Sunday, April 27, 2008

Church Planting Keeps Christianity Alive

[By Audrey Barrick - Christian Post Reporter]

Church planting is hard, many pastors would say. But it's where much of the church growth is happening in America at a time when most churches are dying.

"Two-thirds of all churches in America are plateaued and declining," said Pastor Rick Warren after speaking Thursday to thousands of church planters at the Exponential Conference in Orlando, "and if it weren't for the growth that's taking place in church plants and megachurches, Christianity would be declining."

Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., says the growth in church plants and megachurches has helped keep the Christian population in the United States from dropping.

His comments come as the latest statistics from the Southern Baptist Convention, of which his church is a part of, show baptisms have dropped for the third straight year in 2007 and total membership dipped. Some say membership has plateaued and is on a trend toward decline unless change happens within the 16-million member denomination. Southern Baptists are now being seen as one among many major Protestant groups that are declining.

News of the denomination's decline was released during the April 21-24 Exponential Conference where over 2,700 church planters and leaders attended to analyze the DNA of successful reproducing churches. The annual conference has been touted as the "mother of all church planting conferences"

Today, church planting has reached an all-time high with approximately 4,000 new churches planted every year in the United States, according to the "State of Church Planting USA" study. Church plants are also starting out with larger crowds with hundreds joining the first worship service, and the survival and success rate of church plants is at 68 percent.

One of the biggest trends in church planting today is the multiple venue church, or the multi-site church. The idea is that one church meets in multiple locations which are fed video satellite preaching from the main church campus.

Dave Ferguson, pastor of Community Christian Church, is expanding outreach and already transitioning from a multi-site church to a "poly-site" church – reproducing different kinds of campuses to reach different kinds of people – where the mission becomes the priority rather than just reproducing the same church, he said.

While some believe the large church trend will soon die out, Warren says the next generation of churches is going to be even bigger.

"They're going to be far larger than the boomer generation of churches because they're not limited to one campus anymore," he said in an interview featured on the Exponential Conference Web site.

Warren's Saddleback has planted over 40 independent "daughter churches" in Southern California and it recently launched a multi-site initiative with a goal of 10 campuses by the year 2010. According to Saddleback's multi-site church blog, its new campuses in Corona and Irvine drew 490 and nearly 2,000 attendants, respectively, to the first service.

"Reproduction is the mark of health," Warren commented.

Meanwhile, Alan Hirsch, co-founder of Shapevine and the founding director of Forge Mission Training Network which focuses on developing missional leaders in western contexts, believes church plants in America need to adopt a more missionary stance.

"I think here in America, I think church planting is still very bonded to church growth methodology and ideas," Australian-born Hirsch said in an interview featured on MondayMorningInsight, a Web site for pastors and church leaders.

"It (America) hasn't really thought through ... the nature of the church as a mission agency. We simply have to adopt a missionary stance in relationship to our culture," he continued. "We've got to break the monopoly that church growth thinking has over our mindset. Because unless we do that we'll never become a truly missionary agency."

The Exponential Conference featured other well-known speakers, including Tim Keller, founding and lead pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian; Ed Stetzer, former church planter and director of Lifeway Research; and Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church.

Church Shooting

[By Malcomb Daniels -- The Birmingham News]

An Hispanic man of about 45 years of age was shot and killed today during an argument in the parking lot of a St. Clair County Alabama church.

The man, whose identity is unknown, was shot multiple times in the parking lot of church on Pinedale Road in Ashville, Alabama according to St. Clair County Coroner Dennis Russell. He was pronounced dead at 4:20 p.m.

The man was shot during an argument with someone who lived in the area, Russell said. The dispute started after the homicide victim ran off the road and hit some mailboxes, Russell said.
Church was not in service at the time.

United Methodists Continue In Decline

United Methodists, at their General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, are being urged to reverse the denomination's decades-long decline in membership.

Lyn Powell, a church lay leader from Georgia, told delegates the United Methodist Church has been bleeding membership for years. "The United Methodist Church in the U.S. lost 55,000 members last year, 70,000 the year before that, [and] 60,000 the year before that. In fact, we have lost membership every year since the 1970s," Powell contends.

Meanwhile, transgender Methodists at the conference held a news conference seeking broader acceptance. Among them was Drew Phoenix, who pastors St. John's United Methodist Church in Baltimore. Phoenix was a woman named Ann Gordon before she had a sex-change operation.

Some analysts believe the reason for the declining membership is the abandonment of scriptural teaching on sin within the United Methodist Church.

Mart Green Attempts To Balance ORU Budget

Layoffs and other budget cuts are possible for debt-ridden Oral Roberts University, as the tiny evangelical school looks to regroup from several financial scandals and keep enrollment from sliding further, the school's trustees chairman said.

"We can't spend more than we bring in," said Mart Green, an Oklahoma City businessman who recently donated $70 million to the school. "Let's find out where we're fat, where we're thin and make this place strong, and not just going hand to mouth year after year."

Green's comments on Friday came days after a tense faculty meeting where administrators braced professors for the possibility of job cuts as a way to make budget ends meet. Professors were also implored to persuade students thinking about transferring to return to the school in the fall.

"The message in the faculty meeting was, 'Hey, we're not on easy street just because we've got $70 million,'" said ORU interim president Ralph Fagin.

In an interview with The Associated Press, neither Green nor Fagin offered specifics on how many positions or programs might get the ax, but said the school is exploring all options as it reviews each department, a process that could take several years.

Already struggling to keep enrollment numbers up, ORU was rocked by a financial scandal last fall that led to the resignation of Richard Roberts, who had been school president since 1993. He left amid accusations of misspending school funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle at a time when the school was more than $50 million in debt. He has denied wrongdoing. In the past eight years, the school has lost 500 students, and projected enrollment for the fall 2008 semester could be 150 students fewer than the 3,166 who attended last fall, Fagin said.

Even with Green's donation, the school is $25 million in debt and has deferred maintenance costs between $50 million and $60 million. Green, founder of Mardel, a Christian bookstore and office supply chain, declined to comment on the status of several lawsuits the school still faces in the wake of the scandal from former professors, students and a former accountant.

The two professors, Tim and Paulita Brooker, whose Oct. 2 lawsuit claims they were forced out after alleging financial and ethical wrongdoing on the part of Richard Roberts and his family, have asked the school for $2.5 million to settle. Attorneys for the professors and the school declined to comment this week on any potential negotiations, citing a judge's gag order. "We're doing the best we can to go through the legal process," Green said. "Let the legal process take its course."