Resurgence Conference - 1RELEVANT: It is defined as, “Having a bearing on or connection with the matter at hand.” How then does this definition fit within the scope of what many are now pushing as “relevant church?” What exactly is the matter that many seemingly have such a great bearing on or a great connection? Do they have a great bearing on the Gospel? A great bearing on salvation? What exactly is it that these churches are promoting and is it something we should all have?

In the About Page of one church I came across that was touted as a “relevant church,” stated the following:

Relevant is a casual, contemporary, Christian church meeting in Ybor City, Florida. Our service is designed specifically for young professionals, young families, college students, or anyone who wants to engage Jesus in a fresh creative way.

At Relevant, we feel that it’s our responsibility to “clear the way” for you to come to church. We want you to be able to experience the great music, encouraging messages, friendly people and enjoyable atmosphere that are a part of Relevant.

From another church website they posted:

At Relevant Church, we don’t have it all together. But, one thing we try our best to do is to love God and people with recklessness.So, shed your pre-conceived notions about what church is supposed to feel like, grab a few friends, and stop by. We’ll crank up the music, enjoy one another, have some coffee, and talk about how the Scriptures intersect with real life.

Another church presented their “about us” as follows:

Before Relevant Church formed a couple of years ago, we started out wanting to be a place for people who were outside of faith and/or for people who didn’t typically go to church. Maybe they had a bad experience in the past where they had been hurt. Maybe they are just skeptical of organized religion, or maybe church has had a negative connotation. Regardless, we wanted to create a church that would be a place where people could find a community and heal, where they could find deep and meaningful relationships, and where they could discover profound life with God.

So we asked, what would it look like for us to be a church that is transparent and real about everything – a place where true, unconditional love could be practiced towards everyone to the best of our human ability? Imagine being able to go to a church where you could just be yourself; not pretending to have it all together, not dressing a certain way or talking a certain way to fit in. That is what we imagined and that is what we have been blessed to be a part of. We focus on relationships, not on religion. We are not trying to get people to join a denomination, to change, or to convert from one religion to another. We simply want to love Jesus and love people, in fresh, relevant, and creative ways.

Another church in their name flashed their slogan beneath it declaring, “Not Religion…Relevant.” They went on to explain their vision:

We envision, a membership of thousands of new believers who are devoted to maturing in their relationship with the Lord and committed to reaching their circles of influence— their friends, family members, and co-workers.

We envision a network of over one hundred small groups where people find authentic Christian relationships and fellowship. These groups will laugh, learn, and do life together while accountable to a close-knit group of Christian friends.

We envision a mature group of lay leaders willing to serve sacrificially by doing whatever it takes to influence the people in both the local and global community. The lay leadership will be involved in every aspect of the church and its ministries.

We envision a cutting-edge weekly worship service that glorifies the Almighty God by utilizing each of the five senses. Through music, art, poetry, and a variety of other mediums, worship will involve the whole person.

We envision an environment where the hurting, disillusioned, confused, and displaced can find hope, peace, and discover the purpose for their lives and their mission in God’s Kingdom.

Another church website begins with a promo with the pastor who speaks of his favorite song from R.E.M. called “Everybody Hurts.” He presented that the reason the song was so popular was due to the fact that the song connected with hurting people all across America. Then it turned towards the fact that often hurt comes from the least likely sources and then he tells us that one of those places is the “church.” It should be a place of sanctuary, approval, and unconditional love. He said that in most churches we feel guilt, judgment, condemnation, and you are always being put down. According to this pastor there is a disconnect and something got lost in translation. “You matter, you count, you’re important…” The churches about us page presents:

The heart and motivation of Relevant Church is Jesus and His amazing love. In everything we do, it’s our desire that people would be pointed directly to Him. This is a place for people from every walk of life, to come and be genuinely loved and appreciated…never judged or condemned. It is our strong passion to love and serve the people of our church as well as all the people of this wonderful city.

At this point I feel that the point has been made “relatively” clear. In fact a search alone on the phrase “relevant church,” comes up with 490,000 results! What is happening and why is it happening? I think that it is important to understand the trends and the cultural upheavals of our day. In fact I believe that the church should have an answer that goes beyond the classical, “they are just backsliders.”

When looking at the vision statements, core values, and missions of these so called “relevant churches,” you can easily find key ingredients that are shared in common and can come to the understanding that just about every “relevant” church is cut from the same mold. Here are a few of those hot spots:

  1. Community
  2. Love
  3. Acceptance
  4. Tolerance
  5. Restoration
  6. Anti-Religion
  7. Nondenominational
  8. Discussion
  9. Relationship
  10. Modernity
  11. Contemporary
  12. Casual

Listen closely to those talking among these relevant groups. Get down to where the rubber meets the road in many instances and you will find, especially in leadership, that a large majority of these individuals have “come-out” of some other religion, denomination, or church experience with a very negative opinion. They talk about having felt “judged and condemned” in the past. They present their current system of ideology under the shadow of yesterdays “religious bondage.” This is very reminiscent of the 1960’s, particularly the mid 60’s, which showed a pattern through the 90’s and even until today where church growth began to see a decline among all major protestant groups except Pentecostalism and a few other groups, which has shown increase in growth.

Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life • Global Christianity, December 2011, showed that:

According to a Pew Forum analysis of estimates from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are about 279 million pentecostal Christians and 305 million charismatic Christians in the world. (See Defining Christian Movements on page 69.) This means that, according to this analysis, pentecostal and charismatic Christians together make up about 27% of all Christians and more than 8% of the world’s total population.(Page 67.)

According to other studies it is seen that other protestant groups are seeing minimal or no growth at all. (Information taken from article in USA Today:Religion “Growth stalls, falls for largest U.S. churches.)

The Roman Catholic Church (No. 1) and the Southern Baptist Convention (No. 2) are still significantly larger than all other North American denominations, but Catholics posted minimal growth of less than 1%, and Southern Baptist membership fell for a third straight year, according to the 2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churchespublished this week.

The figures in the 2011 yearbook, compiled by churches in 2009 and reported to the council in 2010, show that mainline Protestant churches continue the decline in memberships that began in the 1970s. The newest numbers show that the membership drop in mainline churches led to a 1% decrease in total U.S. church membership, to 145.8 million.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) led with the greatest membership drop of the 25 largest denominations, down 2.6%.

Other denominations reporting declines include the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church as well as the more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

While many denominations are seeing stagnation or decline and Pentecostalism (including charismatic groups) is seeing growth there is a recent statistic that is rather alarming. It is a group of people being labeled as “nones,” that are increasing by rapid numbers. The “nones,” are American’s who do not identify with any named religion. They are classified as, “no religious affiliation.”

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

 In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%). (Pew Center Research 2012.)

However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics. (Pew Research Center: “Nones on the Rise.”)

This growth in the unaffiliated religious group is shown to be compelled by “generational replacement.” Simply put, the older generations are gradually being replaced by new ones. In fact, research shows that 1/3 of all adults under the age of 30 (that is 32%) are unaffiliated in a religious manner. Compare that to the number of adults 65 and older which shows only one-in-ten are religiously unaffiliated.

Further study has shown that geographically there is not much of a difference, although the west has seen the most significant increase in “nones.” While it isn’t my purpose to introduce politics, it cannot be ignored that the vast majority of those who are “unaffiliated religiously” are in favor of abortion and same-sex marriage. The majority are democratic in party and the majority of “nones” surveyed said they voted for President Obama in 2008 and favor his policies.

SO WHY SO MANY NONES? 

Sociologists theorize:

Several leading scholars contend that young adults, in particular, have turned away from organized religion because they perceive it as deeply entangled with conservative politics and do not want to have any association with it. University of California, Berkeley, sociologists Michael Hout and Claude S. Fischer first suggested in 2002 that “part of the increase in ‘nones’ can be viewed as a symbolic statement against the Religious Right.”13 And in their recent book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” Robert Putnam of Harvard University and David Campbell of Notre Dame marshall evidence from various surveys that supports this thesis. From the 1970s through the 1990s, they argue, “[r]eligiosity and conservative politics became increasingly aligned, and abortion and gay rights became emblematic of the emergent culture wars.” The result, they write, was that many young Americans came to view religion as “judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, and too political.” (Pew Forum: Nones on the rise: Theories.)

In the next post I will present another theory…

TO BE CONTINUED….