Can a name change rehabilitate the SBC's image in our culture?
by Url Scaramanga
Last month the Southern Baptist Convention decided to change its name, sort of. They have proposed using the informal designation of "Great Commission Baptists." It will serve as a kind of nickname for those congregations who deem "Southern Baptists" unhelpful or off-putting in their community.
The problem is one of branding. The SBC brand has suffered a number of setbacks in recent years. First, while still the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., the Southern Baptists aren't just Southern. And in many parts of the country the South is still associated with unpopular values and an unjust history. In fact, the "Southern" in Southern Baptists came from the SBC's allegiance to the Confederacy, and slavery, in the 19th century--a fact the SBC has repented of but it remains a stain on their image.
Secondly, cultural crusaders from within the SBC ranks have garnered negative media attention for the last few decades. Remember the boycott on Disney over the media company's decision to offer benefits to domestic partners of gay employees? Calling Micky Mouse public enemy #1 is not how you win public favor. And while there are culturally sophisticated and popular SBC pastors like Rick Warren, the impact of voices like Jerry Falwell's have done far more to shape the Southern Baptists' image in our culture.
For the past few days I’ve been hanging out with hundreds of Southern Baptists and I have to say that I like these guys. (And I use “guys” because they only have guys in pastoral ministry.). I sure appreciated their passion for God’s Word. It's great to see people actually carry their Bibles into worship services and then keep them open during sermons. (And most of the Bibles look really old and beat up—like they’ve actually been read and reread for decades.) I love their passion for evangelism. I love the way people nod their heads and talk back during sermons. Where else can you hear “Amen,” and “Preach it,” and “That’s right,” and “Yes!” sprinkled throughout a message? I mean, these folks actually know how to listen to a sermon! In some ways, I think Southern Baptists do their part to keey this country from plunging over the edge.
Having said all of that, I honestly have to say that I couldn't join the SBC. For me it feels like becoming a Greek Orthodox Christian: parts of it intrigue me but there are too many theological differences (like the complete absence of women in leadership for one) and then the cultural barriers are also huge. You know, I love Souvlaki and Gyros and Mediterranean cruises but I’m just not Greek. In a similar way, I also love SEC football (go Georgia Dawgs!), year-round warm weather, and sweet tea but the inculturation process would take a while.
I realize that Americans move around a lot these days, but I'd still argue that there are some key regional differences in this country--just as I discovered that Long Island has cultural distinctives that differ from the culture of my home state of Minnesota. For one thing, a lot of people in Jacksonville, unlike former New Yorkers like me, are actually nice. Really nice. But even if I lived in the South for a decade I’d probably still feel a bit like a displaced Midwesterner.
So here’s a friendly suggestion from a long time Midwest guy: consider changing your name. Keep the "Baptist” part but drop the “Southern” part. I know it’s a big hassle switching all the letterhead, but I think it will be worth it. For starters, we need more "Southern Baptists" in our neighborhoods in the Midwest or the Northeast. (Although I wouldn’t recommend sending too many lifelong southerners to plant churches in places like Newark, Boston, or Long Island--unless you train them like you'd train someone going to Bangladesh or Tanzania.) I’m not sure where the name-changing discussion is at these days, but as just one lifelong northerner, I hope you start the discussion again sometime soon.
New research by Lifeway concludes most churches won't close for Christmas.
by Url Scaramanga
The folks at Lifeway have just released numbers from a survey they did among 1,000 Protestant pastors. They were asked, “Christmas and New Year’s Day both fall on Sunday this year. As a result, does your church plan to have services on the following days: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day?”
6% - Christmas Eve but NOT Christmas Day
27& - Christmas Day but NOT Christmas Eve
63% - BOTH Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
This year Dec. 25 is a Sunday and that poses a challenge for some churches.
by Url Scaramanga
Back in 2005 Christmas fell on a Sunday, and many churches (but especially megachurches) decided not to open for services. At the time we ran a series of articles about the decision, the media coverage, and the public's reaction.
Well, once again December 25th is on Sunday and we're wondering how churches will respond to the challenge. For most congregations there is little concern. Sure, the number of people attending may be lower due to family commitments or travel, but even if 1/2 or 1/4 of the usual attenders show up the service may proceed.
The more significant challenge is for larger congregations that require hundreds of volunteers to operate on Sunday and significant offerings to pay for heat and electricity. Back in '05 one megachurch responded to the media firestorm about not opening by emphasizing its desire to honor families by giving volunteers and staff a day off.
A few weeks ago, pastor and author Dan Kimball posted an interesting entry here about church buildings. In the introduction, he notes that eight years ago he would have said, “Who needs a building? The early church didn’t have buildings, and we don’t need them either!” Today, however, he notes that he was wrong.
I think he still is.
Here is my official response to Dan Kimball.
I recently read your post where you say that you were wrong about church buildings. At first, I was glad to see the title. I’m a house church leader. We used to be a traditional Southern Baptist church—building and all. But that all changed in 2005. Since then, we’ve been meeting in homes and living out the call of God without a building. And that’s why your post troubled me so much.
It is not that I hate buildings. Because we have identified our cause as “Leave the Building,” I often get mistaken for a building-hater, but that is not the case. “Leave the Building” is about removing the things that limit us in our service for God or somehow get in the way of what he is trying to accomplish through us. For me and my church, it was our building.
They can be outposts of mission, not just a drain on resources.
by Dan Kimball
If you had asked me eight years ago what I thought about church buildings, I would have said, "Who needs a building? The early church didn't have buildings, and we don't need them either!" But I was wrong.
My anti-building phase was a reaction to having seen so much money spent on church facilities, often for non-essential, luxury items. I was also reacting to a philosophy of ministry that treated church buildings like Disneyland; a place consumers gather for entertainment. But these abuses had caused me to unfairly dismiss the potential blessing of buildings as well.
Consider the building occupied by Compassion International in Colorado Springs. It has a well-groomed lawn with sprinkler system, an attractive sign, and an expansive parking lot. It's a nice facility. But it's more than just a building—it is the headquarters and training center for a ministry that brings physical and spiritual nourishment to more than one million children in 25 countries. The Compassion building is used for a missional purpose, not simply as a place for Christians to gather and consume religious services.
When we planted our church in 2004, we needed a place to meet. We found a very traditional church building that had a sizable "fellowship hall" originally used only for donuts and coffee on Sundays. Wanting to use the building differently, we converted the fellowship hall into a public coffee lounge featuring music and art from the outside community. The Abbey, as it's now called, is open seven days a week and offers free internet access.
To build or not to build? Sign-up to ask your questions during our live webinar.
by Eric Reed
Until recently, churches responded to growing attendance by building larger facilities. But the faltering economy makes raising large sums for building projects harder to accomplish. And combined with the aversion of younger churchgoers to the bigger-is-better ministry philosophy, these tight-money days are demanding imaginative alternatives. For some churches, the question has become, "Should we build at all?"
"We have told many clients in the last couple years, 'You're not ready to build, because you aren't sure what your ministry is,'" said Ed Bahler of the Aspen Group, a church design firm. "So what once took a few weeks has become a six- to twelve-month process: determining what their vision is and what they really need to do that ministry." The firm now focuses on guiding church leaders through the vision process.
"People ask us what ministry will look like in ten years—with the impact of technology and the desire to attract younger people driving many of the choices they make today," Bahler said.
Do you ever feel like church activities, which are intended to promote God's mission, are actually keeping you from promoting God's mission? We're eager to see your captions for this cartoon by Roger Judd. Winners will be published in the Winter issue of Leadership. (Please include your name, church's name, city, and state.)
The debate over guns at church. A ready defense or an overreaction?
Two weeks ago an armed man entered Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, and shot Dr. George Tiller. On March 8, a gunman walked into the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Maryville, Illinois, and killed senior pastor Fred Winters. Last summer a man walked into a church in Knoxville, Tennessee, pulled a shotgun from his guitar case, and opened fire on a children's performance. Two people were killed.
The news reports are horrifying, but despite the wide publicity these crimes garner, there have been less than a dozen church shootings in the U.S. in the last decade. But that is little comfort for some church leaders who are seeking new security measures to protect their flocks
Pastor Ken Pagano from New Bethel Church in Kentucky is encouraging his parishioners to bring their guns to church for an "Open Carry Celebration" to celebrate the Fourth of July and the Second Amendment. "We're not ashamed to say that there was a strong belief in God and firearms," says Pagano. "Without that this country wouldn't be here."
Other churches are hiring armed security to patrol their property on Sunday mornings to create an atmosphere of safety. But there is an increasing number of churches using armed vigilantes--volunteers with nothing more than a concealed weapon permit--to deter any assailant. These people are the ecclesiastical equivalent of the air marshals who anonymously fly commercial airliners.
But are these security measures warranted? And are churches unknowingly creating more risk, not less, by encouraging members to carry concealed weapons?
New research says people are looking for "sacred" buildings.
On the heels of David Gibbons' interesting thoughts on the way many churches squander their resources on underutilized buildings, Matt Branaugh has this piece over at LeadershipJournal.net. Apparently, if you're going to throw your church's money into a building, make it a sacred one. -Url
Does "sacred" space appeal to or repel the unchurched? A recent survey probed 1,700 unchurched American adults, putting photos of four different church exteriors in front of them. Respondents indicated their preferences by allocating 100 points across the four images, based on the appeal of the appearance.
The Gothic look averaged 48 points, more than double the next-highest finisher, a white-steeple-and-pillar exterior that averaged about 19 points. The other two churches, with more contemporary looks, averaged 18 points and 16 points, according to the study, commissioned by Cornerstone Knowledge Network and conducted by LifeWay Research.
So should churches opt for the cathedral look as a way to attract the unchurched?
Rethinking our stewardship of the church's space and staff.
by Dave Gibbons
We are witnessing what some are calling the greatest transfer of wealth in human history. The McKinsey Global Institute has shown how assets are moving primarily from Europe and America to the oil countries of the Middle East and the manufacturing giants of Asia.
At the end of 2007, these oil producing countries owned about 4.6 trillion dollars of assets. That's about 1.6 times the whole economy of the UK. The six Arab countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council are receiving 1.5 billion dollars a day. Those are pretty staggering numbers.
Our "dangerous dependence on foreign oil" and the transfer of wealth it is producing, is moving both political parties to emphasize a new green agenda. This includes new technologies, further exploration into alternative energy, clean energy, drilling off-shore, and conservation.
As we consider conserving energy resources for environmental and economic reasons, maybe we should reconsider how we steward our resources in the church.
How multi-ethnic should your church staff be? Should churches have hiring quotas to ensure diversity? In the spring issue of Leadership, Mark DeYmaz, pastor of Mosaic Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, discusses the importance of being intentional about diversity.
Is the communion table becoming more about personal preference than church unity?
Imagine the scene. Jesus has gathered with his followers in the upper room. He takes the bread, breaks it, and gives thanks. Then he says, "This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Then, in the same way, he takes another loaf and says, "This is my low-carb body which is given for you South Beach dieters." And then he takes another loaf and says, "This is my gluten-free body which is given for you?."
You get the idea.
Over a century ago, many American churches began to abandon the use of fermented wine in communion in favor of grape juice (much to Charles Welch's delight). Today, most evangelicals give little thought to the substitution. It's just the way it is. But last Sunday I was unexpectedly jarred into reconsidering the nature of the communion elements when the bread, and not just the cup, departed from tradition.
I sat down after preaching the sermon and another pastor began to lead the congregation in partaking of the Lord's Supper. He invited people to come forward, receive the cup, and tear a piece of bread from a single large loaf. The use of a single loaf, he explained, was a symbol of our unity in Christ. (This metaphor, by the way, dates back at least to the Didache from the first century.) But then he added something unexpected. Gluten-free crackers would also be available for anyone unable to eat the bread.
The Senate investigates “possible misuse of donations” by television preachers.
I come from a diverse family where few are Christians and even fewer venture into the curious sub-culture of evangelicalism. For this reason a number of my relatives have an impression of Christianity based largely upon what they see while surfing the television - an impression that I do not fit and work hard to deconstruct. Televangelists are loud and energetic; I'm rarely the life of the party. Televangelists have big hair; I have no hair. Televangelists fly around in private jets; I ride a bike to work to save on gas.
My work to deconstruct the image of gold-gilded Christianity appears to be getting some help from the United States Senate. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating possible financial shenanigans on the part of six widely known TV preachers. From Ted Olsen's article at ChristianityToday.com:
"Recent articles and news reports regarding possible misuse of donations made to religious organizations have caused some concern for the Finance Committee," Grassley wrote to the ministries in letters asking for detailed financial records.
None of the ministries targeted - those led by Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer, and Randy and Paula White - are required to file the financial disclosure Form 990 with the IRS because they are designated as churches.
"Next to a church's preaching pastor, the most important staff member in the shaping of the message is the media pastor...The second hire in most congregations should be the media pastor."
-Eric Reed, managing editor of Leadership, reports this statement made by the media pastor of a multi-site church whose web address ends in dot-tv. in his report, "Preaching by Faith and by Sight: How oral communicators are joining the visual revolution" in the Summer 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.