Welcoming scholar and journalist Ken Chitwood to ‘Faith Goes Pop’

Click this snapshot of Ken's department to actually visit Faith Goes Pop.

help us welcome our newest ReadTheSpirit columnist Ken Chitwood! You can do that immediately by engaging in Ken’s creative invitation to share your own “Faith Pop.”

WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT? Ken Chitwood is a multi-talented journalist, scholar and “public theologian.” Ken’s work is global. In recent years, he lived and worked in South Africa and New Zealand; his online columns have appeared in news sites from the Houston Chronicle to Religion News Service; and, at the moment, he is working toward a doctorate at the University of Florida and has moved to Gainesville with his wife Elizabeth.

CHECK OUT HIS NEW HOMEThis week, Ken Chitwood takes the helm at the ReadTheSpirit department called Faith Goes Pop. That’s where Ken posted his “Faith Pop” invitation to all of our readers.

Ken explains his approach to this new work in another column headlined, “Faith Goes Pop?” That column opens with a photo of music superstar Taylor Swift and says in part: “The Faith Goes Pop portal will continue to take a bold foray into the unknown and untamable intersections between, and manifestations of, religion and popular culture. … As we can readily see, the possibilities are endless.”

Please, make time this week to visit Faith Goes Pop for a glimpse of these creative possibilities! Yes, you can play a direct, creative role—and help us all with our mission of “building healthier communities” while you’re at it. How can you resist? You can have fun—and perform a good deed—at the same time.

David Crumm interviewed Ken Chitwood about his debut in Faith Goes Pop.
Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH KEN CHITWOOD
ON ‘FAITH GOES POP’

DAVID: Ken, I’ve devoted decades of my life to journalism that explores the impact of religion in our world and I have to say: In this very difficult field of writing—you’re so creative! A breath of fresh air. I’m going to start this interview by showing readers how you took part in a real-life #EmojiResearch project and created an emoji-studded Tweet that explains the work that you do. Here it is:

Ken Chitwood's Emojiresearch tweet

Tell us about this. I must have spent 10 minutes pondering this elegant little Tweet. (And, by the way, our readers can follow your Twitter posts here.)

KEN: I saw an article about academics trying to express their research work using emojis. (Here’s a Chronicle of Higher Education version of that article.) My wife and I use emojis all the time when we message each other. So, when I saw that article, I thought: Why not try to express the research I’m doing using emojis? I saw some of the examples by scientists and mathematicians and historians but no one had tried an emoji description of research in religion.

It’s been fun to see how people interpret what I did.

DAVID: That’s part of the fun. The pictures make it open to interpretation.

KEN: Yes. For example, I chose an emoji that encompasses religion in general—two hands clasped together. But some people interpret that as “prayer,” and asked me if I meant to say that I study just prayer. It opens up some interesting conversations.

DAVID: This week, as you debut at the helm of the multi-media Faith Goes Pop column, you’ve got a similarly creative challenge for all of our readers. You want people to “Show me your ‘Faith Pop!’” Tell us more about that.

KEN: The main idea is that I don’t want to see my own voice all alone in this adventure. I want people to have fun and explore with me. I’m saying: Come on! I’m calling this a “bold foray” and I hope people will join with me. I want people to use Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or Facebook—whatever they prefer—and show us where they see faith going “pop” in the world around them.

Whatever they post, I want them to use the hashtag: #FaithGoesPop

KEN CHITWOOD: IT’S FUN … AND SO IMPORTANT, TOO!

Ken Chitwood author photo Faith Goes Pop

KEN CHITWOOD

DAVID: This work you’re doing is fun. But it’s so important, too. You like to quote Stephen Prothero on this: “Teaching about religion is bound to be controversial, but so is ignoring it.”

Not only is this a key to any hope for world peace, it’s also an eye-opening way to learn about ourselves and our families, co-workers and neighbors. You write: “When religion and culture meet, this intersection … tends to be where our convictions are discovered or displayed.”

KEN: I’m an educator. I teach and write about religion. One thing you quickly notice when you do this kind of work is—things can get controversial. People may be elated by what you’re writing or teaching, if they’re supportive of what you’re doing, but you also can experience humanity at its worst if people perceive what you’re doing as challenging their beliefs. This kind of writing and teaching does challenge concepts, but I believe we can do this in a bold and exciting way, and even in a way that includes a bit of good humor. Our goal is to learn about each other. We become stronger as a community when we appreciate our diversity.

So, FaithGoesPop is predominantly about places in popular culture where we see a mixing and matching going on with religion. The way we react to that experience can reveal a lot about our own beliefs. In the classroom, I start teaching by bringing in headlines—or some new thing I’ve found in popular culture that connects with religion in some way—because that really gets people talking.

In these conversations, people are much more likely to share from their hearts. Yes, this can be contentious at times, but most often this is wonderful. It’s fun. We all learn about each other and we grow from the experience.

‘A Safe Place’

DAVID: We have some extensive experience in this field, thanks to the sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker who created The OurValues Project. Over the past seven years, Dr. Baker has shown that civil dialogues are possible, even when the topic is a hot-button issue torn from the week’s headlines. The keys to maintaining a civil dialogue are: inviting readers to participate with us, moderating the responses so that readers are not allowed to personally attack each other—and, in general, maintaining a safe place to creatively discuss different points of view.

I’m confident we’ll have a creative and exciting experience with Faith Goes Pop. But let me push you a little further on this question. You’re actually a Christian clergyman: Among your many accomplishments, you graduated from a Lutheran seminary and you’re an ordained minister. But, I’ve read a lot of your columns in other publications and you always maintain the journalist’s values of accuracy and balance. You may push readers with your news analysis—or occasionally with humor—but you’re writing from a balanced point of view.

Is that a difficult point of view to maintain?

KEN: I’ve always been very interested in diverse religious communities, since I was a boy growing up in Los Angeles. I was surrounded by diversity and I have always sought understanding among people. I was never someone who wanted to just label a group—and then avoid it. I always wanted to learn the stories, share the stories and have fun experiencing the diverse traditions of the people who live around us. Today, anyone can learn about other cultures and faiths, if you care to do that. I want to encourage more people to learn about diversity.

I am Christian. I am Lutheran and did go to seminary and that education is invaluable in grounding me in my own faith tradition. Now, at the University of Florida, I am studying religion in a trans-national, global way. In my own journey, for example, I’ve become very interested in Islam, which I think is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world. And I always am looking for diverse ways that these global traditions are experienced today. For example, you might find me writing about a Latino Muslim community in New Mexico, which is the kind of story that people don’t expect.

I have encountered people who ask: Why are you as a Christian studying other religions? Or they might ask me, after a particular column about Islam: Why are you writing so positively about Muslims? But I do this work because, as Stephen Prothero says, we must increase our religious literacy. I see that as part of God’s work in the world.

‘Theologian without borders’

DAVID: You call yourself “a theologian without borders.”

KEN: That’s true. I’m always looking for those places where the global becomes local—and the local becomes global. I’m not the creator of the term “glocal,” but I like that word. It’s an important idea in today’s world. We need to remember that we all have so much to learn.

I’m willing to go anywhere and learn from anyone to understand more fully how faith is playing a role in our world. I’m always looking for unusual connections. I want to know what it means to be a Christian in Kenya, or a Muslim in Mexico, or a Hindu in South Africa. I want to know how faith is shaping our world—as well as the place where we’re each living today.

I really do hope that readers will accept my invitation and agree to help me explore.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsPeacemaking

Explore the world’s spiritual traditions in ‘Global Spirit’

Click this "Global Spirit" image to visit the TV series' website.

Click this “Global Spirit” image to visit the TV series’ website.

COMING JULY 13, 2014:
JOANNA MACY, MICHAEL TOBIAS
AND ‘SACRED ECOLOGY’

For years, ReadTheSpirit magazine has recommended the exceptional spiritual conversations hosted by Global Spirit, an innovative series of broadcasts mainly delivered across the Internet. Hosted by scholar, filmmaker and writer Phil Cousineau, the series has welcomed a Who’s Who of famous spiritual sages.

Coming July 13, you will want to visit Global Spirit’s live-streaming website to watch Cousineau interview two top environmental teachers: Joanna Macy and Michael Tobias. Until that time, you’ll see a brief excerpt in a video window on that page. Then, at the end of each new episode, Global Spirit also hosts Live Webcasts with participants in the program. Visit this page to find the Live Webcasts.

When are these broadcast? This page lists Global Spirit’s complete broadcast schedule.

Cover Active Hope Joanna Macy Chris JohnstoneJoanna Macy is well known as a Buddhist scholar and environmental activist, encouraging spiritual reflections on the Earth’s living systems. Wikipedia has a more extensive biography on this now 85-year-old teacher. ReadTheSpirit magazine especially recommends Macy’s book published by New World Library, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy.

Michael Tobias also is profiled in Wikipedia. He’s a leading environmental activist, as well, writing and teaching primarily about population stress on our planet and, especially, the need to create sanctuaries and to change policies governing the protection of life on Earth. He has circled the world in his activism, working regularly with partners on several continents. His writing has appeared in many magazines and journals, including Forbes magazine.

WATCH JOANNA MACY
AT CANTICLE FARMS NOW

Global Spirit has posted a short video clip of Macy talking about Sacred Ecology as a preview for the upcoming broadcast. This YouTube video is well worth watching, because Joanna Macy guides host Phil Cousineau around her Canticle Farm in Oakland, California.

Named for St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun, Macy and her friends convinced the owners of five homes in a poor neighborhood of Oakland to take down the fences separating their back yards to form a single community garden. Organic fruits and vegetables are raised and given away to neighbors.

CLICK THE VIDEO SCREEN BELOW to watch this clip. NOTE: The first two-and-a-half-minutes show Macy in the Global Spirit studio talking with Cousineau—but stay tuned! The next five minutes are a colorful look at Canticle Farm.

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Categories: Movies and TVNatural WorldPeacemaking

The Adam Hamilton interview on ‘Making Sense of the Bible’ while growing the church

Book

TO BUY THE BOOK, click on this image for the book’s Amazon page. At the end of this interview, you will find more links and information on ordering the accompanying DVD and Leader’s Guide.

Adam Hamilton wants to help congregations grow.

Within his United Methodist denomination, he already has proven himself a master of church growth. Now, he is breaking out to a wider audience in his first book for HarperOne (his earlier books are from Abingdon, his denomination’s publishing house).

Now, he wants to show congregations nationwide how to fuel revival and outreach—by starting with the Bible.

But, this isn’t your grandfather’s revivalism. Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today is equal parts an evangelical return to the Bible as the foundation of Protestant Christianity—and a scholarly, inclusive approach to understanding scripture that draws on themes familiar to readers of Brian D. McLaren, Rob Bell and Marcus Borg. Most importantly, for the millions of men and women who have been avoiding churches for years, this is a faithful and intelligent orientation to the Bible.

Adam Hamilton’s congregation was dubbed the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection when he and a handful of families founded it in 1990. “Resurrection” seemed like a good name because the only space they could afford at the time was a local funeral home. Today, the church’s “main campus” is in Leawood, near Kansas City, Kansas, but the church is spread across multiple “campuses,” including some sites in other states with video feeds. Adding to that growing list of physical locations is a rapidly growing online church that attracts thousands each week. The church’s digital team regularly sees men and women logging into online worship from Michigan to Florida and from New York to Los Angeles—often including sites overseas.

How big is the Church of the Resurrection?

Church of the Resurrection lobby

One entryway to just one campus of Church of the Resurrection. Photo by Paul McDonald provided for public use.

Writing as Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine with many decades of experience as a journalist covering religion in America, I can tell you: Claims of church membership and attendance are as slippery as eels and there is no regulated national reporting on numbers. Nevertheless, the Hartford Institute for Religion Research is widely respected as a neutral center observing these trends. Based on Hartford’s rankings …

AMONG ALL CHURCHES:
The largest American congregation is Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston with a weekly attendance of more than 40,000. Next are about a dozen churches claiming weekly attendance of 20,000 or higher, including two of the most famous megachurches: Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California and Bill Hybels’s Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Next are more than a dozen claiming weekly attendance of 15,000 or higher and among the famous congregations in that strata are T.D. Jakes’s The Potter’s House in Dallas and Creflo Dollar’s World Changers Church in Georgia. Adam Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection currently is listed in the next group claiming weekly physical attendance of 10,000 and higher. Hamilton’s online congregation isn’t reflected in these totals and, if counted, would push Church of the Resurrection up into the Jakes and Dollar range.

Heatmap of Online Worship

This sample “heatmap” shows the geographic spread of online worshipers at Church of the Resurrection on one Saturday. On Sunday mornings, the heatmap expands further.

AMONG UNITED METHODISTS:
No question—Church of the Resurrection is the largest within the 12-million-member denomination with roots in the movement founded by John and Charles Wesley before the American Revolution. Next in ranking, at about half of Church of the Resurrection’s size, is Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, where pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell has made a name for himself in befriending presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama. (Adam Hamilton also is dabbling in national leadership; he preached at the Inaugural Prayer Service held at the National Cathedral in Washington in January 2013.) Caldwell’s church is followed by Granger Community Church in Indiana, Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio—and then Highland Park United Methodist Church and The Woodlands United Methodist Church, both in Texas.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with Adam Hamilton in …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH ADAM HAMILTON ON
‘MAKING SENSE OF THE BIBLE’

DAVID: On July 12, you’ll turn 50. You’re only six years older than Rob Bell. And, already, you’re a long way toward your life’s goal of leading a revival within mainline Protestant churches, specifically within your own United Methodist denomination.

Adam HamiltonADAM: We care deeply about wanting to see the United Methodist church revived and revitalized.

DAVID: As a journalist, it’s hard to keep up with everything you’re doing with your huge team of colleagues. I hadn’t realized until recently that you’ve got a satellite program called Partner Churches that now lists eight congregations from Maryland to California. This is for small churches, often served by part-time pastors, who want to use Church of the Resurrection resources—including your sermons in a video feed, right?

ADAM: Yes, we know that all of the things we are trying to do won’t work the same way everywhere. There have to be many different approaches to ministry. Remember that the majority of our United Methodist congregations are small. Many of them have local pastors in some cases part-time at the church. Some of our small churches are led by lay people who serve as excellent pastors in their communities in many cases. Some of these men and women are excellent shepherds; they’re great at hospital visitation and other areas of ministry—but perhaps they don’t feel they can preach very well, or at least not every week. So, that program, Partner Churches, provides a high-quality sermon from Resurrection and other resources.

DAVID: Readers may think that sounds like something out of the “prosperity preaching” movement—Creflo Dollar and others have tried video feeds. But what you’re doing here stems from the very roots of Methodism more than 200 years ago. Methodism was an incredible grassroots, pack-it-up-and-move-it movement. Circuit Riders crisscrossed America. Wesley himself was a pamphleteer widely using the latest technologies for rapid print distribution of his texts.

ADAM: The example I use is a 1789 edition of John Wesley’s sermons that was published while he was at his City Road chapel in London. I hold up my copy of that book and I say, “In America, when the Circuit Riders started a church, they would get it going and then they would leave to work in another town and they’d say, ‘Here is a book of Wesley’s sermons; read one each week until I return to you.’ And they would. We’re just adapting Wesley’s model for the 21st Century.

DAVID: That pattern spread like wildfire in the era of Francis Asbury. Wesley’s assistant before the American Revolution and later one of the first Methodist bishops. The more I’ve researched Wesley’s life myself, the more impressed I am with his courageous innovations. The book of sermons reflects his roots in the Church of England where there was a tradition of publishing sample sermons. So, it was natural for him to carry this idea much further. For Asbury and his team, sample sermons were a great help. Most United Methodist leaders, even today, have copies of Wesley’s numbered sermons.

ADAM: We’re constantly testing what we can do to help small- and medium-sized churches, especially those that are struggling. Partner Churches is just one example. We’re trying all kinds of things. In our online worship, last Sunday, we had 3,600 people actually logging in during the worship services. The online participants register their attendance; they can turn in their prayer requests; they can make donations. That’s the fastest growing segment of our congregation.

They visit us from many places. Recently I was out of town, so I worshiped online myself. What’s interesting is that out of 3,600 men and women we have online on a Sunday morning, about 2,000 of them are Resurrection members, but they choose to worship online with us—for many reasons. Many people can’t make it to the church on a Sunday, for example, but this gives them an opportunity to be with us.

FAITH VS. SCIENCE?

Inaugural Prayer Service

Adam Hamilton preaching the sermon at the National Cathedral’s Inaugural Prayer Service in January 2013. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral. Photographer: Donovan Marks.

DAVID: Right now, you’re speaking to a larger national audience through this new book and events like last year’s sermon at the National Cathedral as a part of President Obama’s inauguration. But, many of our ReadTheSpirit readers are meeting you for the first time today. So, I want you to describe this passion that drives you: Your goal isn’t political influence or riches. You’ve said you’re donating any proceeds from this new book back to your church. You really do want to see mainline Protestant churches start to thrive again, right?

ADAM: There were two things I had in mind as I was finishing this new book: One is the person who has been turned off to Christianity because of things they’ve heard or experienced in the past. The most vocal Christians we see in America today are conservative evangelicals and Fundamentalists—and I know those are two different categories, but the two groups do overlap. I don’t regularly watch Bill Maher, but I happened to see him on TV the other day ridiculing Christians because of this new Noah movie. Maher was pointing out that  a large portion of Americans tell pollsters that we need to take these Bible stories literally—and Maher also was pointing out how absurd the Noah story seems, if we have to take it literally. He pointed out that it’s obscene to think that God wanted to kill virtually every man, woman, child and animal on the planet.

The Bible does seem absurd to many people, today. And misunderstandings about the Bible lead to all kinds of confrontations. I think of people in my own congregation: One woman is studying biology at the university level and she told me, “I’m in a Bible-study group and people are telling me I can’t be a Christian if I believe in evolution. Modern biology rests on the assumptions of evolution.”

There are so many issues that arise if we try to take everything in the Bible as literally true. What do we do with all the violence in the Bible? What do we do with the passages in which God seems to be ordering overwhelming violence against men, women and children? There are lots of people wrestling with these issues inside and outside of churches all across America. I write about these issues in the new book.

I want people to know that there is room to interpret scripture in light of modern science and that we don’t have to accept that God intentionally ordered this overwhelming violence we read about in some passages. But we have to properly understand the Bible. I’ve been saying this repeatedly within the United Methodist Church.

DAVID: Now, through HaperOne, you’re saying this to a much broader audience. Clearly, you want to revive “mainline Protestant” churches. You’re also known as fairly evangelical among United Methodists. Crossing over into the national arena now, one big question is: Where do you stand on interfaith relationships? In my own research into your work, I’m finding very positive examples of cooperation with diverse communities. You were honored, at one point, with a B’nai B’rith award in social ethics.

ADAM: We’ve tried hard to develop positive relationships with the Jewish community here in our own area. We’ve shared some worship services together. That’s important here because, in the very area where our church sits today—until the 1960s, Jews were not allowed to purchase homes in this community. We regularly talk about this. I have friends, rabbis, who I bring on the screen with me to share in certain sermons where their insights are valuable. I’ve taken a trip to the Holy Land with a rabbi friend. We’ve also met with and talked with Muslims. We’ve sponsored forums here where we bring Christians, Muslims and Jews together to talk.

‘BIBLE 101’ CLEARING UP MISCONCEPTIONS

DAVID: You point out that, in today’s world, the religious challenge really is not between faith groups—it’s between religion and secular culture. Americans are distinctive in the world because of our intense interest in religion nationwide. In the UK and across Europe, there’s a stark contrast: Very few people go to church anymore. Even in America, people really need a crash course in “Bible 101” to understand the Bible.

ADAM: Yes, that’s how to understand my new book. There are so many folks out there who know very little about the Bible. If they read my book, I hope it will clear up some of their misconceptions; then I hope it will lead them to read the Bible itself; and maybe they will decide to visit a church where they can find out more. In the first half of my book, I lay out the Bible: how it came to be, the sweep of the Bible and so on. Then, in the second half of my book, I address some of the very difficult issues that still spring from the Bible today.

A lot of times pastors are nervous about sharing what they’ve learned in seminary and through scholarship with lay people in their churches. They fear this might undermine people’s confidence in scripture. So, we end up with a lot of pastors letting unquestioned assumptions continue and accumulate out there. In this book, I tried to put about a year’s worth of graduate study of the Bible into a book that general readers will find interesting. I find that too many people—including Christians inside the church—have an inadequate understanding of the Bible.

DAVID: I know enough about you to tell readers: You love the Bible. Your own daily reliance on scripture is described in the opening page of your new book.

ADAM: I really do love the Bible, yes. The Bible contains the defining story of my life. As you just noted, I do regularly tell people how I wake up in the morning: I drop to my knees and pray and then the very next thing I do is read the Bible. And, before I go to bed at night, no matter how tired I am, I open my Bible and read. I carry a Bible with me everywhere I go; I carry a Bible on my phone, too, but I always have an actual Bible with me. We encourage Bible reading here. We prepare a daily Bible reading for people to encourage them to read more of the scriptures. Every day, I’m doing all I can to encourage more people to spend more time with the Bible.

GENESIS, SCIENCE & ROB BELL

DAVID: Before I left newspapers in 2007 to form ReadTheSpirit, I covered Rob Bell’s launch of his Everything Is Spiritual tour in which he barnstormed the country, talking to people in theaters and clubs about the Genesis creation story and science—and how the two realms are not in conflict. When I read your section on the Creation Stories, I immediately thought: There’s a lot of similarity here between your approach to these issues and Rob’s.

You and Rob both love the Genesis stories and find them profoundly true, but not as some kind of scientific report on creation. As you both describe it: Genesis opens with some of the world’s most famous poetry, talking about God’s ongoing role in our cosmos. There is no reason to regard this as a war with modern science.

ADAM: The Bible represents the people of God coming to understand how the order of creation came to be. Genesis wasn’t intended as a science lesson, as we understand science today. The Bible is making profound claims about the connection between God and the world—and this is profoundly true. It wasn’t intended as a science lecture.

I encourage people to read the opening of Genesis. The first chapter is beautiful poetry with the refrains coming back—”evening and morning” and this beautiful liturgical language about the nature of creation as it unfolds. People need to understand that this is an archetypal story that was repeated down through the generations around campfires and in homes and the Genesis stories do express deep truths. We need to understand the great value of these stories.

If we free ourselves from all this noise from some of the Fundamentalists about this somehow conflicts with science, then we can begin to appreciate again the deeper truths here. Did a snake appear and speak in a garden in the literal way the scene is described in Genesis? That’s not the point. The point is the real truth of such an experience: Who among us hasn’t heard a serpent speaking to us at some moment in our lives? We’ve all faced temptation—haven’t we? And, often, that temptation feels as real as a serpent speaking to us.

HOMOSEXUALITY: ‘WE MUST BE COURAGEOUS’

DAVID: You have organized this book in a masterful way. You begin with an overview of the Bible and, in the middle of the book, you’ll have a vast majority of readers with you when you talk about the hundreds of verses in the Bible that seem to indicate that God wants us to wreak overwhelming violence in the world—or the hundreds of verses in which the Bible seems to approve of slavery—or the many verses in which Bible treats women as second-class humans or, even worse, as possessions.

Christian churches today have completely rejected slavery or mass killing as something God wants us to be doing. Many churches have come a long way toward recognizing women’s rights. Then, you come to the small handful of verses that seem to condemn homosexuality.

Cover A Letter to My Congregation by Ken WilsonYou point out in this section that you are bound, as a United Methodist pastor, by the denomination’s strict rules on this issue. If you tried to bless a gay couple, you’d be brought up on charges and banned from the church. But, in this section late in your book, you make it clear that gay marriage is not a threat to our faith. And you make it clear that you want to see your church move toward inclusion. Your language in this part of the book reminds me very much of the language in Ken Wilson’s new A Letter to My Congregation.

Let me read from page 278 in your book, Adam: “My own views on this issue changed as a result of thinking about the nature of scripture, God’s role in interpreting it, the meaning of inspiration, and how we make sense of the Bible’s difficult passages. As I came to appreciate the Bible’s humanity, I found I could at least ask whether the passages in scripture about same-sex intimacy truly captured God’s heart regarding same-sex relationships. But what really prompted me to look seriously at this issue and to wrestle with it were the gay and lesbian people I came to know and love, including children I had watched grow up in the church I serve.”

That’s Ken Wilson’s story, too. Truly pastoral Christian leaders do seem to be leading this change in Christianity, right now. The major reason, which you point to in your book, is the enormous generational shift going on across America on this issue. You’re focused on reviving the church and, frankly, that’s not going to happen with large numbers of young Americans staying away from church because of the way churches treat their gay and lesbian friends. The Public Religion Research Institute just released a major new study on this. And, Pew just took a look at the trends as well.

ADAM: You’re right: There is a trajectory in this book. Homosexuality is the most divisive issue in mainline churches and it really is the natural conclusion of the book. By the time you reach this issue, we’ve already talked about the era in which the scriptures were written, the way in which they came to be written and we’ve understood the complexity of the canonization of scripture. And we’ve helped people to set aside their overly simplistic views of the Bible.

So once I’ve established that in the first half of the book, I run through these topics that build on each other: the hundreds of verses about violence, slavery, the way we regard women. Finally, we reach homosexuality and hopefully readers will have a much more nuanced understanding of how we should approach these 5 short passages of scripture that seem to talk about homosexuality. We realize that some things in the Bible don’t capture God’s heart as much as they refer to issues that presented themselves in the era when the scriptures were written.

At the very least, I hope that people will realize that thoughtful and committed Christians can come out at different places on this question—and still be committed Christians.

I know this is a very difficult issue for many people. I have had people leave our church over the way I am talking about this issue and so this is painful for me, too. Some of the people who have left us were people I once baptized. But, right now, the spirit is moving. Of course, we all recognize today that slavery isn’t the will of God, even though hundreds of verses in the Bible seem to take slavery for granted and even encourage it. We’ve moved beyond that issue. We will move on this issue, too.

DAVID: There is only so much you can do, right now. You make that clear in your book. You’re bound by your church law. Still, you can talk about this movement toward change. And talking like that is courageous.

ADAM: I have this deep fear that, one day, I’m going to stand before the Lord and the Lord is going to say: “I put you in a position to speak to great numbers of people. Why didn’t you dare to say something courageous on behalf of people who are so marginalized and who so very much need to be welcomed?” I don’t want to face such a question someday.

Hopefully readers will see how deeply I love the Bible and how much I want people to start reading the Bible every day. I’m doing everything I can, every day, to see that this happens. I believe we can revive the church. But we must be courageous.

DAVID: Well, returning to the life of John Wesley, he courageously published a booklet completely opposed to slavery—about a century before the American Methodist church finally settled that issue.

ADAM: My next big project is about the life of John Wesley. We’ve got video segments in which I take people to many of the places that were important to Wesley. What we can learn about John Wesley and his faith can shape our own faith today and can help us in this revival of the church.

Care to read more?

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsBibleChurch GrowthGreat With Groups

Rethinking Facebook: Hospitality in your living room

Facebook decline and growthEVERYWHERE we go, the ReadTheSpirit team is asked: “What are you doing about Facebook?” That’s a natural question. As innovative publishers, we are reshaping the way media is building positive communities—so men and women nationwide are interested in our advice in light of dramatic changes within Facebook.

Today, three of our experts respond.

How dramatically
is Facebook
changing?

This is an enormous shift! Since Friday (April 11), headlines in nearly all of the leading business publications are proclaiming, as Bloomberg Businessweek asks in a headline: Is this “The End of Free Facebook Marketing?” The biggest change is that, unless companies and other groups start paying Facebook to distribute their recommended links—those popular social media channels will be shut down to a minimal distribution. As few as 1 percent of your followers will actually receive what you are broadcasting in the “old” way so many Facebook pages have been operating.

Want even more bad news? (“Bad,” that is, if you are pushing “old” Facebook broadcast-style marketing.) News reports also are highlighting a second major change at Facebook. In an effort to weed out spammy manipulators of social media, Facebook now will search for and will punish those Facebook pages that explicitly tell followers and friends to go “like” and share their postings. In other words, if you try to work around the new limitations on distribution by aggressively and pointedly telling your audience to go spread your message—Facebook will even further reduce your reach. With the cap already heading toward 1 percent, this second reduction amounts to silencing activity on your Facebook page. In TechCrunch online magazine, Josh Costine’s current headline is “Facebook’s Feed Now Punishes Pages That Ask for Likes.” If you’re doing “old-school” Facebook promotion—ouch!!

And even more limits! On Friday, WIRED magazine’s latest headline is: “This is the End of Facebook as We Know It.” Ryan Tate—author, business analyst and one of WIRED’s senior writers—reports on yet another Facebook change. Depending on how widely you use Facebook on a daily basis, this may (or may not) be bad news for you: Facebook is shutting down the chat feature on its mobile app. Instead, you’ll be prompted to get another Facebook app just for messaging. Writes Tate: “Facebook, the company that makes billions from connecting people to each other, is about to make it harder to have a conversation. … In mature markets like the U.S., Facebook’s user base has essentially stopped growing.” In the future, Facebook will become more of a family of related apps, each with a specialized function.

RETHINKING FACEBOOK:
HOSPITALITY IN YOUR LIVING ROOM

Today at ReadTheSpirit, we are sharing this advice from three of our leading followers of social media …

MARTIN DAVIS

Martin Davis Sacred Language Communications

Click on this snapshot of Martin Davis’s website to visit Sacred Language Communications.

Martin Davis, based in the Washington D.C. area, consults with businesses, nonprofits and congregations through his company and website: Sacred Language Communications. He also is a contributing writer at ReadTheSpirit. Two of his most popular columns focus on revamping church websites and church newsletters.

You’re probably saying, “Wait a minute! We’re still learning how to use Facebook, because you’ve been telling us that everyone needs to get on Facebook. You’re confusing me!” To be clear: We are not reversing our long-standing advice. Facebook still rules all forms of social media.

Now, we’re advising, first: Don’t worry. Much of the high anxiety in headlines this week is coming from media marketers who have built their bottom line on coaching clients to drive Facebook marketing campaigns in ways that worked very well in recent years. If you are a member of a congregation or another community group, primarily using Facebook for its intended purpose—friendly contact with others—then you’ll be fine in the midst of these huge shifts in the business world.

If you are reading this column, today, as the sole person charged with using Facebook as a bullhorn to blast information to your congregation or community group—then you definitely need to rethink what you are doing. This approach to evangelism is a pathway to … well, toward a rapid decline in your effectiveness.

Social media is truly social connection. Meaning you have to spend time cultivating people, talking with them, and nurturing them. This is what Facebook at its best does—and will continue to do. It allows you to engage your members and those in your community by sharing photos and video clips, offering up thoughts and articles for discussion or spiritual growth. Continue to easily share that information with others—and really get to know one another more personally.

The good news? That’s what congregations and community groups do best!

DAVID CRUMM

About ReadTheSpirit magazine and books

Click on this snapshot of our ReadTheSpirit “About” page to learn much more about our background and the scope of our work so far.

David Crumm is the founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine and books. To learn more about David and our work so far, visit our “About” page.

I agree entirely with Marty’s analysis. These huge changes in Facebook can actually benefit congregations and community groups—if you are focused on real hospitality, the ancient value that runs through all of the Abrahamic faiths and nearly all other global religious traditions as well. As Marty says, stop thinking of Facbook as a bullhorn.

Think of Facebook as your living room. When friends stop by, what do you? Offer a drink of some kind—and often food. You sit and chat, catch up on the news of the day—usually about what your kids are doing, the fun you had a local event the other night, what you’re planning this coming weekend. You talk. You listen. You show off your latest photos. At its best, that’s both classic hospitality (which is another term for the best forms of evangelism, or sharing good news). Facebook remains the most powerful network in America for doing that!

Be a good host—just as you would in your living room. For example, pay attention to the optimal times when your friends want to sit down with you and share the latest news. Did you know that recent studies of social media show that between 1 and 4 p.m., each day, is the optimal time for Facebook sharing nationwide? That’s different than the optimal time range for Pinterest (8 to 11 p.m.), Twitter (1 to 3 p.m.) and Instagram (5 to 6 p.m.). Warning: These times may not be optimal for your friends, though. Ask around. When are your friends online? Be a good and timely host and conversation partner.

Rather than assigning one person in your congregation or community group to “do Facebook,” look at all the ways your organization can be offering material to help with the person-to-person hospitality. One of the biggest ways you can help: Make sure that someone attending each of your significant events is snapping photos and uploading to your website a wide-ranging album of their pictures. Get friends in the habit of looking through your latest albums for photos they are eager to share on Facebook.

Encouraging real hospitality—a major goal in so many groups today—is a pathway to lively sharing on Facebook.

PAUL HILE

Paul Hile is a writer, editor and project manager with ReadTheSpirit magazine and books. He also is charged with keeping a close eye on changes in social media and advising our authors on the best use of these online tools.

These changes at Facebook are not ideal for most organizations who have been using pages to promote links back to their website or to their events and products. But, it is important to note: The biggest changes only affect “pages.”  Most of our authors aren’t in jeopardy of exceeding their “friend limit” on their personal Facebook accounts, so I am advising them to make better use of their personal Facebook activity.

This is all the more reason to encourage writers to use Facebook and engage with friends in a natural, regular way. The more people talk and interact with us on a daily basis online, the more we’re in front of people. It’s important to remember that there’s more than one way to get attention on Facebook. One, of course, is to post content. The other is to have people talk about you. The more that happens, the better.

As Martin and David have pointed out: This is social media.

In my research, I am convinced that successful social media strategies depend on human, person-to-person interaction. When our public presence on Facebook is “just another page,” then we’ve lost the human relationships that are the real arteries of social media. When followers of “just another page” don’t have any sort of personal interaction—attachment and investment in whatever is being shared—the results of that sharing fall off sharply.

People want to to interact, explore and invest in real relationships. If we pay attention to that core value, then Facebook continues to be a vast and friendly public square for lots of healthy sharing.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Church Growth

The Mitch Horowitz interview on ‘One Simple Idea’ (Positive Thinking)

One Simple Idea by Mitch Horowitz cover

Click the book cover to visit its Amazon page.

“The power of positive thinking” surrounds us so completely that most of us don’t recognize this idea as an American innovation in spirituality and psychology—or what Mitch Horowitz calls a “genuine and still-unfolding Reformation of the modern search for meaning.”

The message is everywhere we look from Disney’s “Wish upon a star,” to Reagan’s “Nothing is impossible,” Obama’s “Yes, we can,” Nike’s “Just do it.” This idea is the rocket fuel that has launched a host of celebrity brands: Oprah, Dr. Phil, Joel Osteen and many more.

So, it’s startling to realize: This idea that our thoughts can produce a better life is actually a concept developed by a crazy-quilt of men and women over the past two centuries. About 180 years ago, a man named Phineas Quimby—a talented watchmaker in Belfast, Maine—jumped from engineering time pieces to spreading European ideas that the mind can control the body’s inner mechanisms. Never heard of Phineas Quimby until this moment? In his book, Mitch argues that this absolutely fascinating man—all but forgotten today—was as influential as other major religious founders: the John Wesleys and John Smiths and Mary Baker Eddys of American religious life.

As Mitch puts it in his book, this idea of “positive thinking” was the product of “a determinedly modern” group of American men and women. “These experimenters, sometimes working together and other times in private, resolved to determine whether some mental force—divine, psychological or otherwise—exerts an invisible pull on a person’s daily life. Was there, they wondered, a ‘mind-power’ that could be harnessed to manifest outcomes?”

Welcome to Mitch Horowitz’s grand 278-page tour of this odd assortment of pioneers, prophets—and profiteers as well—who gave us one of the central pillars of American culture today: the power of positive thinking.

Who is Mitch Horowitz? He’s the head of the Tarcher-Penguin publishing house, where he produces some of the most important books on America’s and Europe’s great spiritual teachers. (Last year, we interviewed one of Tarcher’s top authors, religious historian Gary Lachman, when Tarcher published his new biography of interfaith pioneer Madame Blavatsky.) We also highly recommend Mitch’s own earlier book (currently published by Bantam), Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation.

Want to see Mitch’s video? He produced a 5-minute introduction to his new book. Well worth watching!

Today, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Mitch about his latest book (published by Crown), One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life.

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH MITCH HOROWITZ ON
‘ONE SIMPLE IDEA’

Mitch Horowitz author of One Simple Idea

Mitch Horowitz as he worked on his video promoting ‘One Simple Idea.’ Photo by Shannon Taggart, used by permission.

DAVID: In One Simple Idea, you invite readers to explore the largely untold history of the idea that screams at us from the magazine racks, every day, as we check out at the grocery store. You’re talking about the foundational idea behind celebrity coaches such as Oprah, Joel Osteen, Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, right?

MITCH: Absolutely. They all are a part of this movement that I explore in the book. This idea of “the power of positive thinking” has touched every aspect of therapeutic and religious life in this country. It forms the operating instructions for every expression of self help and everything in medicine that seeks to probe a mind-body connection or the newer research that seeks to explore the placebo responses in life and health. This movement has reshaped our advertising and our political language. You can’t understand the story of how America formed itself over the past two centuries if you don’t understand the growth of this idea.

Just think for a moment about how slogans from this movement have reshaped American politics. We’ve seen the triumph of this idea in politics over the last several decades. Ronald Reagan used this so frequently: “Nothing is impossible.” People may not realize this, but if you look back: Dwight Eisenhower didn’t sound this way. Richard Nixon didn’t sound this way. Lyndon Johnson didn’t talk about the war on poverty in this way. The tenets of positive thinking changed the way presidents were expected to talk and Reagan demonstrated this so persuasively that Obama’s slogan, “Yes we can,” picked it up from him and took it further and touched people all across the nation. Remember that George H.W. Bush complained that he couldn’t get a handle on “the vision thing”—and it cost him a second term.

AN AMERICAN INNOVATION:
‘POSITIVE THINKING’

DAVID:  Your book points out, of course, that there are many mind-power threads in global culture. Some forms of this theme show up in Asian culture and, more than two centuries ago, a very specific form of the idea was spread in Europe by Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), Americans didn’t invent the idea of a mind-body connection. However, as you show us in your book, Americans took the notion that mind and body are connected, codified it with a new set of assumptions and enshrined it in our culture to an extent the world had never seen before.

MITCH: Yes, of course. There is an international component to this. There are mind-body ideas in other world cultures. And there also was a vast therapeutic movement that arose in the 19th century, involving a lot of European innovations in understanding the mind. This all rested on the idea of a practical shift in human perception and the belief that you can objectively alter your experience of life going forward.

In his era, Mesmer was very good at arriving at an early very rough estimation of the unconscious mind. He didn’t possess a vocabulary that today we would consider “correct.” For example, he talked about “animal magnetism” and he had other ideas we dismiss today. But Mesmer did do enough in his work so that others could leap into this field and build something more concrete.

What Americans built from this is distinctive and Americans have done a very good job of dispersing our positivity gospel to the rest of the world. But there are other related movements in other parts of the world.

DAVID: One example of a European thinker, in your book, is Victor Frankl, who we recently profiled.

MITCH: Frankl is an example of a 20th-century European philosopher who wrote in a related area. Frankl was forced to live through some of the most catastrophic conditions imaginable. He emerged from the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust with the idea that humans, even in the most depleted of conditions, can find some sense of meaning. One could argue that it’s unfair of me to identify Frankl as connected to the “positive thinking” movement, but we can see him as a distant branch of this movement. It shows how far this positive-thinking project ran.

DAVID: Let’s go back to the beginning, for a moment. Some of our sharp readers may do the historical math in what we’ve already said in today’s interview and they will realize that Mesmer died long before Phineas Quimby jumped from designing watches to designing mind-body connections. So, here’s the link with Mesmer: Quimby attended a program by a traveling “mesmerist”—this was a couple of decades after Mesmer himself was dead—and this brilliant Maine watchmaker was so convinced by what he heard that he pretty much dropped his previous life to leap full force into a new line of work.

I’ll wager that most of our readers have never heard of Quimby until today’s interview—and perhaps they’ll go ahead and buy your book to discover his story. Tell us just a bit more about him.

MITCH: Quimby was the classic American religious experimenter and in some respects was the grandfather of mental healing—the forerunner of positive thinking. He was a clockmaker born in New Hampshire, although he spent most of his life in Maine. He found himself suffering from tuberculosis and he had nowhere to turn, like most Americans in that era, in seeking reasonable medical care. What passed for medicine actually made things worse. Throughout much of the 19th century, health care was dominated by an almost medieval approach to medicine. Physicians still thought it was a good idea to create open wounds to drain liquids from the body. Physicians would try to flush disease out of the body by giving people various toxic substances. At first, Quimby was given a treatment of calomel, a mercury-based toxin, and he wound up suffering from mercury poisoning. The poor man was losing teeth.

Quimby was faced with a crisis of suffering that was made worse at the hands of the professionals who were supposed to be helping him. Then, one day, he took a raucous carriage ride through the countryside and he found that the excitement of this ride improved his spirits and he also found some relief from his symptoms for a while. He began to wonder about this effect. He wrote, “Man’s happiness is in his belief.” He became quite interested in mesmerism and the connections between the mind and body. He began using prayers that today we would call affirmations and visualizations as a healing regimen. He began in the early 1840s treating people with disorders that had resisted medical treatments or had grown worse as a result of medicine. He became the nation’s first mental healer and he continued until his death in 1866.

FROM HISTORY TO TODAY:
‘POSITIVE THINKING’ RESHAPES
POLITICS AND SCIENCE

DAVID: This book is far more than a history lesson. You connect the dots throughout your book with modern figures—for example, Norman Vincent Peale whose Guideposts magazine and website remain a mainstay in American culture two decades after his death.

MITCH: Peale wrote the book that would bring this message into just about every household in America: The Power of Positive Thinking.

DAVID: The book sold millions of copies and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 186 weeks in the 1950s! To this day, his magazine, founded just after World War II, reaches millions of readers and the magazine runs some very popular websites, as well. Your book gives us a balanced portrait of Peale, both his spiritual genius and also his tragic limitations. For example, you include Peale’s anti-Catholic bias against John Kennedy. You chart the highs and lows of Peale’s life in that section of the book.

You’ve included a lot in these pages. You look at Reagan’s use of this idea. And you also give us a sampling of recent scientific research, too.

MITCH: At leading institutions like Harvard, research is going on right now—we’re seeing new reports from this work all the time—exploring mind-body connections. But there is this disconnect in the way we understand where these ideas arose, so that’s why I thought this book was so timely. In medical research today, very few people feel any debt in their scientific work to the positive-thinking movement. In its best expressions, this movement did produce early rough estimates of some ideas that science is validating today about the mind and the body.

DAVID: I appreciate your historical balance. You’re not trying to advocate for positive thinking—and you’re not trying to dismiss it. Whether your readers like or dislike positive thinking—you make the case that it’s a movement we all should understand. To borrow your own words: “The whole notion that the mind is causative is the most radical religious and psychological idea of our times.”

We’ve talked already about some of the positive outcomes of the movement. What are some of the mistakes?

MITCH: I think the biggest mistake of the movement is that a lot of men and women in this movement have tried to simplify the power of the mind into something like a big mental law. Many of them have given us their own version of that law. But there is no verification of one great, unified, mental super law. Does that mean that all the insights of the positive thinking movement are wrong? No. I would say it this way: The mind is one “cause” among many.

I think the truth is: We live under many laws. Many forces are at work in the world. We suffer. Things happen that we can’t control. Does the mind have real power in our lives? Research is showing us: Yes, it does. But it’s not the only power. For all of its limitations, though, the positive thinking movement has always been on the edge of redefining humanity’s view of itself. There is real value in understanding this movement.

DAVID: One last thing I want to point out to readers in this interview: If this subject is intriguing, then your book also serves up one of the most impressive “Notes on Sources” sections that I’ve seen in a long time. You give readers a 43-page section that serves as a road-map to learn more about the whole wide range of topics you raise in your book. That Notes section is a great reason to buy this book.

MITCH: I appreciate your noticing that. I wrote those Notes to be read. They’re not a technical afterthought. They’re not tedious, I hope. This is where the reader can go beyond this book. I want people to be able to reach this section of the book and feel as though I’m showing them beneath the floorboards, taking them up in the attic and guiding them toward places they can go to read much more, if they are interested in what they’re discovering.

Want more?

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsGreat With Groups

Mitch Horowitz on the American positive thinking movement

intrigued by Mitch Horowitz’s latest book (published by Crown), One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life? Then, take just 5 minutes and let him explain his thesis to you.

Here is just a little of what he says in this video: “Positive thinking surrounds us. It’s the language that we use in everyday life and it’s the language people use when they’re trying to persuade us of something. And it all comes from one simple idea that bubbled up in American mystical subcultures in the mid 19th century. It was this: Thoughts are causative! When Ronald Reagan, for example, used to say in his speeches, “Nothing is impossible!” that was not the kind of thinking was always used in this country. That was language that came out of the positive thinking movement. When we talk about the importance of having a positive attitude—that way of thinking is new. The notion that you have to be able to foster a diplomatic atmosphere with other people—it seems like it’s always been with us. It hasn’t.”

Click the video screen below for this really intriguing introduction to Mitch’s book. (Don’t see a video screen in your version of this story? Try clicking the headline of this post to re-load it. Or, you also can watch this video directly on YouTube.)

Have you found our interview with Mitch? If you are landing on this video page, first, you’ll also enjoy ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm’s interview with Mitch this week.

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Categories: Author InterviewsGreat With Groups

New Vision for Growing Churches: Put an iPad in every pew?

Note from ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm: Please welcome back Martin Davis, known nationwide as one of the wisest consultants on congregational communication. His ideas are innovative, but they’re also shaped by his years of on-the-ground work in congregations. Martin’s past columns in ReadTheSpirit include: “4 ‘Secrets’ to a Successful Website for Your Congregation” and “Your Newsletter May Shock You.”

By MARTIN DAVIS

Over the past five to ten years, I have walked into countless congregations across this country that have invested thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, and occasionally hundreds of thousands of dollars on soundboards, projection screens, recording equipment, microphones, lighting, and highly sophisticated computers and software to make increasingly complex Sunday morning productions possible.

1024px-Child_and_mother_with_Apple_iPad

Photo from Intel Free Press, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Today, I’m sharing a new vision for technology in America’s congregations. If technology is really that important, let’s invest in something that does more than entertain and enhance Sunday morning worship. Let’s invest in something that can transform people’s lives around the clock.

Businesses have long known the value of providing tablets to their employees, and schools are trying this strategy, according to Bloomberg. It’s time that churches tried this interactive idea.

A QUESTION FOR YOU …

I don’t know of any congregation that has taken the step I am describing today—nor does the staff at ReadTheSpirit. Do you? If you do, tell us! We’d like to learn about them, and possibly write about them.

There are some obvious benefits of—as our headline says today—”Put an iPad in every Pew.” And I hasten to add: While that headline is catchy and easily conveys the point to readers, I’m not pushing a specific brand of tablet. The benefits could include:

  • A Huge Library: The vast number of apps and websites that make music, curriculum, and liturgies available for little—and sometimes no—cost means churches would have a veritable Religious Library of Congress at their fingertips.
  • Instant Small Groups: Buying materials for small groups, classes, or entire congregations can be done in a few steps, and the products will be delivered instantly. Imagine gathering with your small group to choose your next book for discussion—and having the books arrive on your tablets during that same class.
  • Go Green: For the environmentally conscious, this purchase would significantly reduce, or even eliminate, a preponderance of print publications—most of which are thrown away, trashed, or simply ignored.
  • Worship Continues: Sermons, sermon notes, and links to related materials can be in everyone’s hands during worship and after. Remember that, right now, many growing churches actually pass out paper “sermon notes” and ask men and women to take notes on the paper. This is just an extension of that idea. If you don’t like the idea of using tablets during worship—maybe this doesn’t fit your style of worship—then consider that, after worship, families will go home with all the materials mentioned in worship: calendars of upcoming events, prayers, sermon notes, even video clips.

It’s the overall communications benefits to the congregations that make this idea so compelling.

  • Streamline communications I: Churches repeat basic information in countless ways, through phone trees (yes, they still exist); monthly print newsletters; bulletin boards laden with postings; multiple calendars; social media channels; e-newsletters; announcements; and more. Tablets allow you to place all the information people need in one platform that they can set up to present in any method they choose.
  • Streamline communications II: The key to not overburdening your staff with paper work and writing is to learn to re-use materials across platforms. Placing everything in electronic format for dissemination via the tablet makes recycling materials as easy as 1 (Cut), 2 (Paste), 3 (Publish).
  • Customize your Communications: The increasing ease with which people can create apps means that your congregation can tailor your communications to a style that is uniquely you.
  • Vertical Communication: Churches have long struggled with communicating “vertically” with its members, segmented as they tend to be by age groups. Tablets allow churches to put all materials into the hands of all members so that a unified sense of self emerges.

There are many more compelling reasons we could list.

Ahead of the Curve

For centuries, but particularly since the computer age, churches have—rightly, I would argue—been accused of being hopelessly behind the cultural and technological curve. Today’s heavy investment in worship-centric technology does nothing to dispel this complaint.

Think about it. All the technology in your sanctuary exists to amplify a few voices. The connections via tablets lift and share many voices.

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 7.38.31 PMWHY NOW?

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center makes clear the time to act is now.

The popularity of reading devices (tablets, Kindles, Nooks, etc.) is surging. From the report: “Some 42% of adults now own tablet computers, up from 34% in September. And the number of adults who own an e-book reading device … jumped from 24% in September [2013] to 32% after the holidays.”

As people of the Book—let our congregations, for once, lead the way.

WANT MORE FROM MARTIN DAVIS?

For more than 20 years, Martin Davis has helped congregations grow through improved communication. He is the founder of Sacred Language Communications, which helps congregational leaders make better use of communication. Davis is a graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School and has written for publications ranging from National Journal to The Washington Post. He also led the Congregational Resource Guide at the Alban Institute. In 2013, he began writing occasional columns for Read The Spirit—and is working on a guidebook for congregations.

Visit his new Sacred Language Communications.

Please, spread the word:

Share this column with friends: Click on a blue-“f” Facebook icon, “Like” this column and get a discussion going in your congregation. Feel free to print this column to discuss in your small group—or click the small envelope-shaped icon and email this to friends.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Church GrowthGreat With Groups