Friday, December 2, 2011

Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith

Cities have gotten a bad rap. So says author Eric Jacobsen in his 2003 book Sidewalks in the Kingdom.  They got off to a bad start, reputation wise, at least as told in the Bible.  Enoch, Babel and Ramses are three discredited cities.  Some people today still hold to this view according to Jacobsen.  These city-haters view cities as corrupting.  The city-despisers seek instead an Eden-like existence in the suburbs.  Jacobsen points to Jerusalem as a city that is worth living in.  Most cities, like Jerusalem, are places that God is using for good.  In fact, he says, "to be a Christian means to be a city person."

I agree with Jacobsen.  Cities are places where diversity reigns.  Barriers are temporarily lowered as lawyers and bankers mingle on the sidewalks with beggars and buskers.  It is in cities that we interact more face to face, rather than grill to taillights.  Through this very human interaction we are daily reminded of God's image, reflected in speech and ambling and visage.  This country needs more pro-city policies that recognize that in a world of global competition countries will compete and be defined by the strength of their cities.  If you want to see a truly stupendous city visit Shangai.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Broken Promises, Sprawl and The American Experience

Eric Jacobsen has written a wonderful book entitled Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith.  Chapter one, of this 2003 book, notes that Americans, that is us, are worshiping three false idols: independence, freedom and individualism.  Individualism without restraint results in monotonous suburbs.  Freedom to travel for some becomes isolation for others (think of youth and the elderly).  True self, says Jacobsen, emerges not in individual endeavor but by immersing oneself in community.  Government policy has encouraged sprawl by subsidizing roads, starving mass transit, and encouraging new home construction (FHA) rather than renovating existing homes.

What can church people do?  We can support MASS transit. Transit for the masses, rather than so much transit for individuals.  We can seek to change government policies that overvalue sprawl and undervalue density.  We can consider the needs of all citizens for mobility, rather than those who make the most noise.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monument Circle: Another Reason To Be Proud of Indianapolis

Indianapolis is in the midst of a fall cleaning as it prepares to host the 2012 Super Bowl.  Sidewalks are being smoothed.  Blank canvas walls are now adorned with murals honoring Kurt Vonnegut and others.   Miles of streets have new asphalt.  And the bronze Victory stature, after a major restoration, has been returned to its pedestal atop the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  Indianapolis will shine when it hosts the Super Bowl.

However, Indianapolis shines everyday.  We have much to be proud of, including Monument Circle.  This year Monument Circle was named one of America's top ten Great Public Spaces by the American Planning Association.
The APA notes that "places are selected annually and represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow."
This is what they said about Monument Circle:
Since 1821 when Alexander Ralston laid out the state's capital in Indianapolis and located "Circle Street" in the middle of the mile square plat, Monument Circle has served as the literal and figurative center of Indianapolis. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, designed by Bruno Schmitz of Germany in an international competition, rests at the center of the Circle. Other features include bronze statuary of three former Indiana governors and a general, a grand staircase, and two water pools. There also are striking views of the state capitol building and the city from atop a 231-foot-tall observation tower.

Monument Circle looks its absolute best when viewed from above. The two reflecting pools are Caribbean beach blue.  The curved building facades compress activity and heighten drama.  So the birds get the best view.  But settling for a walking tour is fine.  This is a public space you want to explore, its proportions are right.  Indianapolis can be proud.  And soon there will be a new Presbyterian (PCUSA) church aforming in the mile square.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Extraordinary Leaders in Extraordinary Times, Vol. 1

A major challenge facing those starting new churches is finding an organizing pastor who can fulfill the call.  Often the presbytery settles for the person who wants the call rather than the person who has the skills and leadership traits to bring forth a viable new church.
Extraordinary Leaders in Extraordinary Times reports on research on the leadership traits of new church pastors from seven mainline denominations.  Edited by Dr. H. Stanley Wood, the contributors detail the leadership qualities of effective new church pastors.
The research findings are presented as Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 leadership competencies.  In the first seven years of the new church development Tier 1 competencies are: Catalytic Innovator, Vibrant Faith in God, and Visionary/vision caster.  Tier 2 functions are: Empowering leadership, Passion for people, Personal and relational health, Passion for faith sharing and Inspiring preaching and worship.  Tier 3 traits are Administrative skills and other categories.
A Catalytic Innovator is "somebody or something that makes a change happen or brings about an event, someone who introduces a new way of doing something."
Surrounding the Catalytic Innovator category are five subcategories: Self-Starter, Risk-Taker, Charismatic Leader, Flexible Adapter and Tenacious Perseverer.
The authors discuss in detail each category and subcategory.
What about the later stages of the new church development (years 8 through 20)?  The research found the leadership skills needed change in the later years.  In the later years the top Tier 1 trait is Ability to Change Leadership Styles.
This book offers much that can be of practical value to presbyteries as they start new churches.  Interview questions, for example, can be formulated based upon the key leadership traits.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why Some Denominations Decline

Worldliness, a state of low tension with the culture at large and low demands made on members are culprits that lead some denominations into decline.  Mainline denominations have been in decline since the country was founded.
By contrast, growing denominations make high demands on members, are otherworldly and live in high tension with culture.  In addition, these denominations are entrepreneurial and build thriving churches that respond to the religious marketplace in America.

Read more about how America has evolved from an unchurched country in 1776 to one where 62% are church members in Roger Finke's and Rodney Stark's book, The Churching of America 1776-2005, Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Conducting Primary Research by Going Door to Door

Churches need to be constantly asking the question, "who lives in our neighborhood and how can we reach out to them?" Secondary research, also known as desk research, will help you answer that question. Church leaders can consult data from the U.S. Census Bureau or a demographic provider such as MissionInsite. However, I recommend you push away from your desk and go out into your neighborhood to conduct primary research as well.

Primary research, also called field research, involves the collection of data that does not already exist. The Census Bureau, for example, does not ask questions about religious affiliation. You can gather that information from some households by going door to door around the church.

Bill Hybels is one of the best known practitioners of door to door research. Before launching Willow Creek Community Church he went door to door in South Barrington, IL. He asked residents one question, "what do you like least about the church?" He was frequently told "churches are always asking for money." As a result of this primary research Willow Creek does not pass the offering plate during the seeker services on Sunday.

Of course Pastor Hybel's learned more than just the answer to his one question. Church members volunteered where they already went to church. Some of the unchurched peppered him with questions, telling him what issues were foremost on the minds of the unchurched. Conversations at the door, even brief ones, can be very rich.

His perambulating had another benefit as well. He was able to announce the formation of a new church, one the unchurched might want to join. After all they had already met the pastor.

Casual Primary Research
You can also conduct casual or incidental primary research. Let's say you are sending out teams of two people to invite people to Easter service. Each team takes a stack of doorhangers. If someone is home they hand them the doorhanger and invite them to church. The resident might say thanks but I already attend a church, mentioning the name of the church. If no one is home, put a doorhanger on the door and move on to the next house.

Be sure to debrief the teams when they return to your church. What did they hear and learn? This casual primary research will be quite interesting and valuable.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What is Planetizen?

Church planters and all those in the church concerned about the built environment will find useful information in the newsletter Planetizen. It is delivered free to your inbox on Mondays and Thursdays.

For example, if your church is located in a Rust Belt city you will find in the February 14 issue of Planetizen that these cities are attracting a younger population. Cities like Youngstown, OH are coming back to life, especially in their downtowns, according to an article "The Rust Belt Has Arrived."

In that same issue is an article about Gainesville, FL and how it is becoming more livable. Roll up your sleeves and help your city become more liveable by learning from Gainesville. The city is emphasizing walkability and neighborhood scale.

Planetizen will also help you keep up with issues regarding religious expression and zoning. A couple in Vermont put up a 24-foot-tall cross on a hilltop on their property. The state is saying it is out of character with the natural beauty of the rural neighborhood and should come down. Do you want to support this couple?

One more example. Todd Litman, blogging on Planetizen asks "what would Jesus plan?" Specifically what transportation plans would social justice advocates make? Answer, affordable housing in accessible urban areas and more emphasis on non-motorized transportation.

To receive Planetizen go to

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How Many Unchurched People in Your Area?

Do you know how many unchurched people live in your county? What about which religious bodies are growing the most in your metro area or state? Thanks to the Glenmary Research Center and also The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) you can get answers to these questions and more.

The Glenmary folks publish Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States. The first edition was published in the early 1980s. Two other editions have appeared, with the most recent being Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States 2000. The next edition Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States 2010 should be available June 2012. Call
513-881-7497or send email to to be put on their mailing list to receive notice of publication.

You can also view this information on-line at
ARDA is an Internet-based archive that stores and distributes information from over 200 major data collections in American religion. It is supported by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., and is housed at The Pennsylvania State University.

If you go to click on the US Congregational Membership tab at the top of the page. From there select reports. There you can search by county, metro area, state or even the entire United States.

Here is what I found for Howard County in Indiana. In the year 2000 45% of the population was unchurched or unclaimed. This is lower than the state figure of 50%. Kokomo is more churched than the state as a whole.
Kokomo is the largest city in Howard County. I also found that between 1990 and 2000 the Catholic Church grew the most, adding almost 2,300 members. The Friends declined the most, closing six meetings and losing 1,129 adherents.

What is happening in your ministry area?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2010 Census Data is Coming

Last year we all filled out our forms for the 2010 census. Now the question is, when will we see the results? Churches are curious to see who is living within their parish ministry area.

The President gets the first look. The law says the President must see the numbers within nine months of Census Day (April 1, 2010).

The Census Bureau has already released the 2010 data for each state. For example, the 2010 population of Oregon is 3,831,074, an increase of 12% over the 2000 population.

The law also requires the earliest release of 2010 data for use in redistricting. This data will roll out by April 1, 2011 by state and includes race, ethnicity, voting age and housing unit tallies at the local level. The first states to roll out will be Virginia, New Jersey, Louisiana and Mississippi. This will be the first opportunity for churches to gather information about their local community.

After the need to feed the redistricting process, the rest of the census 2010 data will begin to flow. Look for these files to come from April 2011 through September 2013. Your local newspaper will likely alert you to the release of data of interest to you.