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It is interesting to note the various shifts that have occurred in Christianity throughout the centuries. A pendulum that swings back and forth until it comes to a halt in the middle can be a good imagery of some of the shifts. In fact, shifts are good because it compensates for people going too far to one extreme. I think about the social Gospel that began to deafen the voices of the fundamentalist in the 20th century. Then there was a shift back to the fundamental evangelical doctrine as the social Gospel opened the doors to liberalism. Now, there is a shift back to the social justice aspect of the Gospel in the recent decades.
Once again, these shifts are good because it helps us from going to one extreme to another.
Recently the Barna Research Group conducted a study where some of their findings re-emphasized the shifts that are happening now.
In this study, the Barna Group gave a snapshot profile of Americans who are active in their faith. They examined various expressions of “group” faith, such as: church attendance, small groups, adult Sunday school programs, church volunteering, and house churches.
Here is a partial list of things that they found:
2. Religious activities are typically missing single adults, especially those who have never been married. Just less than half of Americans are unmarried; however, the Barna study found that two-thirds of those who attend church, go to small groups, and participate in Sunday school are married; and 69% of church volunteers are married. Furthermore, single adults who have never experienced matrimony – that is, they are not currently divorced, separated or widowed – represent fewer than one-fifth of the adults involved, with worship attendance and volunteerism the least likely to attract these never-attached adults. House churches fared better in this regard, reflecting a 50-50 split of married and unmarried participants.
3. Attenders of larger churches involve themselves in the broadest spectrum of faith activities. Americans who typically attend a church of at least 500 adults were among the most likely to also attend small groups, and house churches, and to volunteer. Those attending a medium-sized congregation (101 to 499 adults) were among the most likely to attend small groups and Sunday school classes. No notable patterns emerged among smaller churches.
4. Personal Bible reading is most common among small group attenders. In comparing a personal spiritual activity with participatory involvement, the study showed that two-thirds of church attenders (67%) said they had read the Bible outside of church in the last week – whether their church was a conventional or house church. Small group attenders were more likely to read the Bible personally (84%). Bible reading levels among church volunteers (77%) and Sunday school attenders (77%) were sandwiched between the other forms of group engagement.
As I read the study, I did not find the results too surprising. In fact, it just shows the trends that many people have been noticing, as well as reaffirming the things that churches are implementing.
Here are my conclusions in light of the findings above:
2) We have to reach out to the single adults in the Church. It was interesting that many more single adults participated in “house churches.” I think it is a longing for true biblical community rather than the church structure or institution that they are repelled by at times.
3) The trend of larger churches having more people involved in small group ministry (LIFE Groups), shows the need for people wanting “to know and to be known.” Just by going to Sunday Celebration is not enough, but we have to encourage people to get involved in a biblical community through LIFE Groups.
4) When our lives are mingled in with other people then there is greater accountability. The reason why it is easy to “hide” in larger churches is because there is a sense of anonymity. But when people are involved in LIFE Groups then there is a greater emphasis on daily spiritual disciplines and accountability.
As things are shifting in the church structure, we have to trust in our God who never changes. He is constantly working whether we notice it or not. Jesus wants to present a beautiful Bride, a radiant church (Eph 5:25-27) and it is for this end we labor and toil, even though the shifts are bumpy at times.