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Archive for November 2011

Large Church Statistics

Warren Bird is one of the leading researchers in large church dynamics. He also was my ‘youth group leader’ in junior high! His research this year is fascinating as always:

Very Large Churches: Wired, Multisite, Growing and Well Led
by Warren Bird and Scott Thumma
Last weekend, about 56 million Americans worshipped at a Protestant church. Most of those churches drew fewer than 100 people each, a size that’s characterized the “typical” church for centuries. But in the last few decades a new class of church has emerged: the very large church, often called a megachurch. And last weekend over 10% – or nearly 6 million – of these worshippers were part of congregations that each drew 2,000 or more in total attendance. If this group of churches were a Protestant denomination, it would be the nation’s second largest such group.
In recent months we surveyed this group of very large churches and made some fascinating discoveries. The following list highlights some of the most important findings. The link at the bottom of this article then takes you to a fuller report and the actual survey frequencies. We will also be releasing more of findings from this survey in the coming months.
• These churches are wired.
While 88% say their church/pastoral leadership uses Facebook or other social media on a regular basis, nearly three-fourths do podcasts and 56% blog.
• Multisite interest has grown dramatically.
Half are multisite with another 20% thinking about it.
• Growth is steady.
Despite occasional news reports that large churches are a Boomer phenomenon or are now in decline, a steady growth pattern remains evident, with these churches averaging 8% growth per year for last five years. Thus the stated average attendance for these churches grew from 2,604 in 2005 to 3,597 in 2010.
• The leader at the helm makes all the difference.
Seventy-nine percent say the church’s most dramatic growth occurred during tenure of current senior pastor.
• Worship options extend beyond Sunday morning.
While virtually all have multiple Sunday morning services, 48% have one or more Saturday night services, and 41% have one or more Sunday night services.
• They are both big and small.
Eighty-two percent say small groups are “central to our strategy of Christian nurture and spiritual formation,” and 72% put a “lot of emphasis” on “Scripture studies other than Sunday school.” They report that 46% of their attenders are involved in small groups.
• They have a high view of their own spiritual vitality.
An overwhelming 98% agree that their congregations are “spiritually alive and vital.” In addition, 98% say they have strong beliefs and values, 95% say they have a clear mission, and 93% say they are willing to change to meet new challenges.
• Newcomer orientation is constant.
Forty percent of regular participants age 18 and older are new to the congregation in the last five years. And 70% of participants are under the age of 50.
• The dominant identity is “evangelical.”
Of eight options offered, the majority chose the word evangelical to identify their theological outlook. Interestingly, barely 1% chose labels at the two theological extremes – either fundamentalist or liberal.
• The vast majority do not have serious financial struggles.
Only 6% say church’s financial health is in some or serious difficulty (and only 7% said that for five years previously). However, half adversely felt the effects of the economic crisis and 5% fewer report their financial health as “excellent” compared to five years ago.

• Staffing costs are comparable to those of other churches.
Forty-eight percent of the average large church’s total expenditures go to salary and benefits.
• They are not independent.
Seventy percent say their church is part of a denomination, network, fellowship, or association of churches. For those who are currently non-denominational, 33% say they were once part of a denomination.
For full survey results download the full report »

Returning to the Scene of the Crime…and Receiving Hope (Part 2)

Winner's Circle Celebration at Franklin Elementary

To read Part 1, click here.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.

-Henry V (Act III, Scene I), William Shakespeare

When I signed up to volunteer and serve with The Partnership for our Kids, something happened that I did not anticipate. A mental battle started to occur within me. I was fighting myself over getting involved in a greater way to support the kids who battle poverty.

Christianity would call this spiritual warfare, and that’s what I would call it.

Within the past year, I was asked to be on the board of directors for a local non-profit that combats poverty and advocates for justice. I heard the pitch, and it was good. A friend of mine was on the board. They do great work. They saw and heard my heart for social justice from afar, and wanted to get me involved in a greater way. I had all sorts of legitimate excuses as to why I couldn’t be on the board and be involved at that moment. I had a third child on the way. I was starting a new role at work. I told them I was interested, but perhaps at a later date. It all made sense in my mind, even though at that time I was wrestling with God pushing me toward an increased social justice involvement.

When is it ever going to be an opportune time? When over the next two decades am I going to have time? More importantly, what am I modeling with that kind of thinking and action? How am I leading with my inaction? What is the example I am setting for my family? What is the example I am setting for others?

I’m glad God is patient with me.

So, I signed up to get involved with The Partnership for Our Kids, and the mental battle started. (more…)

Beyond The Message: Generosity & Poverty

In the latest Beyond The Message video, I sit down with Missions Pastor Craig Walter to talk about generosity as it relates to poverty. Topics we discussed are:

  • The concept of place as fate, poverty, and how it relates to being generous.
  • What can people do to understand poverty better?
  • Breaking down stereotypes, and educating people, so they can get involved in their community.
  • Scriptures that address generosity as it relates to poverty.
  • Ways you can get involved.

To see other Beyond The Message videos, click here.

105 Pastors and leaders trained in Ephesians

A few weeks ago I traveled with a team from CCC who went to the Far East (sorry, can’t mention the country, but you know where it is) to train Pastors and church leaders. Here are a few of my thoughts.

Since this blog is on the Internet, I of course can’t say too much about our recent travels. Ten of us from CCC left on November 5th for a far-away land to meet our brothers and sisters in Christ. During this week we met some of the most amazing followers of Jesus, men and women who lay it all on the line every day to follow their faith in a place that sees them as dangerous. They are hungry for Gods word and they are hungry to know how to lead their small churches better.

We invited 60 Pastors and leaders to attend but we though maybe a few more would come so we expected 70. A whopping 105 showed up and crammed into two rooms all week as they studied the book of Ephesians together.

“I would rather our churches stay small and secret, because this gives us life. If we had a large building and could worship in the open, I’m concerned we would become soft.” This is what one Pastor told me when I asked him if he ever desired to have his own church building.

“My greatest struggle is materialism. I want to have nicer things but I know this will pull me away from being the kind of Pastor God wants me to be.” This said by another Pastor when I asked him what his greatest struggle is as a Christian. He is a Pastor who lives in poverty and has just enough to survive as he tries to minister to his flock.

“Unity! This is the biggest problem facing our churches. We are divided over many issues so please pray for us.” I guess this is why Paul talks so much about the need for unity in the New Testament, as he knew this would be a plague on followers of Jesus everywhere.

One of the biggest things that stood out to me was they are so much like us, and we are so much like them. They love their families, they struggle with wordliness, they need the Holy Spirit to guide them, and of course, they love Jesus.

We will have many more opportunities in 2012 to teach Pastors and leaders in this far-away land, so if you are able to teach the Word and are interested in this opportunity, please shoot me an email at We will be having an information meeting for those interested on Sunday, December 4th that I would love to tell you more about.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime…and Receiving Hope (Part 1)

crime: (noun) a grave offense especially against morality

This past August, I wrote about my experiences, from the third grade, when I attended Franklin Elementary and Howard Kennedy Elementary Schools. The post was partly inspired by an Omaha Young Professionals Event where we were given a pitch to volunteer, and serve, in some of Omaha’s inner city elementary schools. They were schools that had a high percentage of students living at or below the poverty line, and they were looking for young professionals to help students at these schools meet various academic goals.

While I sat through the pitch, I was being stirred. Again. Throughout this year, God has been challenging me to get more involved when it comes to social justice matters. The catalyst was reading Tim Keller’s Generous Justice. It was a book where at the end of every chapter I had to put it down, seemingly, because I was overwhelmed by what Tim was saying. Well, I was overwhelmed by what God was speaking to me through Tim’s words. I was examining my own life and wondering what I could be doing to bring justice to those in need.

It’s not that I haven’t been involved or detached when it comes to social justice, by the standards of the world I’m doing well on that front. I find myself challenging the status quo when it comes to perceptions about the city, specifically North Omaha. I press people when I feel like they are using coded language to mask prejudice, whether they realize it or not. I help out with projects, and attend events, that target areas of Omaha in need, support the community and encourage others to do the same. I try to support local businesses and organizations within the city that give back. I try and highlight how a number of us have won the birth lottery, which has given some of us a huge advantage in achieving success in this life. I’ve worked on various projects that have attempted to draw attention to the need that is there in the city, and for the church to get involved.

But, how am I doing by God’s standards? Not good. Am I loving my neighbor the way Jesus expects? No, not at all. This was the conclusion I was arriving at with God. If I wasn’t getting my hands dirty, if I wasn’t involving myself on the ground or in the streets more, if most of my work on this front was strictly communicative in nature, then I would be guilty. Guilty of inaction. Guilty of not leading out.

Guilty of sin.

I should know better, and God wasn’t going to let me get away with it anymore.

There is a growing injustice going on within Omaha and kids are the victims. They are the victims of poverty, family breakdown, violence and injustice. As some of you know, Omaha has the highest percentage of African-American children living in poverty. What good does it do if all we ever do is just talk about these problems? What are we doing about it? What are we doing about it in our neighborhood, and the neighborhood across town? How fair is it to expect kids, who have all the disadvantages, to compete with kids, who have all the advantages?

A few weeks after hearing the pitch to get involved more, I attended Leadership Summit. One of the sessions dealt with tough callings. The words shared during this session weren’t as challenging as the testimonies of the individuals who shared. One of the individuals who shared was Mama Maggie Gobran. She is serving the homeless, that live amongst trash, in Cairo, Egypt. She is doing this in an area where Christians and women face persecution. You observe her life and you will be challenged to ask, “What am I doing?”

That’s not to say if you aren’t doing what Mama Maggie is doing you are wrong. However, probably everyone that heard her story examined what they were doing with their life. I was doing that, but also sensing the stirring to get more involved on the ground. It was inescapable.

When she got done sharing, everyone was handed a piece of broken pottery. Bill Hybels referenced the prophet Jeremiah and how he had a tough calling as a prophet. He read from Jeremiah 19 and how Jeremiah bought a piece of pottery and smashed it in front of everyone in one of his prophecies. The piece of pottery we had was to remind us that we live in a broken world. There are broken people all around us. God is looking for people who will go into that brokenness to minister and serve people. God is looking for people who will make that kind of generational/lifetime commitment to address the brokenness in this world. God is looking for people who will shun the world’s, and Western church’s, idea of success to please God and serve humanity.

I held that piece of pottery and prayed. I knew I was going to be involved in a deeper way within the Omaha community. I was not going to be guilty of the crime of in action.

While still attending Leadership Summit, I signed up to get involved with The Partnership for our Kids and return to Franklin Elementary.

Part 2 to come.

This post originally appeared on Robert Murphy’s personal blog, RamHatter.

Don’t Lie to Me, Christian!

Tonight’s guest presenter Christine Currie will be speaking at Gathering’s special Friday night edition this time on the topic of Sexuality. Come join us for dessert, great thoughts and conversation on a hot topic.

Here’s a little about Christy:

  • Christy Currie’s passion for reaching teens and young adults led her to graduate with a degree in Bible and Youth Ministry from Grace University. Christy spent several years speaking for the Center for Pregnancy Counseling, and has worked in front line ministry with Youth for Christ since 1999. She has served in various leadership roles as a Campus Life Director, Middle School Director, and Training Director. Christy is a gifted and compelling communicator and an expert on healthy sexual behavior and loving relationships. Christy married her husband Jason in 2003 and they have three children.

Christy will be joined by fellow women’s ministry leaders Jennifer Burchfiel and Lela Nix. Christy will speak for about 30 minutes then we’ll have a typical Gathering Q/A session. Come on out!

Forgiving my Grandfather, a Pedophile

This could be another stream of consciousness post, so please bear with me. I am also going to be general, purposefully, with some of this. I’d been meaning to write this for awhile, but the sexual abuse scandal enveloping Penn State implored me to do so finally.

I first heard about the scandal on Twitter while watching the Nebraska vs Northwestern game. I read the story and immediately I could not focus on the game. All I could think of were the children who had their lives (allegedly, although indicted by a grand jury) shattered by Jerry Sandusky. I was also upset by the apparent negligence shown by various leaders at Penn State University. Upset is not a strong enough word, I was enraged. There was a reason I was feeling enraged.

This past spring, my grandfather passed away on my mom’s side of the family. This might be a surprise to many of you since I didn’t talk about his death, let alone ever mention my grandfather. A standard line of mine was that I grew up without grandfathers. In one sense, this is true. Both my grandfathers’ lives impacted mine deeply. This is a post about the grandfather that affected my life more adversely.

What I believe to be my earliest memory is me pretending to be asleep. I’m in my bedroom at the house I grew up in on Chicago St, here in Omaha. I had been napping. There is commotion in my room, and for some reason I keep my eyes shut. My grandfather is in the room, as well as some of my cousins from that side of the family. How long had they been in there? Who was in there first? No idea. I just pretended to sleep as they then tried to rouse me awake. They all left the room, and I waited for the quiet. Once it was still, I got up and left the room to join everyone else downstairs. (more…)

Beyond The Message: New Heaven & Earth

In the latest Beyond The Message, Online Campus Pastor Robert Murphy sits down to talk with Lead Pastor Mark Ashton about the final message from Future Shock. Topics discussed are:

  • What was one thing you learned in preparing to teach during the Future Shock series?
  • Why should someone want to go to Heaven when life here on Earth is good?
  • Why should someone hope for Heaven when they’ve experienced hurt and suffering?
  • Revelation 21 & 22, and symbolism with the city in new Heaven.
  • Recommended resources for further study.
  • Hope and prayer for CCC, going forward, now that the series is finished.

Beyond The Message: Love Wins

Seven months after the book’s release, and subsequent controversy, Tim Perry and I sit down to discuss Rob Bell’s latest book Love Wins.

Why now? Because they, along with other staff, are continually asked for their opinion about the book, and questions relating to universal reconciliation, by people outside the church.

We had a lengthy discussion covering a number of questions and topics. Topics discussed are:

Intention of reviewing Love Wins and discussing universal reconciliation.

  • How often is Hell/judgment referenced in the Bible?
  • What is the meaning of the gates to the city being open in Heaven?
  • What does Luke 16:19-31 mean?
  • What does it mean when God says He’ll bring all people to Him in the end?
  • What does it mean when everyone (kings) bows before Jesus in the end?
  • What does sin truly do to us?
  • Are their other attributes of God beyond love?
  • Are God’s attributes isolated?
  • Has universal reconciliation been a theme of Christianity since the beginning?
  • Why has the book been frustrating for us?
  • Is there any scripture that supports a second chance for people, after they die, to escape Hell?
  • Who will be in Heaven?
  • Romans 1:18-23

Additional resources:

On my personal blog, I explain a bit more as to why Tim and I decided to do a review of this book now.