Dream Data: Membership Maps & Emmaus

Ever have those massive projects that you wish you could undertake?  Like take a few months off work and family and be able to really tackle an issue, crunch the data....with the knowledge and enthusiasm to accomplish it?  With the world's ever-increasing desire for good data amidst the tumult, I find myself wishing someone could do a few projects or pay me to do them.

This is, of course, disregarding solving world problems and feeding the hungry.  I'm talking about sheer data compilation and presentation of churchy stuff.

So, here we go: If I had unlimited time and unlimited resources to research churchy phenomenon, here's three I would do.

Short version:
  1. Input church attendees' addresses into Google Earth for a zoomable tool that can examine church membership trends.
  2. Correlate church growth with city/town growth for social demographic results
  3. Map out the impact of the Walk to Emmaus community on local church attendance.
Long version:
  1. I would map out every member of various churches in a city or town onto Google Earth.  From there we could zoom, color-code membership (we'll put the Baptists in pink for fun), and explore social phenomenon such as if all the Methodists really live in the same neighborhoods.  This would be an immensely valuable tool for examining the impact of church membership and the real-time demographics of area churches.  It would be impossible to get such data (privacy concerns) but a cool tool nonetheless.
  2. I would correlate church growth numbers and statistics with the growth of the town/city over the past 100 years.  During times of economic insecurity, did the Methodists grow?  During times of boom years, did Prosperity Gospel churches grow?  When adding on a subdivision of lower-class houses, did church attendance boom?  I think examining how societal shifts and church growth shifts correlate would be fascinating for discussion.
  3. I would map out the church attendance and dedication of every person who goes on the Walk to Emmaus spiritual retreat.  Contrary to what you may think of a progressive seminary-trained pastor, I've been on the Walk to Emmaus, served several retreats in various capacities, and am about to give my first Talk.  So I'm an Insider looking in, not an external critic.  The expressed purpose of the Walk is:

    The Walk to Emmaus is a spiritual renewal program intended to strengthen the local church through the development of Christian disciples and leaders.
    The Emmaus community is sustained by "fourth day" monthly meetings of the attendees.  At one vividly-remembered meeting that I attended, a member said he had to stop attending his local UM church because he didn't get the spiritual experience from it that he did from a monthly fourth-day meeting.  He later switched to a Pentecostal congregation.  I've heard this story echoed by other pastors who see members either (a) become more involved, or (b) leave the church after an Emmaus weekend. 

    While that is anecdotal, the memory spurs me to want to get the data on whether Emmaus actually (statistically) increases church involvement and whether participants self-profess an increase in commitment to local church.  I would have to wait until I see the data to actually offer criticism beyond anecdotes.
There ya go: three huuuuuge data projects that I think would be of great benefit if the data was compiled and presented in a helpful manner.



Faking Christianity for Social Acceptance

Via Richard Beck, here's an interesting social phenomenon: faking being a Christian so Christians don't ostracize you from your child's playdates.
We are agnostics living deep in the heart of Texas and our family fakes Christianity for social reasons. It’s not so much for the sake of my husband or myself but for our young children. We found by experience that if we were truthful about not being regular church attenders, the play dates suddenly ended. Thus started the faking of the religious funk.

It seemed silly but it’s all very serious business down here. We don’t go to church or teach or children one belief is “right” over another. We expose them to every kind of belief and trust that they will one day settle in to their very own spirituality. However, for the sake of friends and neighbors, we pretend we are Christians. We try not to lie but rather not to disclose unnecessary information. As the children are getting older, this isn’t so easy for them and an outing is probably eminent.
Fascinating: people who fake being Christian so that Christians will accept them.  I'm much less insulted by the fakers than I am by the Christians who don't express radical hospitality to other faiths/agnostics.  There's more than one person faking Christian values in this story.


(Image credit: Nonnetta on DeviantArt)


Great Depression, Part Deux? [quote]

We had a study last night on the history of the Christian Church when this quote came up.  This was written in 1985 by Justo Gonzalez in The Story of Christianity: Volume Two - The Reformation to the Present Day about the Great Depression in the 1930.  I have bolded the interesting sections...remember this was writtin in 1985.

On October 24, 1929, panic gripped the New York Stock Exchange. With short periods of slight recovery, the market continued dropping until the middle of 1930. By then, most of the western world was in the middle of a great economic depression. One-fourth of the labor force in the United States was unemployed. Britain and other nations had social security systems and unemployment insurance. In the United States, fear of socialism had prevented such measures; therefore, the unemployed found themselves entirely on their own, or forced to seek charity from relatives, friends, or churches. Soup kitchens and breadlines became common sights in all major cities and many smaller towns. Runs on banks, bankruptcies, and foreclosures reached a record high.

At first, the nation faced the Great Depression with the optimism that had characterized earlier decades. President Hoover and his cabinet continued denying the existence of a depression for months after the market had crashed. When they finally admitted that there was a depression, they insisted that the American economy was sufficiently sound to rebound by itself, and that the free workings of the marketplace were the best way to ensure an economic recovery. Although the president himself was a compassionate man who suffered with the plight of the unemployed, there were around him those who rejoiced in the hope that the Depression would break the labor unions. When finally the government intervened to prevent further bankruptcies in industry and commerce, comedian Will Rogers quipped that money was being given to those at the top hoping that it would “trickle down to the needy.’
Gonzalez, 1985, 376
Still don't think there are parallels to today?  Foreclosures at record highs?  Fears of socialism?  An entire school's union fired?  Bailouts at the top hoping to trickle down to the bottom?  Wow.

This isn't a partisan political discussion...but it is an interesting parallel that the Church has to decide how to respond.  How do we offer hope in the midst of similar despair?  How do we not repeat the mistakes of the past and seek new relevance today?



The Church Has Won

A review of new research on youth spirituality has me rethink the gloom and doom of the mainline Protestant Church.

The Christian Century has a review of Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults that includes this nugget (h/t Nathan on Facebook):

Drawing on sociologist N. Jay Demerath's thesis that "liberal Protestantism's core values—individualism, pluralism, emancipation, tolerance, free critical inquiry, and the authority of personal experience—have come to so permeate the broader American culture" that these values no longer need liberal Protestantism to survive, Smith makes a fascinating move: he argues that young people are not more involved in American religious life because they don't have to be. The values of America's dominant religious outlook for the past century are now carried forward by American culture itself... Far from being in decline, Demerath suggests, liberal Protestantism has won in American culture.
In other words, the values that drove the American Protestant church have now become embedded in culture and thus the church has won.  Its values have become American values.  The Church has won.  But in doing so, the value of attending church has gone down from a socio-cultural perspective.  So the church succeeded in embedding culture with its values, but now the culture has left the people behind.  But at what cost?  The book concludes:
The gospel gives liberal values redemptive traction, acknowledging the limits of human optimism by offering real hope in God's activity through human communities.
In other words, the church is still necessary to make sense of the culture to which it has contributed. Like the keymaster who needs the gatekeeper, church and culture are now embedded in each other, symbiotic, requiring the other.

So, that's the thesis.  And if it is in a truthful direction, then it is not the mainline church that is in the decline; it has won, remember?  Rather, the churches that continue to reflect society's values of consumerism, echo chambers, segregated experience, and glitzy shiny worship are the impoverished ones because they don't seek to change innate cultural values (innate is more than simply abortion but respect for all life; more than just gay marriage but deliniation of church/empire limits; etc).  The churches that grab ahold of the progressive values, the ones that beckon us forward to just relationships with one another, they are the ones who by cultural standards of numerical growth are failing, but by the kingdom's standards are the only hope it has left.

Yeah, a bit soap-boxy, but it's an interesting conclusion.  Thoughts?


Gonna Need a new Graveside Liturgy [funeral.hack]

A guy has a released patent on a "screw-in coffin" that would reduce land use and ensure your burial is unique (h/t Gizmodo).

In other words, the casket would be in a screw-shape and one would be buried standing up.

You could even bury your loved ones in low-lying lands, comfortable that they are not only safe from the elements, but their PEZ dispenser tops would be still-identifiable.

Yeah, if this becomes popular, we're gonna need a new Graveside liturgy that includes "screwturners" rather than pallbearers and perhaps "we turn this wheel to remind ourselves of how much we were screwed in our life, praise be to God" might be appropriate liturgy.

Yes, I'm making fun, and graveyard overcrowding is a serious issue, but I really don't know if I could keep a straight face at this kind of graveside service.



It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us

Weird convergence of random quotes that all seem to be talking about the same thing.

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Marianne Williamson, co-leader of the USA Department of Peace movement
(quote often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela)
"And this is undoubtedly true, that there is a repentance and a faith, which are, more especially, necessary at the beginning: a repentance, which is a conviction of our utter sinfulness, and guiltiness, and helplessness; and which precedes our receiving that kingdom of God, which, our Lord observes, is within us; and a faith, whereby we receive that kingdom, even righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
John Wesley "The New Birth" sermon
Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's) imperial rule is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father's) imperial rule is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty."
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’
Luke 17:20-21, NRSV
thoughts?  reflections?


'Embrace Life' Seatbelt Ad

Great ad promoting seatbelt use.


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