity and certainly isn’t the most important thing we’re going to do during the week. It should be a time of celebration and provocation—we should exit the assembly motivated toward greater love and good works.

    When we stop treating our assembly as if it’s a marketing tool, chances are it will tend toward something more authentic. However, if it is the most important thing we’re going to do all week, if it is where all our energy is centered, if it is the means whereby we do our evangelism, then it will be a powder keg—the least little spark will ignite an explosion with plenty of casualties.

    I tried to give the sense of our gatherings at http://newgenesis.wordpress.com/pulses/gathering/

    Ben

  16. dannydodd says:

    Thanks for your input Ben. I know your “little group” is greatly blessed through your minisitry and scholarship.

    Hey Dag, thanks for dropping in! There is a church in our community- Liberty Church- that sounds very similar. We had one young woman who attends Liberty to come to Gateway to be baptized because she did not like the way Liberty practiced it, but she never intended to stop attending their worship. She liked the music and message.

  17. Danny Holman says:

    I appreciate your post. I have been blessed to work with “blended” congregations at almost every place I’ve been… some members lifted by the new, exciting, and fresh; others comforted by the secure, reliable, familiar. One keeps the other from moving too fast and becoming a fad. The second keeps the first from becoming quaint and irrelevant. We tend to rock back and forth on the balance point (and, your right, we tend to meet some other groups who are rocking back from where we are headed). For the most part, like you said, it seems they are good people, simply trying to find experience and tradition that lifts them above the superficial world around them so they can anchor in something more permanent.
    It appears to me that church is much more holistic than we church leaders sometimes give credit. For all the feebleness, “fad-chasing,” and etched traditions disciples tend to find a place where they are loved, lifted spiritually in their daily life, experience worship, and are engaged in ministry to others. If they have to put up with a couple of things not exactly how they like it… they will; as long as they are loved, lifted, etc…. Some struggle with tradition laden services, but show the “inner spiritual child” when they marvel even at “high church” assemblies. Once on the inside they tend to enjoy drinking from those deep streams, even if spiritual “Evian” is more their norm. For others all change happens too fast, but they can usually tolerate rearranging the church furniture… as long as they know where to sit.
    The ironic thing… it will get worse. As the rate of change increases the “culture shock” of living in a “strange world” will get worse. Won’t it be interesting if/when, (prompted by the entrance of “rap gospel” into an assemblies, and debate about the new downloadable “holographic preachers”), the aged baby-boomers, and the Gen X and Millenial leaders find themselves pleading with the Gen Z (or whatever they will be called)to return to the deep traditions of their heritage. It could happen.
    I am with you on the Calvinism thing… I don’t understand its appeal. I am going to take BV’s advice and read Piper’s work.
    Thanks John for your Blog, I look forward to a regular visit. Pray for us in the Delta. Danny

  18. Steve Lavin says:

    Good comments by everyone. All have a valid point.

    From my previous comments some might conclude that I don’t consider the Sunday assembly dynamics as being important. Nothing could be further from the truth. Generally speaking I think us CoCer’s lag way behind in creating a dynamic that seems to have much relevance to our culture. High energy is not generally the first term that comes to mind as I leave our assemblies…and people are attracted to high energy (non-churched and non-CoCer’s that is).

    High energy assemblies with powerful and convicting messages grow a large – but generally a shallow church. A church in which 60 to 70 percent of the people only attend the Sunday morning assemblies and have no relational connections or ministry involvement within the church.

    The relationships, within a body, is what grows a church deeper to maturity. Since we CoCer’s will never out-dynamic the dynamic alternatives other denominations provide, I believe our focus must be on relationships. Play to our strenght!

    I have relatives that attend a dynamic, non-denominational, community church. They love it and attend most every Sunday. And they will tell you that the messages they hear convict them to live a better life. But Sunday morning is the extent of their Christian walk. No relationships in the church. No ministry involvement. They are Sunday morning focused because the church they attend is Sunday morning focused. They are in the 60 to 70 percenter’s that define Christianity as attending church once a week.

    I believe our assemblies are our greatest evangalism tool. Whether the assembly is Sunday morning or a small group during the week. If I want to evangelize someone to fish, I invite them to go fishing. If I want to evangelize someone to become a NASCAR fan, I take them to a race. If I want to evangelize a golfer, I take them golfing. If I want to evangelize a soul, I take them to an assembly. Relationships are how most all of us are introduced to almost anything new we do. But the fishing, race and golfing had better be exciting! I want to see people at these events that are excited and telling me, “You will love this. The guys (gals) make this a regular part of our routine. You should join us!” That is the relationship dynamic.

    Every preacher, speaker, song leader, teacher, small group leader should approach their duties with a goal of having the people leave with this thought, “Wow, I sure am glad I didn’t miss this meeting!” When people begin leaving (assemblies, classes and small groups) with this one thought we won’t have to worry about growth or trends.

    When people are excited about something they naturally share it! Why should church be any different? And if we are not creating an atmosphere and relationships that our people are excited enough to tell their friends about then it is time to change.

    Steve

  19. dannydodd says:

    Great thoughts Danny and Steve.

    BTW- welcome Danny- hope you will stop in regularly. I know the Greenville church is benefiting from your ministry. Gospel rappers and holistic preachers- brethren we are drifting. rofl That is a good point.

    Steve, I knew where you were and think I know why you have this passion. Your points are right on and I wish more understood all of this.

  20. TCS says:

    This is sort of off the topic, but nothing else ever stops me…CT articles like most in our world today are not journalism in the sense that we may want them to be. It is opinion. Filtered facts so that what comes through is what the filter wants to let through. That said, understanding our culture is I think of utmost importance. Can you out-energy the church down the street? I don’t know. Can you be more simple than the Amish? I doubt it. But they aren’t exactly setting the world on fire. More of a curiosity than anything to outsiders.

    My take on why people are discovering ancient disciplines is totally different than yours apparently. I see people embracing these that have no interaction at all with “performance based, Mega-church models”. These people just don’t think the way that people did who abandoned (or even protested) these long ago (and recently) think.

    Sorry, that’s an awful sentence.

    I don’t think it is reaction on their part. Or on mine for that matter. They don’t see any problem with exploring these and find value in them.

    We have been trained to always be right and to try to understand everything. People do what they want to do. Plain and simple. It might be like the wise men in the nativity scene. We can point out that technically they came later. Our friend may tell us to Shut up! They like them that way.

  21. dannydodd says:

    Very interesting take there Tom.

    Personally- although they are far from my tradition- I see value too in some of these ancient customs. For instance, my wife privately participated in lent- sort of anyway- for her own reasons and it was a blessing for her.

    As for people thinking differently today- no doubt about that and it is this that interests me. If I am trying to figure anything out it is because I want to know how best to reach out and communicate my faith in Christ. I don’t want to be left behind speaking a language no one understands anymore.

  22. TCS says:

    I guess what I am trying to say is that if you apply a modern (let’s say scientific) approach to understanding why postmodern thinkers do what they do. Then you will get some messed up data. I have found a little test. If the description “non-scientific” in your mind is automatically a negative description, then you probably think with a modern mind set. Please don’t hear me say one way is better than the other. They are just different.

    Lent for instance. For those of us who were either openly taught that it was wrong or if it was implied because we don’t do such things. We have to come to a mental decision, “There is nothing wrong with this” and then we try it. We may have to go through several steps of reasoning to get to that decision.

    Others either never bought in to that or just have never even thought in those in-out, sectarian, we don’t do that terms. They hear, we are observing Lent and they say,”I want to try that”. There isn’t a bunch of analysis there. At least that is what I think.

  23. Adam G. says:

    Hmmmm…this post hit a couple of buttons for me, at least. Warning: My comments will wander.

    When I left the Roman Catholic Church at age 17 around 15 years ago, it was to become theologically a Calvinist. To me this seemed like the most biblical “take” on things. There were things I didn’t especially like about it, but it seemed well-grounded in Scripture and undeniable. As I came to realize I had been wrong about this, the transition to belief in free will nearly collapsed my faith. Really, I felt as though I was losing my faith. It was terribly jolting to see my carefully defined “Reformed faith” unraveling. Then again, something worse happened when my hard-core Restorationism impacted with the failure of my ministry in New Mexico and he death of my unbelieving father. The valley was deeper, longer and more sorrowful that the one I went through leaving Calvinism, but once again I find this side of the low spot much better than where I was before going through it.

    A friend at work is a staunch Calvinist, and though at times it irritates me, I hark back to my own early Calvinism and try to see through those eyes again. It gives me a measure of patience, I think.

    As for worship styles, I have to admit that I’ve often been impressed with the stark, traditional Church of Christ liturgy. Yep, it the Church of Christ (traditional, a cappella) is liturigical in its own way. There are certain words to pray (though officially it is free form), the Lord’s supper is always pray-pass-pray-pass and the order of worship is consistent. My Catholic mother brags about how she can go to Mass anywhere in the world and know what is going on, despite the local language spoken. Among traditional Churches of Christ one could say the same thing.

    Though I graduated from Harding University’s School of Biblical Studies and attend an a cappella Church of Christ composed of Brazilian immigrants, my ordination and really my heart are with the independent Christian churches. Often I don’t know how far I can go with the Brazilian church in certain areas. For example, I’d like to offer a children’s sermon during worship from time to time, but I don’t think the Church of Christ does that…right?

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