'The Future of Religion: A Researcher (that's me) looks to Seattle for clues' [NPR interview]

I have to admit, I was a bit surprised when I got an email from NPR's affiliate in Seattle (KUOW) asking about my research on church plants in Seattle, and what it suggests about the future of church in the urban, American context.  The interview with Marcie Sillman was a blast, and it was a privileged to get to tell a different, more hopeful narrative than the dominant one these days about religious decline.  I'm not disputing that the numbers can tell that story, I'm simply pointing out that decline, death, and disaffiliation aren't the only thing happening.

The Easter season is a time in which Christians are called to meditate on the central Christian story of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It's a good time to be reminded that the Easter story means--among other things--that even in places of apparent defeat and despair, God is actually at work bringing forth new life and hope for the future. My research suggests that this is concretely true, even in the 'None Zone.'

You can listen to the 5 minute interview here.

King 5 News Coverage of New Seattle Churches


This Holy Week, King 5 News in Seattle, decided to do a series on some of new church plants in Seattle that have been the focus of my dissertation research and writing, including Community Dinners, Vona, All Saints, and Awake.  I was delighted to be able to share some of what I've been learning about the context with Alison Morrow, and even more pleased that they've been lifting up how important service to the community is for many of Seattle's newest churches.  You can check out their coverage below.

If you're interested in the findings of my research, I'll be rolling some of it out over the coming months here on JesusDust, so feel free to subscribe and/or follow me on Twitter @chrisbjames.


Check out the map of New Seattle Churches here.

Check out my interview with Seattle's NPR affiliate on the same subject here

Third Places and/as Sacred Spaces: Innovation among Neighborhood-rooted New Seattle Churches

Seattle is home to a number of new churches that are embodying their belief that the gospel is good news to neighborhoods. Seeking to incarnate the Kingdom of God, they fashion themselves as a tangible assets to their community.  Several do this by providing a "third place"-- a space that is open to all and fosters community and advances the well-being of the neighborhood. Here are some of the church-connected third spaces in Seattle.

Aurora Commons 
This 'neighborhood living room' includes a public kitchen and lending library, as well as various programs. It was started by Awake Church along one of the city's most troubled streets, Aurora Avenue.









The Collaboratory
Billing itself as an 'incubator for social change' this space includes a co-working office, a learning kitchen, an events venue, and a community park and garden. It was started by Valley & Mountain in collaboration with Community Arts Create.

Pilgrim Coffeehouse 
Still seeking funding, this coffee shop along Aurora is an initiative of Epic Life Church.


The Green Bean Coffeehouse
This coffee shop in Greenwood--now in its third (re)location--was started by Sanctuary. 












 Fremont Arts Abbey
Officially a (reduced-rate) tenant of Church of the Apostles, Fremont Arts Abbey curates and offers creative performances and fulfills a portion of COTA's mission to serve the community.

Kakao and 415 Westlake
Kakao is a chocolate and coffee shop is located in the heart of South Lake Union. In the same building houses 415 Westlake, a venue for cultural and fundraising events.  Both were started by Union Church.



The Maple Leaf Living Room
Launched as Lux Coffee Co, but rebuffed by zoning issues, this space was started Lux Communities in a church building in the Maple Leaf neighborhood.

Port & Anchor
A community center and cafe inside the large church building serves as an art co-op and source for counseling services started by Emmanuel Church in Phinney Ridge.
















Q Cafe
A coffee shop and event venue located in Interbay and started by Quest.  (Unlike the other churches on this list, Quest's identity is less neighborhood-rooted and more strongly linked to their multi-ethnic composition.)


If you know of other third places/sacred spaces in the city of Seattle, please comment!

New Seattle Churches Mapped

More than 100 new churches have taken root in Seattle, WA since 2001. Explore the churches on this map I created which lists websites, Facebook and Twitter pages, denominational identity, and founding date.

See King 5 News Coverage of New Seattle churches here
To learn more about the New Seattle Churches Project, check out www.newseattlechurches.com and follow me on Twitter for study findings @newSEAchurches.

'Some Fell on Good Soil': Church Planting in Religious Ecologies

In the midst of the decline of mainline denominations and the rise of the “nones” in the U.S. something surprising is happening.[i] Church planting is booming.  According to Ed Stetzer and Dave Travis, the number of new churches started annually jumped from approximately 1500 in the late 1900s to 4000 by 2006.[ii]  Such a spike is not only the greatest surge in church planting in the last century but Warren Bird claims it has yielded such a flurry of planting that the number of churches opened annually has outpaced church closures—a much more discussed and visible reality.[iii]  This rising phenomenon calls for sociological study, not only to describe and explain its occurrence, but also to understand the factors influencing the vitality of these new congregations.

I have contributed to this needed area of study by seeking to bring insights from organizational and religious ecology perspectives to understanding the influences upon the vitality of new congregations and their networks.  An organizational ecology approach “focuses on the influences of the characteristics of organizations and of the demography and ecology of the populations in which they operate.” [iv]  Thus it explores not only the impact of internal factors such as the church’s attributes, but also of external ones, such as the existence and characteristics of other churches.  Animating this study, then, is the question: What are the most relevant ecological factors impacting the vitality of new congregations and church planting initiatives in the U.S.? 

In the final section, I employ the most relevant theories toward an analysis of Churches for the Sake of Others (C4SO), a new church planting initiative on the West Coast of the United States.  Based on the factors identified as pertinent to new congregations generally, I highlight some of the features of C4SO that promise to be either liabilities or assets.

Find my article in Witness: Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, vol. 27 (2013), available at aete.co.

________________________________

[i] Mark Chaves, “All Creatures Great and Small: Megachurches in Context,” Review of Religious Research, 47(4) (2006), 329-346; Michael Hout and Claude Fischer, “Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Politics and Generations,” American Sociological Review, 67(2)(2002), 165-190.
[ii] Ed Stetzer and Dave Travis, “Who Starts New Churches?: State of Church Planting USA” (Leadership Network, 2011), 2.
[iii] Warren Bird, Warren, “More Churches Opened Than Closed in 2006,” Rev Magazine (August 2007), 68.
[iv] Michael Hannan, “Ecologies of Organizations: Diversity and Identity,” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19(1) (2005), 54.

The Deconstructed Church: Marti & Ganiel on the Emerging Church

The Emerging Church Movement is here to stay.  So say researchers Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel in their new book, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity.  I'm looking forward giving it a careful read and drawing on their research as I reflect on my study of New Seattle Churches.

Marti and Ganiel's research is "based on ethnographic observation of emerging congregations, pub churches, neo-monastic communities, conferences, online networks, in-depth interviews, and congregational surveys in the US, UK, and Ireland" and the book intends to offer "a comprehensive social-scientific analysis of the development and significance of the Emerging Church Movement. Emerging Christians, they find, are shaping a distinct religious orientation that encourages individualism, deep relationships with others, new ideas about the nature of truth, doubt, and God, and innovations in preaching, worship, Eucharist, and leadership." (from the Amazon blurb)

For more of their findings, check out these videos in which Marti defines ECM and discusses its demographics, distinctive practices, and the role it plays as a "last stop" for those on the way out of Christianity.  Below, I've also included excerpts from an interesting interview with Marti and Ganiel. 



Practices for a Missional Church Planting Order

What practices can sustain missional practice and spiritual vitality among church planters? Taking cues from Ignatius of Loyola, who gains authority by virtue of the missionary order he founded, as well as contemporary missional practitioners, this article proposes a rule of life for a church planting order that addresses the need for a foundational vision of God’s love and invitation to mission, structures life-giving fellowship with others and regards further spiritual practices and particular missional activities as best determined in community and targeted to the growth needs of the individual and the character of the ministry context.

Find this article online at the Journal for Missional Practice, an exciting new peer-reviewed journal for academics and practioners.  

Ecclesial Pioneers in the Pacific Northwest

If you're a church planter or doing ministry in Seattle or Portland, you should check out "Ecclesial Pioneers in the Pacific Northwest," which I wrote as a contributing editor for Christ & Cascadia, a new online collaborative journal thinking about God in Pacific Northwest culture.  The piece is based on my ongoing research on new Seattle churches (church plants, emerging churches, multisite churches, etc).  It explores why the Pacific Northwest is a uniquely fertile environment for religious innovation, points to some new churches in Seattle breaking the mold.

Defining the "E"-word: Evangelism as a Christian Practice

In this post, I offer my understanding of evangelism as a Christian practice. As I develop this understanding and situate evangelism within the broader calling and mission of the church, I will compare and contrast it to the theologies of evangelism offered by William Abraham and Bryan Stone.

Walt Klaiber is quite right when he notes that biblical usage of terms surrounding evangelism and mission are not uniform, and equally right when he suggests that it is less important to argue for a “right” designation of scope than to clarify how it is that one intends to use these terms.  In this spirit, I suggest speaking of the calling of the church as inclusive of worship, fellowship and witness.  Worship refers to those practices which manifests a proper love for God.  Fellowship entails the practices which express the church’s love for one another, and witness, includes the cluster of practices that enact the church’s love for the world. In an important sense, both worship and fellowship do witness, but they do so in a passive mode, since their orientation is more directly to God or the fellowship than to the “watching world.”  This passive witness is “before” the world but active witness is purposefully “for” the world.  Active witness can also be labeled mission and it includes the pluriform ways in which the church participates in the missio dei—God’s pluriform action in history toward the new creation.  Among these modes of active witness are included social action, environmental stewardship, ministries of compassion, and evangelism, among others. Evangelism, then, is the form of witness which hopes to join the missio dei in the creation of a new redeemed humanity.

Evangelism, as a Christian practice, is fundamentally a dimension of the Church’s participation in the activity of the Triune God.  Therefore, the primary agent in evangelism is God, who brings humans “from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son.”  I describe this divine work, employing language familiar to evangelistic literature, as a holistic conversion.  I must immediately clarify that this conversion is not to be regarded, as it has regularly has, as a mere decision of the will, or cognitive assent—though both will and mind are deeply involved.  Conversion is a holistic process akin to learning a new language, joining a new social group, receiving a new history, and undergoing a paradigm shift.  [I've posted on conversion here and here.]

The church’s practice of evangelism, then, is a stewardship of and a participation in God’s holistic work of conversion within people by which they become full citizens in the reign of God, through and in the church.  The church’s participation with God’s work of holistic conversion takes the primary forms of invitation and initiation.

Two substantial proposals, those of Abraham and Stone, contribute to development of these two modes.

"I believe in God, but I'm not sure what I believe about Jesus": Dallas Willard responds

Dallas Willard--philosopher and follower of Jesus--advises someone who believes in God but doesn't know what to make of Jesus.

"Don't start by trying to believe the big truths about Jesus.  Start by simply putting into practice the things that he said..."

and it only gets better from there.


What did you think of this bit:

"You're saying [people] can't know something unless they are willing to actually change their life..." ~John Ortberg interpreting Dallas Willard

If you buy it, what would you have to change about your life to make a new horizon of knowledge possible?

Q & A with Bruce Reyes-Chow: Racists, the Zimmerman verdict, and Multi-ethnic churches

Bruce Reyes-Chow, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), recently published But I Don't See You As Asian: Curating Conversations About Race.   In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, he was bold enough to tweet "Oh heck with it, I'm just going to say it -- I believe my book can help us to have better conversations about race."

So I asked him a few race-related questions, and here's what he had to say:

 
How should church leaders speak, act, and lead when racially charged events (like the Zimmerman verdict) happen? 

As any issue goes, church leaders are the ones who know their ministry context the best, so they are also best equipped to know when and how to approach the difficult topic of race.
That said, I would be deeply concerned if there was absolutely no mentions of larger conversations about race over the past month. Not saying something can send just as big of a message as overstating something.

If I were sitting in church or a gathering, I would hope that my pastor/leader would acknowledge the difficulties of talking about race, personal hesitates AND where the

A Radically Ancient Way to Plant Churches

I've begun my dissertation research on new Seattle churches, and was delighted to discover this uniquely simple, beautiful, and compelling approach by the Christ-followers behind www.communitydinners.com.  This Pentecostal church asked themselves "what would Jesus be doing in our neighborhood" and has begun taking steps toward offering free community meals in all of the 27 walking villages of Seattle (they're currently at 5 or 6). They're also working to provide housing, training, and employment. 
But this isn't just another church providing a social service.  Each meal is followed by "time to encourage the soul by retelling a short story about Christ and offering a prayer for those who want to stay."  This is church, and they know it.  In their own words, "Community Dinners in Seattle are not a feeding program or an outreach; they are Dinner Churches modeled after the Agape’ Feasts of the first century."  I can't wait to see these communities in action!  Check out the video.