We can learn a lot about our communities by looking at election results. I understand that elections have consequences, and that many of the issues being debated over the last year are of significance to many, many people. I also see elections as a massive effort to better understand the demographics and opinions of the people living in our communities and nation. From this perspective, I have seen three big stories this morning following the 2012 election:
1. Arithmetic wins.
Being a geeky kind of guy, I really like Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight blog. Nate started out as a baseball analyst (one of those who brought you sabremetrics and the movie "Moneyball"), and now he does statistics and polling for political campaigns. He has been predicting a strong Obama win for several months, and has been widely disparaged for it, especially by more conservative pundits who didn't want to see the election the way Silver predicted it. Because of their denial of the possibility of a Romney loss, they questioned his motives, methods and competence. One of the most striking developments last night was how close his predictions are to actual voting numbers. So much so, that Rachel Maddow declared on MSNBC, "You know who won the election tonight? Nate Silver."
As people and churches we too often ignore basic facts that don't agree with us. We ignore the elementary arithmetic of fewer people, less money, and aging buildings. We think that we can deny basic math and hope reality will change. Many of our churches have problems with this basic math, and we need to get busy fixing them. We need to find ways to lower our costs, increase our income, develop more suitable and sustainable facilities, magnify our impact and engagement with our communities, and deepen our discipleship. These problems will require hard choices and deep changes, but no matter how great our denial of these problems, their solutions cannot be put off. Turns out, arithmetic wins.
2. Ignore demographics at your peril.
The Republican Party didn't have a good night. This morning's news was filled with typical finger pointing, but it included an interesting debate about demographics. In delving into the electorate, a big part of President Obama's reelection was because of the overwhelming support of minority voters, especially hispanics. Our nation and communities are becoming more ethnically and culturally diverse. This is having a big impact on our elections, and it should be having a big impact on our churches. Many churches continue to be mono-cultural, appealing to only one kind of people. Our communities are significantly more diverse and multi-cultural than many of our churches. Take a look around your community. Start to get to know the people who are living around you, not just within the echo-chamber of a single congregation. If you want a strong church for the future, pay attention to the cultural changes around you, especially the growth of hispanic/latino populations. Take a look at what the United Methodist Church is doing to reach hispanic/latino populations, and figure out how your church can do better. Don't ignore demographics.
3. Church goers aren't all Republicans.
The common perception in our society is that Christians are mostly conservative, evangelical Republicans. This just isn't true. In exit polls, CNN is reporting that among those who go to church weekly, 41% voted for President Obama. Among those who go to church monthly, it was 55%. This probably isn't news to many inside mainline, ethnic, progressive or moderate congregations, but it might be news to those congregations' neighbors. Too often, churches have let the wider society determine their image, rather than building it for themselves. Too often, church leaders have let themselves be held captive by fears of what a reactionary few within their congregation might think. It's well beyond time for churches and their leaders to embrace the wide diversity that is the strength of our congregations. Christ doesn't call us to be church only for Republicans or Democrats, but for all.
I'm sure there is much more to learn in looking at the demographics and insights of this election. I'd love to get my hands on the detailed house-by-house breakdowns that the major parties used for their get out the vote efforts. They have spent millions building sophisticated databases with extremely detailed analysis of who each of us are and how we might vote. This information could be very helpful for our churches. Of course, most of this information could probably be found out just by simply getting to know our neighbors better. Millions of dollars can rarely replace what can be found out through a few hundred hours of friendliness.
P.S. Here's a nice post on this from Red Letter Christian
P.P.S. Here's a good set of practices for meeting your neighbors.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Seattle First sold their old building several years ago to make the bold move of reinvesting in the city by constructing a more sustainable and appropriate facility for 21st century ministry. This was a long and thoughtful decision that wouldn't have made much news this year, except that the developer who now owns their former property agreed to lease the property to Mars Hill Church, a flagship conservative church in Seattle. You can read the summary story about the lease here from The Christian Post.
Over the summer, a friend and visiting United Methodist Bishop from Texas wrote a blog post about his visit to Mars Hill which was not flattering to Seattle First. I spent some time communicating with him about his blog and speaking with the current Seattle First pastor, Sandy Brown who provided more information about the history of Seattle First in his responsive blog post.
Through all of this, I've been thinking quite a bit about the move of evangelical churches into large urban buildings that were once constructed by mainline denominations. In addition to its sites in Seattle, Mars Hill alone has purchased or leased buildings in Portland OR and Tacoma WA. These aren't unique strategies, cut seem to represent a growing trend. While I am thrilled to see any investment and re-engagement in our cities' urban cores, I can't help thinking of our own history in these buildings.
In the United Methodist Church, we entered a specific period of building large, single-purpose, "urban cathedral" buildings after the great Sunday School revivals in the early 20th century. This building boom continued right up to the post-war period when churches began moving out of the cities into the suburbs. These facilities became less useful for the changing ministry needs of their congregations, and many have been sold off. Some congregations have continued to maintain their aging facilities, but it's been a struggle to keep hold of an antiquated building that isn't easily adapted for current ministry needs. Many of these buildings are now in need of millions of dollars of repairs and updates just to keep occupied.
I have been a strong advocate of selling these buildings. I don't believe that we are in the "antique real estate" business, and that God has more in mind for our work in our cities than simply pumping millions of dollars into facility maintenance. I have also come to believe that in some cases these buildings were more an expression of the hubris and vanity of individual donors and church leaders than they were of God's vision for a vibrant ministry in that city. Sometimes God has used this pride to do something great for a city (see Harry Emerson Fosdick and John D. Rockefeller at Riverside Church NY), but often this pride has lead to a fall. This was certainly our experience in our large, unadaptable, urban and suburban facilities.
Expending vast financial and leadership resources in buying or constructing buildings that can only be used for one generation's understanding of vital ministry seems like a mistake. And these buildings stand as a monument to this mistake. Rather, our Methodist movement was always meant to be mobile, flexible and nomadic. More like a tabernacle than a temple. We have grown fastest when we didn't sink resources into properties but, instead, invested our resources into serving our neighbors physical and spiritual needs. I believe that today we need to divest ourselves of many of our older, inflexible properties. If other congregations would like to purchase them, I am happy to support that. For their sakes, however, I hope that this isn't just history repeating itself.
Posted by Curtis Brown at 3:04 PM
Friday, October 19, 2012
1. The real need of the people you are called to serve. Find out those needs by asking people questions and listening to their responses.
2. The power of the Gospel to respond to the needs in your community. Read, study, pray and plug into God's guidance to feel this power.
3. Your gifts and strengths as a leader. What do you love? What is your passion? How has God equipped you to serve?
If you don't know these things, you need to find them out. Otherwise, you'll struggle, twist and worry about techniques for church growth.
With this knowledge, your ministry will erupt with enthusiasm and passion.
Posted by Curtis Brown at 1:23 PM
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
I've spent the last year getting to know my new mission field in the Pacific Northwest. I invested a good bit of time in driving around (15,000+ miles!) and exploring the wide variety of communities that we are serving. In that exploration, I've come to a couple of conclusions:
I have yet to encounter a community or congregation that God has abandoned. Even in the smallest congregation in the remotest community, God has a plan to change the lives of people and our society. I think we get too caught up in illusions of size and efficiency, but I have witnessed again and again the expansive power of small acts done by few people and the way that the world is changed through changing one life.
Like much of North America, the Pacific Northwest is rapidly changing the way it practices spirituality and faith. Many of the norms of church culture developed in the post-war period don't work very well in reaching non-anglo populations under 65 years old. We need wide-ranging experimentation and innovations to develop the next generation of congregations. This takes a lot of risk and courage.
We are in a time when our way isn't clear. We are in the woods, in the fog, and we can't see the grand vista of our future clear to a distant horizon. Instead, we are in close, trusting our bearings to guide us in God's direction. In times like this leadership matters, especially leadership that is connected to God. Our leaders need to trust that God is guiding, and discernment is their greatest tool. The best preparation for our future is the spiritual development of our lay and clergy leaders.
Posted by Curtis Brown at 2:01 PM
Friday, June 10, 2011
Here's my friend, John Southwick's look at the diversity of the United Methodist Church in his "Background Data for Mission" newsletter. Can we do better? How? What could you and your church do to make a difference?
Market Share Progress, or Not, Part II
The March issue of this newsletter highlighted annual conference growth (or decline) rates since 2000, and compared those with the corresponding population changes within their borders over the same period. This issue will again compare demographics of the general population in each conference with The United Methodist Church statistics, this time with respect to race and Hispanic/Latino presence. In the previous newsletter, with no exceptions, The UMC failed to keep up with the population growth. In this case, the gaps were even greater, on average, where there were significant racial and/or Hispanic populations present. However, some individual exceptions are notable.
In broadest numbers, The UMC in the US reports membership for people of color at 8.4% of the total, while the general population is at 33%. Of all the jurisdictions, the Western Jurisdiction has the highest percentage of members of color (17.3%), with the highest percentage of the general population (43.5%) being people of color. The North Central Jurisdiction was lowest in both categories with UMC membership at 3.68% and population at 20.3%. New Mexico Conference has the highest percentage of people of color in the population at 64.4%, with their membership far behind at 9.7%. The California-Pacific conference has the highest UMC membership of color at 34.9%, compared to the population at 61.1%. West Virginia is lowest in population numbers at 5.1% (1% of members) while Wyoming came in lowest with UMC members at 0.7% (population at 7.7%).
With regard to particular categories, Hispanic/Latinos comprise the largest non-Anglo category, with over 15% of the total US population. Hispanic/Latino UMC members stand at only 0.9% however. This group is most prevalent in the Western Jurisdiction in terms of percentages, at 27.5% (with UMC members at 1.9%). This group is least present in the North Central at 6.5% (0.3% of members). Southwest Texas leads all conferences in both population, at 57%, and membership, at 5.1%. New Mexico is not far behind with 55% of the population and 4.1% of members. Rio Grande Conference is not mentioned because its boundaries are not clearly defined, making population matching difficult, and overlaps other conferences. Its 13,494 Hispanic members are captured in the denominational totals.
Of United Methodist people of color, African Americans comprise the largest percentage (5.85%) out of a total population of 12.4%. This group makes up 21% of the Southeast Jurisdiction and comprises 7.2% of members. Their presence is lowest in the West at 4.9% of the population. Notably, however, this jurisdiction has church membership at very near this level, with 4.5% of members. Both California conferences actually have membership figures higher than their population figures. Bravo. Five conferences have populations over 30% African American, with Mississippi leading at 37.3% (and 19.2% of members). Baltimore-Washington has the highest percent of members, at 22.3% (32% of the population).
Asians form the next-largest racial category with 4.4% of the population and 1.1% of UMC members. The West has the highest Asian presence with 8.9% of the population. Again it is notable that the UMC membership is very close in this case, at 8.5%. Three other jurisdictions have populations with around 2.5% Asian and membership percentages below 0.8%. California-Pacific wins the prize of actually having a much higher Asian membership level, at 19.1%, than the population, which is at 12.6%. California-Nevada is home to the highest percentage of Asians, at 13.6%, and nearly matches that level with its 13.3% membership, the highest in the US.
Native Americans and Pacific Islanders make up 1.1% of the US population and 0.5% of UMC membership. Native Americans are most present in the Dakotas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Alaska. Pacific Islanders are most present in California and Alaska (percentage). Interestingly, nearly 6% of Alaska Missionary Conference’s members are Pacific Islanders, while this group comprises less than 1% of the population. Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference is not mentioned because its boundaries are not clearly defined and overlap other conferences. Its 5,671 Native American members are reflected in the totals.
Although there are exceptions in a few locations, it is clear that UMC membership greatly trails the percentage of peoples of color. This is well known, of course, and many annual conferences are highly committed to addressing this. While exact statistics are elusive, we can say with some confidence that 40% or so of all new church starts target non-Anglo populations. Still, much work remains. Just as local churches are encouraged to have membership that more closely resembles their community demographics, the denomination should do the same.
Note that annual conference charts with more data are attached. Church data is 2009 official statistics from the General Council on Finance and Administration. Demographics are 2009 Census updates from Neilsen Claritas. For additional details and analysis of this data, you are encouraged to go to the report, “Reaching More Diverse People in the United Methodist Church” prepared by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary at www.churchleadership.com. The Research Office and Lewis Center worked cooperatively with the data reporting.
Rev. Dr. John H. Southwick, editor
Director of Research
General Board of Global Ministries
475 Riverside Dr. Rm 308
New York, NY 10115
Posted by Curtis Brown at 8:52 AM
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
My ongoing differences with Karl Barth and reformed theology is pretty well known, but Alan Hirsch shared this quote from the back of The Forgotten Ways. I think it is a wonderful affirmation for us to remember today:
No, the church’s existence does not always have to possess the same form in the future that it possessed in the past as though this were the only possible pattern.
No, the continuance and victory of the cause of God which the Christian Church is to serve with her witness, is not unconditionally linked with the forms of existence which it has had until now.
Yes, the hour may strike, and perhaps has already struck when God, to our discomfiture, but to his glory and for the salvation of mankind, will put an end to this mode of existence because it lacks integrity.
Yes, it could be our duty to free ourselves inwardly from our dependency on that mode of existence even while it still lasts. Indeed, on the assumption that it may one day entirely disappear, we should look about us for new ventures in new directions.
Yes, as the
we may depend on it that if only we are attentive, God will show us such new ways as we can hardly anticipate now. And as the people who are bound to God, we may even now claim unconquerably security for ourselves through him. For his name is above all names… Churchof God
[Letter to a Pastor in the German Democratic Republic, in How to Serve God in a
(New York: Association Press, 1959) pp.45-80] Marxist Land
Posted by Curtis Brown at 11:23 AM