New Seattle Churches Mapped

Nearly 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.
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.

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[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.


A Tribute to Dallas Willard: "God doesn't mumble"

In the wake of Dallas Willard's passing into the fullness of the Kingdom of God he proclaimed as available now, I offer this tribute, highlighting one of the many lessons I learned from him. 

As twenty-somethings are wont to do, I was contemplating my future.  I had recently discerned that it was time for me to leave my role as a small groups pastor to head back to school and pursue a PhD.  In recent weeks I’d been extended offers from two of my top schools, and the time was fast-approaching when I would have to made a decision.  Thus, when the opportunity arose to be Dallas Willard’s ride back to San Jose Airport, I seized it.  (Sometimes service is pure selfishness.)  Heading down 101, I related to Dallas as best I could the pertinent details of the decision I faced.  To me, the choice seemed rather complex, what with all the moving pieces: different financial packages, career implications, geography and relational opportunities.  Dallas asked a few gentle questions, and then, without showing the least indication of having absorbed any of the anxiety which must have been exuding from me, he said, “Well, simply pray, and say: “Lord, I do not believe that you mumble, so if you’d like to direct me, you need to do so before Friday.  Otherwise, I will presume your blessing to make my own choice.”

I took his advice and am now three years into a PhD program at Boston University that I’m proud to have chosen with God’s blessing.  The beauty and wisdom of Dallas’ simple reminder that God doesn’t mumble goes a long way to taking the pressure off of us in the discernment process.  Trusting God in times of choice isn’t always a matter of obediently following the clear direction God gives; sometimes it looks like having the faith that God is a competent communicator, able to get across a message, even to the resistant.  How much more to those, eager and willing to obey?  And then there are the times when faith looks like accepting that the warm, pregnant silence of God is an expression of trust in us.

As Dallas reminded us in Hearing God, God isn’t primarily interested in recruiting a mindless crowd who needs specific direction at every turn.  God is not looking for people to endlessly command; God desires to form persons and a people who can bring to bear all their own redeemed creativity and will into the realization of the the Reign of God on earth in the particular choices and contexts they face. Prayer, Dallas loved to say, is “training for reigning” (may he RIP -- reign in peace).  In times of discernment, God’s relation to us may be less like that of a Drill Sargent at bootcamp and more like a soccer coach eager to see what good we will do as we improvise on the field with the skills for playing the game he has taught us.

This was originally posted on the Conversations Journal blog.  

Here are some other posts deeply endebted to Dallas Willard

How to Live in the Kingdom of God
A Philosophy of Spiritual Growth
A Theology of Spiritual Formation 
Why (and How) Spiritual Disciplines Work
Dallas Willard: Interview with John Ortberg at Catalyst Conference

Is Missional Good for Us? or Is Missional Life Abundant Life?

I’ve been a Christian as long as I can remember, but one of the important moments in my faith life was when I was in ninth grade… I had always been a good kid, but that year it came to my attention that being a Christian wasn’t like being white or Korean, it wasn’t something that you were just born with, but something more like being a soccer player—something that you actually do. And the first things I realized about what it meant to be a Christian was to have a relationship with God which you were supposed to do through reading the bible and praying. So for the first time I started reading the bible on my own.  And I read it quite a bit.  In fact, being the good kid who does what he should, I read the whole Bible cover-to=cover in 9 months.  But about 1 month in, I realized something.  I realized that if I kept reading the Bible, I’d just keep discovering more things that I should do, more things that I would be accountable for.  And it would become a never-ending list of things I should be doing.  But I was stuck now in a Catch-22.  Now that I knew I should read the Bible, there was no way out.  And I decided to submit to this.  This put me on a journey. 

It’s funny because this was a really important moment on my journey with Jesus—it was the beginning of my discipleship, really, and yet from where I stand now, I can see that resigning yourself to a bunch of obligations isn’t what following Jesus is all about.

And yet persistent guilt about what we should be doing is one of the things that plagues a lot of Christians.  Ever had thoughts like these?  I should be praying more.  Or maybe: I should be reading the bible more.  I should be giving more.  I should be spending more time with my family.  I should be taking Sabbath.  I should stop that dirty little habit. Oh yeah, and I should be missional. 

Identity and Practice in New Churches: My Dissertation Proposal in Brief

I'm officially ABD (all but dissertation) which means I'm being asked regularly what my dissertation is on.  Here's a shortened version of the "statement of the problem" from my prospectus. 

At the beginning of the 21st century in the U.S., despite historically low confidence in organized religion and the rise of the “Nones,” new churches and new forms of church are springing up across the country. Many of these assert the centrality of missional identity and practices of Christian witness, but the effects of such missional priorities on the faithfulness and spiritual vitality of these churches are uncertain. As a project in “practical ecclesiology” this study of new churches will utilize both sociological and theological methods to explore the dynamics between ecclesial identity—a church’s corporate self-image and implicit ecclesiology—and practices of mission, community and spirituality. My thesis is that some of the resources needed by Western Christianity in 21st century are being developed by the newest cohort of churches, but that uncritical adoption of their practices and perspectives in pursuit of effectiveness is theologically (and practically) perilous.



The project will develop in three moves. First, using survey and qualitative work in Seattle churches founded after 9/11/2001, it will offer an interpretive typology of the ways in which corporate identity and practice are related in ecclesial life, thus making a contribution to congregational studies research, which has given limited attention to new churches. Second, departing from the productionistic logic prevalent in church planting literature, this project will contribute to this field by offering robust theological assessment of the types and practices of new churches, drawing upon scholarship in Christian witness, Luke-Acts, missional ecclesiology, Christian spiritual formation and missional spirituality. Third, and finally, this project will draw from the ecclesial practices and the theological literatures to make constructive and practical proposals for church leaders seeking to lead the Western church into missional faithfulness and spiritual vitality in the 21st century.