From the Department of the Obvious: “Churches use Facebook, Twitter to help tell Gospel story”

December 22, 2011

It’s a slow news day if they need filler like this. From The Observer & Eccentric:

God used angels more than 2,000 years ago to announce the birth of Jesus.

Today, churches are using Facebook, Twitter and other modern technology to help spread the Gospel message.

Though the message is the same — God loves everyone so much he sent his only son to save them — the way that message is delivered has changed over the centuries.

“We definitely see social media as one of the languages of the culture (now),” said Josh Isenhardt, 30, social media pastor at NorthRidge Church in Plymouth Township. This generation considers Facebook a modern-day town square. “Why wouldn’t we have a presence there?”

If you Google “Second Life Church” you’ll get a fair number of hits. Images, too. I don’t know how many people dived into that game wholeheartedly, but it’s not hard to imagine that some of them used it as an opportunity to proselytize in virtual neighbourhoods as they set up worship sites there. Landover Baptist mocks this approach, but via World of Warcraft:

“…the real True Christians™ pick the Horde to play as characters and start their guilds in Horde territory because they like the challenge of sharing Christ’s message in a perilous, lava-soaked, environment. Sometimes you have to pester people for weeks before they listen to you. I followed some stupid gnome around for 8-hours until he finally told me that he would accept Jesus as his Personal Savior if I would just shut up and promise not to contact him anymore. Now that rocks! Praise God!”

Of course they’ll use whatever popular social outlet exists in order to spread their message. They’ll go where the people are and Facebook alone has more than 800 million users. A large chunk of that may already be Christian but others won’t, and some will be the wrong flavour of Christian in need of correcting.

NorthRidge added a virtual campus this year. It has a brick and mortar campus in Plymouth Township, and meets in schools in Saline and Howell.

In the virtual campus, members from around the country and world simultaneously visit the church’s website (northridgechurch.com) at 7 p.m. Sunday to watch a rebroadcast of the weekend service and participate in a live-time chat room, even praying for each other.

“Church online is for those people who are not ready to step into the physical location,” Isenhardt said.

I got hooked on the internet back in 1995 while in university. Friends set me up on these things called “talkers” which were telnet based on-line hangouts. In its heyday, the one called Resort had a hundred or so logged on at any given moment of the day and an overall population of around 10,000. Maybe more. This was before most people even understood what the internet was or wanted access to it. Maybe it was happening to others but I don’t recall anyone trying to lure me to Christ in all the hours I used those places — they were too busy propositioning me for net-sex. I still keep in touch (via Facebook) with a few spods I net-friended back in the day, too.

The internet is large enough for any type of person to find a group that fits his or her interests, be they religious, or political, or controversial, or down right nuts. And if that group doesn’t seem to exist, it’s easily created and will get found by others who need it eventually. For example, atheist-based internet hangouts have been a boon to those in areas where their lack of belief would make them targets for abuse or worse. The internet is a hell of a good thing for atheists. It’s not always easy to get together in person but if enough people are reading a particular blog or aggregate, it creates a sorely-needed sense of community. And not only that — look at all the money atheist reddit users raised for Doctors Without Borders: $203,000. Talk about awesome.

Yet with all the modern technology available to churches today, nothing will take the place of people personally talking to their family and friends about Jesus and inviting them to go to church with them, Rose said. “At the end of the day there’s one best way (to spread the Gospel message) and that’s being involved in the life of your neighbors.”

True for atheists/humanists as well. I missed out on a Freethinker pubnight last night, alas, but I was too busy packing and sorting out things for my upcoming trip home for Christmas. I hope we manage to lure some more people into our group next year, not just as token members who rarely participate, but some who really want to be active and involved with what we’re doing. We have a great group and I’d like to see it get even better.


What is the purpose of church? Depends who you ask

February 10, 2011

I found a new opinion piece put together by Leon Fontaine at the Winnipeg Sun. I wrote a reply to something else he published recently regarding faith and I’m game for another go.

We live in a world where many don’t belong to a church.

Statistics tell us that church attendance has been in steady decline for the last five decades. However another survey reveals that many people don’t go to church simply because they’ve never been invited.

Fontaine doesn’t elaborate on where or how he found this information. I found a Canadian piece about declining numbers and it splits the stats up between weekly attendance, monthly and yearly. The question asked there is not why people leave the church but why they’ve reduced the number of times they sit in it. They suggest it could be a lack of commitment but are willing to concede changes in community and culture might also play a role.

Christianity Today has the UK survey information from 2007. Three million people apparently stated they’d go to church if someone asked them to attend. It says nothing about whether they’d make a habit of it, mind you. They’d just go “if they were given the right invitation.”

Jesus’ church is to be a place of hope and encouragement, a place where people’s can grow and have their destinies altered for all eternity by coming into relationship with Him. It’s a place where people can feel accepted and unconditionally loved as together they commit their lives to becoming more and more like Him. When you consider the true purpose of church, you can’t help but feel that its decline is very unfortunate.

I think people also like to use church as a community center where they can meet up with their friends regularly, get involved with fund raising and do some nice things for the less fortunate. But church isn’t the only way to get involved with one’s community. There are so many kinds of groups people can join that will provide the same chances to alter destiny .. assuming you buy into the idea of destiny in the first place, obviously.

Governments and community organizations do many great things, but nothing takes the place of a life-changing church. It’s where people learn to become leaders with honesty and integrity.

Any group can promote and encourage the growth of leadership potential. The church doesn’t hold any monopoly on honesty and integrity; as I reported earlier today, billions of dollars worth of church money gets siphoned out of the church coffers by dirty leaders every year (see here).

It is a rescue for those in trouble, a refuge for those in grief, and a place of love, laughter and discovering a higher purpose. Most important, church is about falling deeper in love with God, learning about the good news of Jesus Christ, and growing in a relationship with Him.

I don’t think the Jesus Christ stuff is at all necessary to achieve that. Won’t a Jewish temples can’t offer the same rescue and refuge? Don’t Muslim temples inspire people to find higher purposes? Judging by what’s most likely to get reported, it’s hard to approve of what they might consider a “higher purpose”, but it’s also a major fallacy to assume everyone who practices Islam will become an expert in terrorist tactics in the process. Can’t a Buddhist also know love? He probably thinks an atheist can’t at all, but he’s clueless.

Church should never be a place where you feel judged or condemned. It is meant to inspire you to do good works, to become a better person, discover unbelievable joy and develop faith in God. Where else in society can families learn to grow together, married couples find skills to work through problems and discover a higher level of intimacy, and where men and women find exciting purpose and meaning in their lives?

Psychologists and self-help gurus have to earn a living somehow.

Not very marriage counselor is going to take a biblical tact for dealing with relationship issues, either. Marriage counselors have gotten into hot water by doing that, actually.

If you’ve found a great church, you owe it to yourself to get involved. Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It will enrich your life tremendously. You also have the great privilege of growing the church. Make it your mission to share your faith and invite others. Look around at the people in your life. Do they know where you attend church? Have you ever asked them to join you? If not, what are you waiting for? Ask someone new to join you on Sunday morning. You never know, it may change someone’s life—and their destiny—forever.

But keep in mind that the people you ask have a right to say no without feeling guilty about it. The people you ask have a right to live their lives the way they want without your interference or assumed need for intervention. They have a right to believe what they want, think what they want, do what they want, even if it all runs contrary to what you think is God’s plan for their lives. If they want him, they can seek him out anytime. They can seek you out any time and ask for Jesus. Pray for them if you feel you must but it’s none of your business what they do if they don’t.

Maybe they’ve already joined a local chapter of Freethinkers or Humanists and will never want what you’re offering.


“Post-theistic” doesn’t sound terrible

February 2, 2011

A phrase like that sounds like it walks the line between belief in higher power and scrapping the idea in favour of humanism, according to this article I found at The United Church Observer:

Post-theism has quietly emerged in individual United Church ministries across Canada that desire a sense of intellectual satisfaction and nurturing and inspiration in their spiritual lives, qualities they say the traditional format fails to offer. Post-theistic churches use the Bible sparingly, acknowledging its contents as myth — or don’t reference it at all. Many write their own music, use contemporary songs to convey their values or change the lyrics to familiar tunes. Prayers aren’t addressed to God, but to the community and its innate sacredness.

This approach has attracted people who haven’t found what they’re looking for in traditional sanctuaries, ministers say. But it’s turned away congregants who feel they can no longer access their faith without the traditional symbols and language.

The reverend of that church, Gretta Vosper, wrote a book a few years ago that might be worth looking for: With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important than What We Believe.

“In the United Church, we’re very strong about praying for guidance, praying for strength, praying for courage, and if you take that idea of an interventionist God . . . away, nothing has really changed,” she says. “You’re still asking for strength, except it’s not coming from some supernatural source. It comes from the community that you gather with.”

Vosper is leaving a lot of the post-theistic decisions for her church in the hands of her congregation these days and they’re making some surprising choices, from wanting to pull crosses down (albeit briefly) to rediscovering the solstice.

The congregation is also having more conversations about spirituality, Vosper says, which makes for a much more interactive service. It’s a change from back in 2001 when she discovered through her research that church people had difficulty articulating their beliefs.

Rev. Ken Gallinger, who leads the congregation at Lawrence Park Community Church in north Toronto, says people are coming to Sunday worship there because they feel free to explore deeper questions and discuss some of their conflicting feelings about what they’ve traditionally been taught. “We hear so much about why people are not in our churches these days — that people are busy and they’re going to hockey, etc. But underneath that is a more fundamental thing: they don’t believe it,” he says. “What we’re trying to create here is a safe place for people to talk about ‘How do we develop an authentic spirituality without a guy in the sky?’”

While I might disagree with calling it spirituality, I can get behind their ambition to retain some sense of unity and greater purpose. They’re curious, they’re challenging themselves to rethink their long-held beliefs, and hopefully they come through the experience with the realization that they can still be good and worthwhile people within their families and communities without needing to give a deity credit for any of it.

Gallinger often uses secular music during his sermons and I found this part to be pretty interesting:

following a Johnny Cash and June Carter song played as part of his sermon, Gallinger reminded people that the song’s storyline — a deceased loved one makes sandcastles in heaven while waiting for her dearest to arrive — is complete mythology.

“Of course I don’t believe that — that’s foolish and ridiculous,” he tells them. “We know too much about the world to not know that isn’t true.”

Is he saying that the whole idea of heaven is a myth, or is he just saying our assumptions of what it’s going to be like are false impressions, therefore nothing to put faith in?

Reading the rest of the article, it seems like the United Church as a whole doesn’t really know what to do with these breakaways. Should they be encouraged or ignored and left to fend for themselves? Speakers for UC won’t admit to either tactic, stating that keeping communication open between both styles of church is what’s important. Rev. Robert Dalgleish, the General Council’s executive director of the network for ministry development, sees

post-theistic congregations as just one among many emerging forms of ministry within the United Church, which include into-the-community ministries like the café ministry in Hamilton or the skate-park ministry in Perth, Ont. “We have been so insular that the vigorousness and provocativeness of conversations like this are healthy for us if they’re going to get us thinking out of the box,” he says.

So he doesn’t care where they go so long as they go United. Sounds like the same method Sam Walton used to justify having a store within 20 minutes of another. Maybe each store makes a little less money but all the money made still went to Sam and company so the point was moot. Here, it’s all the credit, I guess.

Well anyway, I have to say that if I did for some reason get the notion that I needed to head to a church service, a post-theistic thing is what I’d go looking for. It seems like it would be less obviously supporting a solely Christian mindset compared to other places I could go.


Quotable president (not that one)

September 25, 2010

In the wake of Hurricane Igor landing on (and decimating parts of) Newfoundland, Lana Payne, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour had this to share:

Poet William Wordsworth encouraged us to let nature be our teacher. What did nature teach us this past week? Perhaps it reminded us just our fragile life can be. Perhaps it taught us that in the midst of great difficulty humanity and compassion have a way of rising to the top.

It reminded me that in this global age where individualism is often touted over the benefits of the collective, just how wrong-headed that notion is. Because when times are tough, we need each other. We need strong leaders. We need kindness and generosity. We need to help each other and we need to rise to the occasion. That doesn’t happen if in good times we only think of ourselves.

Perhaps nature taught us this week not to take things for granted, not to take our humanity for granted, but to practice compassion each and every day so that it’s not so rusty when it’s really needed.

I notice there’s no mention of needing a god in order to make that work, either. That’s nice to see.

I think in each of us there is a great capacity for compassion and generosity. Maybe tapping into that reservoir isn’t everyone’s automatic response to tragedy but I think the majority of us do find small ways to show we care and give what we can of ourselves as we go about our daily lives. And we never know exactly how it’ll pay off in the end, but it’s worth doing all the same.


8,760 hours of community service would be better than…

December 31, 2009

8,760 hours of prayer in 2010, in my opinion.

Brian Nall, pastor of Ferris Hill Baptist Church, is starting a prayer movement for the year 2010. He wants 8,760 hours of prayer.

Nall posted a Web site at the beginning of November guiding Christians to make a difference with prayer.

He believes if Christians in Santa Rosa County commit to one hour of prayer at http://www.714SantaRosa.com throughout the year, it will bring transformation not only for the individuals, but also the whole county. Nall said denomination doesn’t matter. All Christians should participate if capable.

“Prayer has been reduced in our nation, in our schools and in some homes,” Nall, 32, said. “And we can see the crumbling in each of those areas. Look at what the absence of prayer has done.”

Right, lack of prayer is totally why kids can’t pass algebra and start using drugs and joining gangs. Right, lack of prayer is totally why parents can’t afford necessities after a job loss or why they never got enough education themselves.

Chip Fox, director of missions for the Santa Rosa Baptist Association, has scheduled one hour of prayer for the year 2010.

“I scheduled for the beginning or the year in January,” Fox, 54, said. “But I intend to do more. The important thing is to fill every spot. I sent out a letter and encouraged all our members to sign up.”

Fox added there are different levels of prayer.

“We are praying for our county from government down to the individual citizen,” Fox said. “It’s not just a southern Baptist thing. Brian is seeking Christians of other denominations. “I can’t imagine what God would do for us with that amount of prayer.”

Same as praying to him does now: nothing. Prayer does nothing but make the people doing it feel like they’ve accomplished something when they’ve really done fuck all about a problem.

Don’t set aside an hour to do nothing but look at a website and pray on it. Use those hours for real community development. Tutor some kids, visit the elderly, pick up the litter at a park or something. Do something, anything that would actually make a positive impact on a person or the town.

“We do need prayer in our schools not only for the students, but also the administration,” Page said. “I think we will see a great shift in the atmosphere if we all stand in one accord. God will be pleased with that.”

I’m always amazed at how people put words into god’s mouth and heart into god’s supposed emotional state. It’s such a stupid thing when it’s used to somehow move one’s position forward in a discussion.

Page said she likes the Web site. It explains other things to do while praying.

I guess that means I should go see what’s over there. The “Getting Started” page offer a few guidelines. I wonder how many people will take up this silly “challenge” over the course of the year. I can’t get the One Hour how-to without signing up but they do have a link to How to Spend the Day which offers some fun tidbits. I can’t copy/paste due to some holy pdf trickery (to make it harder to illustrate how dumb it is, I suppose) but I’m not wasting my ink on this tripe so I’ll just copy the old way with any bold and capital letters being original to the piece:

Remember that true WORSHIP is walking in the Fear of the Lord…

Watch out for distractions … The enemy can use many forms of thought darts, many from TV or the internet…

Be alert! You are in a war zone! Watch out for enemy distractions – thought darts (yes, it’s really in there twice; it’s that serious), worry zones, false-guilt attacks, and thought “parades”…

You may spend longer times or shorter times in this Prayer Guide as the Spirit leads you. That is fine. He may bring up issues that are not mentioned here. Pray over the burdens He gives. Pray concerning the “burning” in your heart. Remember the Holy Spirit is The Guide in prayer. We are weak and ignorant and we must depend on him to guide us…

Ah well anyway, you get the drift. It also offers suggestions for witnessing and how to bring folks back into the fold and how to apologize to God for being a screw up and misinterpreting his Word. How to prep for fasting and how to waste a whole damn day on a selfish “selfless” endeavour rather than spend those hours doing something useful with another person that might actually make a noticeable difference.

Ah well, it’s their lives, they can do what they want. I’m just really glad I don’t have to.


And a great church gets a five cross rating?

December 23, 2008

I just read this article and thought it was interesting. There’s a guy who calls himself a Phantom Pew Sitter and he’ll pick a church to visit and rate its efficiency. What a clever idea. Probably not with a five cross rating though. That was just my idea.

What he does rate appears to be a church’s openness to strangers, how people relate to one another, if the church has obvious charity donation drop off points, if the minister or pastor can engage the audience, if the audience participates, etc.

I’ve just recollected a project I wound up doing in university for an introductory Religious Studies course, I think, but that was basically what we had to do – pick a church we’d never been in and track where people sat when they first came in, how many people were there, what the inside looked like, how big it was, that kind of thing.

The one I’d gone to was in a small town some hours away from the university. I’d accompanied a friend home for the weekend and we selected one of the two churches available there. We sat near the back and I enlisted her to help me fill out my list of things to look for. I was supposed to analyze my findings in some way afterward, but never finished every part of that before it was time to hand it in. I forget what the purpose of the assignment was beyond that. Maybe just to compare congregations from a variety of religious groups.

In the wake of his phantom pew sitter report, do churches institute the changes he suggests?

“About 35 to 50 percent of the time,” Johnson said, after a longish pause. Nearly all of his clients, he knows, hire him with the expectation of getting an “A” on his report card. But A’s are rare, and nobody likes getting a “C” or worse.

“Most churches I go to don’t do things right, but they don’t want to change what they’ve been doing for years,” he said.

“I’ve had older people tell me, ‘I know the church needs to change to grow, but they can change after I die.’ Well, by then, the church will have closed its doors. We just went through an election won by the side that said, ‘Change! Change!’ And that’s what most churches need to do.”

Well, change is hard, and when you’re working with a group of people who are reading a book that hasn’t changed much in 2000 years except for paraphrasing, what do you expect? Every time someone comes up with a new way to do or think they get accused of being cult leaders and heretics.

Look at what’s happening with the Anglican Church. Overall they’re trying to be supportive of gay rights but a chunk of them are traditionalists who want to break away and go back to the old “gays are evil” teachings they all know and love. It would take them years before the Church officially recognized their new establishment, if ever, but some of them are just that adamant about it that they’d split the church rather than side with a gay bishop and promote gay marriages.

If a new pastor comes in with a grandiose scheme to revitalize, is he going to get support from the entire congregation or is he going to get told not to ruffle feathers or rock the boat? A lot of people don’t like change. They go to these churches because it’s traditionally the same damned service every Sunday for the whole of their lives and where else will things always stay that dependable and predictable? Nowhere else.

I’m not surprised at all by Ken Johnson’s limited findings. It’s good that he cares about improved church service and whatever else, but I think he’s fighting a lost cause. They’re probably beyond hope, those old small ones. SuperCathedrals seem to be the thing these days. They’re the ones being new and innovative and high definition. They’re the ones getting the people in the doors, selling their services. Small churches can’t compete with that. No amount of change is going to help them get the crowds back now unless some god sends a new batch of commandments down condemning super centers.


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