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Carol Howard Merritt suggests that churches aren’t the most culturally savvy places: I know that some congregations are still fighting about whether they should be singing “contemporary” songs, which were written in the 1980s. Or they’re wrestling over the use of PowerPoint, which can be tiresome for people who have endured two decades of PP board meetings… But there are cultural shifts that congregations and church leaders need to track and respond to sensibly. Here are five of them. 1) Finances. Younger generations are not faring well in this economy. They didn’t do so well when the rest of the country was booming either. Why? Younger generations face high student loan debt, high housing costs and stagnant wages (if they’re even able to get a job). The shame they bear matches our debt load, and they feel like they need to get their life together before they go to church. 2) Work hours. People who go to mainline churches are wealthier. Or wealthier people go to mainline churches. It’s a chicken-and-egg thing. We don’t know what comes first. But young workers know one thing: many people in their 20s and 30s work retail or in the service industry. The blue laws faded long ago, and you don’t get Sunday mornings off unless you’re management. 3) Families. People marry and have children later in life. Some people say that adults in their 20s and 30s are just extending adolescence, having fun in their odyssey years, or they’re too commitment-phobic to settle down. Yet, we’re a society that expects financial stability before a couple gets married, and many younger adults can’t manage financial stability. 4) The Internet. Church leaders have a lot on their plate. Many don’t think they have any time for Facebook or Twitter. They may still be working with the misconception that the only things people are blogging about are what sort of breakfast they had on Tuesday (although if you’re reading this, you probably realize that blogs are good for more than personal over-sharing). But there’s no way to ignore it any longer. Even if a church leader shies away from the web, people may be talking about you on Google Map reviews or Yelp. 5) Politics. A new generation is exhausted from the culture wars. Many people growing up in the last few decades had a difficult time keeping “Christian” and “Republican” in two separate boxes. Emerging generations look at poverty, the environment and war as complex issues, and many younger evangelicals are less likely to vote on pro-life credentials alone. Many young Christians who grew up evangelical are trying out mainline congregations . Read more here:  Duke Divinity Call & Response Blog   // What do you think?  Are this cultural shifts the main ones that you are watching?   What else are you watching? What is the most important shift/change you see coming in the next 5 years? Todd

Dateline Hollywood:  This just in from the Hollywood Reporter:  A chain of evangelical Christian mega-churches (my note:  we tend to call this a “denomination”) is attempting to halt the film, Salvation Boulevard, which played at Sundance this year and has just been released theatrically. The subject of the film has the potential to generate some controversy — it mixes politics and religion. So too does the lawsuit from the Church of God — the plaintiff claims to have copyrighted a design based on the Christian cross symbol and intends to stop it from being shown in the film. Salvation Boulevard sports a stellar cast (Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Marisa Tomei and Ed Harris) and tells the story of a former Deadhead married to a devout wife who discovers their mega-church’s pastor has committed a sinful act that will be protected at all costs. The film, produced by Mandalay Vision, was snapped up by IFC/Sony for $1.5 million after getting some laughs at Sundance this year. The satire may not be going over too well with the evangelical community. The Church of God, a Tennessee-based organization that runs a number of mega-churches throughout the United States, has filed a lawsuit against Mandalay, IFC, Sony, and Comcast for distributing a feature film that shows a design alleged to be legally protected. Below you can see the Church of God’s logo and the logo that appears in the movie: (Looks like a pretty direct rip-off to me). The Church of God says in a lawsuit filed on Thursday in Tennessee federal court  that use of the Cross Mark by the defendants constitutes willful and deliberate commercial infringement upon its exclusive rights. The church is asking for an injunction and further monetary damages. via Church Sues to Block Sundance Hit ‘Salvation Boulevard’ – Hollywood Reporter. Thoughts? Todd

Brady Boyd writes:  In the past ten years, I have witnessed remarkable changes in the local church and the coming decade will usher in even more transformations.While the ancient Sacraments will remain, everything else is up for debate. How we worship, when we gather, what is said, who is leading and where the gatherings happen will all undergo scrutiny and debate. I have four predictions for the next decade of local church. 1. The places where we gather will become smaller Every social and cultural trend is leaning toward the smaller, more intimate gatherings and away from the stadium worship experience. Mega churches that purposely create numerous worship settings that promote intimacy and community will see the most significant growth. There will always be a group of church people who will come to the big building, but if we want to see significant growth among skeptics and seekers, we must create less threatening venues for them to explore the issues of faith. 2. The church will be launched into real mission. The local church is hungry to embrace the mission of the New Testament and this will only increase in the next decade. This next generation is tired of the hype of events and is eager to give their lives to something that requires sacrifice and results in biblical justice. They want to get their hands in the dirt of humanity and see real change in the communities where they live. They will come to the church building for some of the attractional events, but will get disillusioned quickly if these events do not result in real opportunities to serve their world. You can read two additional things Brady thinks may very well happen right here: via Brady Boyd | The Future of the Local Church – Updated. QUESTION:  What will YOUR church look like in 5, 10, 20, 50 years?  What do you HOPE it looks like? Todd

David Foster writes:
It has been my privilege to lead churches since I was 18 years old.  I have watched both movements and movers move on and off the scene.  The American church landscape has been painted, erased and painted over many times, yet in all these years and in the passing of all that time, I’ve heard almost nothing about, what I consider to be,  the American church’s dirtiest little secret.
  The church’s dirtiest little secret is not the scandal of flock fleasing pastors jetting around at their church’s expense.  Nor is it the outrageous salaries or even the oft expected and oft over-enjoyed sex scandal and subsequent fall from grace of a once revered leader. No, the real scandal of the American church is something much deeper, and more pernicious than any of those tragic, isolated events. And I do mean isolated, because they are a very small percentage of what really goes on day in and day out, week in and week out in the hundreds of thousands of Christian churches all across this country. No, the real dirty little secret in the American church is that we regularly, relentlessly, and without mercy beat-up, chew-up and spit-out our leaders. You’d have to be blind, deaf, and stupid not to notice the long line of, once effective and admired, leaders limping toward the exits.  It was Peter Drucker who once said the four hardest jobs in America — not necessarily in this order — are President of the United States, a university president, a hospital CEO and a pastor.  Amen, but for those called to it, we at least don’t expect to be shot in the back by our own team? Why isn’t anyone talking about this?  Maybe it’s because those who talk about church leadership, no matter whether they’re founding pastors or high-ranking staff members, have one thing in common: we’re all employees of our churches–leading without real power.  Pastors have the responsibility to lead their church to growth with none of the power to actually do so. Churches, in our society are designated “non-profits”.  The “ownership” of these organizations are held in trust by the men and women who fill leadership positions whether elders, deacons, or board members.   So the naked truth is that pastors and staff don’t carry the ultimate decision or have enough legitimate power to affect much change. We are so obsessed with the abuses of the few, that we have cut off our leaders at the knees.  As a result, the American church is being crippled by mean, petty, power hungry bully’s whose abuse of power is the great scandal  no one wants to address. What does this abuse look like?  Here are the 5 most lethal ways we kill off leaders we don’t like:
  1. We starve them.  Because of the abuses of a few, we think that paying our pastors and staff members a livable wage, a fair wage, will somehow corrupt them.  So without money to cover the bare necessities, some have to divide their time between the sacred calling, and keeping their family fed and clothed.  How tragic that while some abuse money, the vast majority simply don’t have enough.
  2. We have outrageous unreasonable expectations of our leaders.  We expect them to work seven days a week, to be on call all the time, to have all the answers, and to be able to fix all our problems.  And while these expectations can be understandable, they are totally, outrageous, unreasonable, and just more evidence that we don’t listen to the teaching of Scriptures or take them seriously.
  3. We strip them of power.  Again, we are so afraid power will corrupt them, we strip them of it, while holding them accountable for the success of church.  As a result, our leaders have very little, real power to make the strategic changes essential for the church’s future.
  4. We let pretend leaders bully them.  Call them elders, deacons, or whatever, too many “lay-leaders” come to their positions puffed up with pride and an overestimation of their own spirituality.  Rather than leading along side their pastors in creative collaboration, too many, too often exercise their power by crushing the heart and spirit of the very people they are supposed to be helping and empowering.  As a result, a shocking large percentage of the American church are in the hands of spirit crushing bullies, who love keeping the preacher humble and in line!
  5. We leave them in financial peril.  How many times have I answered an email or phone call and how many times have I sat across from a young pastor who thought everything was going well and within a seven-day period, they’ve lost everything?  Their salary, their reputation, and their future all at risk because of the capricious desire of a small group of people who feel called to protect the status quo.  Only in the American church can a pastor be fired with nothing but a lie or salacious innuendo.  And a fired leader has no safety-net, no appeal and no future in the ministry.
Whether you agree with my assessment or not, the results are all around us.  Pastors and staff are leaving the ministry at record rates.  They are tired, debt-ridden, disrespected, burnt-out, and in many cases, bitter. If we really want to do something to turn the American church around, if we really want to see our churches flourish, we’re going to have to find a way to love, respect, honor, promote, protect, and care for our leaders.  Here are 5 ways you can start where you are;
  1. Let’s pay them a livable wage.  Let’s stop being afraid of the abuses of a few and realize that with their dedication and training our leaders deserve a livable wage.  By that I mean, livable where you live.  Can they buy their own home, put down roots, send their children to school, take vacations, plan for retirement, and be able to have a reasonable shot at living debt-free?
  2. Encourage them.  When was the last time you actually took your pastor, associate pastor, or other church staff member and just encouraged them?  Sent them a note or card, sent them a gift card to a local restaurant, took them out for dinner and paid for it?  Some constant, consistent act of encouragement lets them know that their work is not in vain.
  3. Give them time off for vacation, for training, for restoration.  Why is it that in the American church the unspoken expectation is that you are always going to be there,  or when you step away for training, rest, recreation that’s a luxury that you really don’t need?
  4. Stop the complaints you hear about them at their source. If you entertain gossip, you are a gossip whether you originated it or not.  If you’re going to  help protect your leader, make sure they know you have their back.
  5. Give them a safety net. By that I mean just let them know that if something happens, we’re not just going to throw them away, kick them to the curb, and leave them penniless and destitute.  Yes, leadership transitions do need to happen, but the vast majority are not for failure, moral or otherwise.  Let’s let our leaders lead knowing that they won’t be out in the cold for one bad decision, or at the whim of some crazy elder, or board-member.
The church’s dirty little secret has to grieve the heart of God.  For how do we say we’re churches who love Jesus, respect God, and believe His Word, and treat His leaders so badly? If we want to set the example to the world around us of what Christians ought to look like, can we really do that and continue to fire, malign, and starve out God’s called leaders? I, for one, am thankful for those who have loved me, taken care of me, supported me, and carried me; those who have come to my aid and watched my back.  Because I’ve gotten the love and support I’ve needed, I’ve been able to not only sustain my ministry for 38 years, I can say that I am more excited and have more vision for the future than ever before. Love your leaders!  Those who serve you and lead you are worthy of double honor!  Think about it, if your church’s leaders are growing up in Christ and flourishing in their faith, won’t your church do the same? David Foster is the pastor of The Gathering in Nashville, TN.  You can visit his website at