A place for United Methodists and others to explore and share their ideas, resources, visions, and dreams of or about mission, ministry and worship in the emerging missional way... Hosted by Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources, GBOD. http://email@example.com
the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing
from the throne of God and of the Lamb from the middle of the street of the
city.On either side of the river is the
tree of life with its 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and
the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.Nothing accursed will be found there.”
Revelation 22: 1-3 (NRSV)
King takes the room as soon as he walks in.Plaid shirt, blue jeans, they wear like a suit.He is at home in the board room or in the
all energy and explosions - laughter, ideas, movements.He’s on the move.Always.He’s Muhammad Ali as naturalist.
insurance, keeping his neighbors safe and healthy, writing policy and caring for
loves a good time, out fishing with friends, they tell each other stories.
boy he would step into the waters of Fall Creek, where the men would gather and
was my television,”Joe
says. Fatherless, they became his fathers, his teachers. It was here he heard
stories, his feet cooling in the waters.The men teaching
about fish, and about life in the city.
with teen-age Cameron on his porch.Cameron says, “I’m weird.”Joe
says, “I’ve been weird every day of my life,
and it’s a
good thing.Any time you are feeling
sit on my porch and we’ll talk,”doing
now what was done for him.
He’s always close to the waters.It is a member of his community.
Creek is never very wide. No more than 45-50 yards. During the dry of summer it
can slow to a trickle. In the spring and in the fall it
flows.It carries fish and the waste of
our civilization, such as it is.
Fall Creek the waters roll, not the mighty Wabash, not the roaring Mississippi,
just waters that literally, in the past, have fed the people.The men that Joe joined as a boy were
catching dinner. The
living water whose cost and benefit are rarely (if ever) counted.
down by the waters he and I. Every day he steps in the waters. Even now twice a
year he leads a clean up of Fall Creek.
he says, “I talk
to the creek and the creek talks to me and I tell it I will not forsake it.”
whole life he has loved this place, this water. It’s more than H2O to him. The waters
cleanse and heal.They breathe, free,
reveal,teach. Fall Creek was his school, his
home, his grocery store, his bank.
fished the men caught him. Instead of filleting him, they fed him. His
gratitude was for the ways the waters gathered and nourished community.
knows times have changed.He and his
friends (the Dirty Dozen Hunting and Fishing Club) still gather with their
neighbors, young and old, women and men, to feed each other by the waters of
By Junior Melo (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
High Internet Use May Account for 20% of the Decline in Religious Affiliation in the US since 1990
I use the Internet more hours of the day than I do not. Much of this is for my work, which involves a substantial amount of time not only producing resources (many of which I research by using the Internet) but also interacting directly in GBOD and UMC-related social networks and chat with church leaders across the globe via Facebook and Twitter. I also use the Internet (Google Hangouts) to meet with my Covenant Discipleship Group when I am not in Nashville, and will even be offering a Holy Saturday service online via Twitter this coming Saturday (April 19, 10 AM ET, #holysat). And I use it personally-- for free texting to stay in touch with family and key friends, to stream video to our Roku player (we don't have cable), and to play a few games on my mobile devices (but not during regular work hours!). And, of course, there's email. And search.
In March 2014, Allen B. Downey, Professor of Computer Science at the Olin College of Engineering, Needham, Massachusetts, published "Religious affiliation, education and Internet use" in the online science, mathematics and statistics journal, arXiv, hosted by the Cornell University Library. arXiv is not a peer reviewed journal, but rather an outlet for established researchers with appropriate institutional relationships to publish their work in these fields.
The overall findings of Downey's statistical research ascribed such high correlations (p-values less than 0.01) between religious disaffiliation and three particular factors (religious upbringing, education and Internet use) that unless some additional explanatory variable or variables could be identified, these correlations may be considered compatible with causation. In particular, reductions in the rate of religious upbringing account for 25% of the observed rates of disaffiliation since the 1980s. Increased amounts of of college and graduate education account for 5% of the change. And Internet use accounts for 20% of the change since the 1990s. Rates of disaffiliation are higher, on average, as Internet use increases beyond 7 hours daily.
That leaves 50% of the causative factors unaccounted for. Within the data, there is an explanation for the other 50%-- a lack of generational replacement-- but as Downey notes, that basically comes down to birth year analysis, and birth year, of itself, cannot function as an independent variable. In other words, when you are born can't, in general, be said to be causative.
I've already noted I use the Internet more than 7 hours per day. I am also a college graduate and hold two graduate degrees (M.Div. and M.A. in Peace Studies). So it would appear I have at least 25% of the risk factors for becoming religiously disaffiliated. However, both my parents were raised with deep religious involvement, and so were myself and my sister, and both of us in my generation are also deeply involved in the life of the church, so that 25% is more than counterbalanced by the other 75%-- or at least the other 25% if we admit we can't account for the other 50% statistically.
Why would Internet use correlate so strongly with increases in disaffiliation? Downey's research does not attempt to answer that question.
But among these factors, and with support from Barna's most recent research (summarized here), we might be able to pinpoint better for whom a church's increasing engagement with the Internet might enhance affiliation rather than have no effect or even increase disaffiliation.
The top 4 reasons Barna identifies evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics attend church is a) to be closer to God (43%), b) to learn more about God (38%), c) a biblical call to be with other believers (34%) and because I've always attended church (28%, primarily Roman Catholics). At the same time most who attend admit they've not felt close to God in the last month (80%) or learned anything new about God as a result of the last time they attended (94%). In other words, the two most prominent driving factors for attending worship are not at all being satisfied by doing so.
So it should not be surprising that Barna also finds 40% of those who do not attend say they can find God elsewhere and 35% say the church is not relevant to their lives in any real way.
And where else might some of these folks be finding God or something that seems more relevant to their lives? Barna did not ask this question, but certainly the Internet, and particularly the social Internet, with its immediate feedback of likes and comments on content we post, is a likely candidate.
This might lead church leaders to conclude there's a mandate to reach these disaffiliated persons by using the Internet.
But putting Downey and Barna together might lead to a different conclusion.
Remember, increased Internet use is highly correlated with increased disaffiliation, so highly correlated it might be said to be causative. So it may well be the case that trying to reach people who are disaffiliated via the Internet may either not work at all, or, worse, actually lead to further disaffiliation.
For some, at least.
Just do the math. Persons not raised in the church, a rate that is continuing to rise, are already 25% more likely not to affiliate at all. If they are college educated, that jumps to 30%. Add Internet involvement, and that goes to 50%. And the later they were born, the more likely they will not affiliate at all.
In other words, the odds of a church being effective at using extensive Internet-based engagement with persons (including younger persons) with zero church background for the purpose of leading them to affiliation are not very favorable. At all. You're simply adding one more risk factor for moving people away from church life into the mix.
Short answer: Targeting the "never-affiliated Nones" with "internet church" isn't likely to accomplish much.
Okay, how about those "Nones" who had been affiliated, but now have dropped out, including that 59% of Millennials Barna notes have dropped out at some point.
They were affiliated at one point. That's significant. But even when they were, the vast majority of them weren't getting out of church what they said they would value most about it. So they've already left. Maybe they're finding that somewhere else. And from Pew we know that 72% of those who have disaffiliated say they aren't interested in reaffiliating or being part of any group larger than their immediate circle of friends, ever. If they're using the Internet, and likely they are, they've got that additional 20% "drive away" factor in play. So again, the odds are low online strategies will be effective at generating renewed affiliation.
What these two bits of evidence taken together may say, then, is the
primary value of church social media and internet sites may be far more
for increasing ties with "insiders" than evangelizing or seeking to
reactivate those who have become "outsiders."
So that leaves those who have been raised in the church and have not disaffiliated. For these people, and perhaps primarily for these people, the negative effects of Internet use on church affiliation may not outweigh the overall "affiliating" forces already in play. Let me suggest further, to help strengthen these affiliating forces, that online strategies for reaching and supporting these people aim squarely at the two highest factors Barna identifies for attendance-- getting closer to and learning about God. If the congregation focuses its efforts online in providing what the affiliated say they seek the most but clearly aren't getting in worship or educational opportunities (getting closer to and learning about God), it may be positioning its online ministries for maximum effectiveness.
The key in this is the church making its online ministries clearly part of its ministries, its web of communications, its work of community building within its life. Such online ministries needn't be members-only walled gardens, but the value they add needs to relate to the specific ways those already affiliated with the congregation can give witness and support to getting closer to God and learning about God as part of that congregation.
Internet: Use It... Wisely
When the Online Communion Conversation was convened in Nashville last fall, and then when the Council of Bishops acted on the recommendations of that panel of church leaders, practitioners and scholars, probably the biggest message most people heard was the call by the Council of Bishops for a moratorium on all online sacramental practice.
But that was not our first recommendation.
Our first recommendation, and in fact the first one the Council of Bishops approved in November 2013, was that:
"The Council of Bishops, in collaboration with appropriate general agency staff and other partners, actively lead the way to promote and develop excellent practices of online ministries across the United Methodist connection."
In other words, while the most widely spread outcome may have suggested United Methodists were some sort of Luddites regarding online ministries, the reality is quite the reverse. We were calling for and the bishops agreed to dramatically step up the excellence of United Methodist online ministries worldwide.
Excellence in online ministries involves not just excellence in their technical platform and execution-- and we absolutely were seeking that!-- but also and most importantly excellence in their results toward our mission as a church-- to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
What I think the recent studies from Downey, Barna and Pew show, fairly definitively, is that the most likely arena in which United Methodists (or anyone in the US) will be able to develop online ministries that enhance affiliation, and so, we trust, discipleship, will be in those that focus first on amplifying the capacity of all the affiliated in our congregations, of every age and ability, to get closer to God and learn more about God, both individually and collectively.
Over the next six posts, Mike Mather, pastor of Broadway UMC in Indianapolis, shares how he has come to focus locally, listening for and learning to see the abundance of God's work already in progress among the people of the congregation and neighborhood where he is appointed to serve.
Jewish Sabbath Prayer:
walk sightless among miracles.
Rose is often out in the inner city, in her housecoat and tennis shoes sweeping
the street, picking up trash.
caramel complexion fits in well in this block. It blends with the pink of her
worn robe and the salt and pepper gray of the sidewalk.
a toughness and gentleness, easily holding that tension. She’s seen it all and then some. She’s no innocent. She’s known blood to run in the gutters.
the shouts, then shots, so loud as to be unnoticed.
She’s tall and the years have not bent
her much.Perhaps it’s all that walking, striding into the
future.She has cared for her children,
her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.she now shares.In her 80’s she
continues in the work of building community.
by piece she picks it up and places it deep inside. It’s
alright. She’s bringing it together in ways, allowing the beauty to shine
through. The glorious in the gritty.
steps into the street. She looks both ways. Empty patchwork fields and an
abundance of homes fill the street. Children, families, and papers swirl around
her feet. The Spirit blows and the papers dance, sometime out of her reach. She
watches, she knows where it’s headed.
cans and broken glass are part of her collection. She gathers up the broken and
damaged and brings it home.
watches from her porch.Sunflowers in
the front yard, broken pavement opening to the brick from generations ago.Some homes have fences, some have none.
porch late in 2008 she sat and dreamed about a black President, a smile on her
people walk by as she picks up trash. They notice, but don’t say anything. They walk with the
easy (unknowing) confidence of the young.They
see and don’t
see.Just like me. Their feet land
heavy. Hers seem to glide. They laugh and talk loud. She smiles and says
little. Every once in awhile they reach down and pick up a piece of paper.
the slow, steady, steadfast work of community. She builds it on broken
pavement. Sure this foundation is strong enough.
sees the beauty and she wants to make it shine. She sees the strength and she
wants it in power.
play curb ball as she cleans the street.They see her as in a mirror. This is how we care for one another.We see the beauty, and build on it.
are people doing such work, every day, all the time.
Rose, sunflowers in the front yard, beans blossoming in the back. She knows how
to grow things.
people notice her, while others - television reporters, teachers, preachers,
even neighbors - tell them how bad their neighborhood is.
steadily, daily, cleans the street. Does she keep it clean? No. She does her
part. An invitation to others to do theirs. A witness.
Rose, smiling, reads to children at the church.