The Christian Saint Patrick’s Day

Easter 2009 has come and gone.  Into the closet goes the little bunny decorations; into the tummy go the eggs, candy, and chocolate bunnies; into the compost go the dying lilies.  Now we turn the calendar page to things like Pentecost and summer.  Many of us have gone to church in order to do our twice yearly duty and are no worse for the wear, although less and less of us are doing this little dance each year.  Coninue Reading…

The Christian St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patty's CommunionEaster 2009 has come and gone.  Into the closet goes the little bunny decorations; into the tummy go the eggs, candy, and chocolate bunnies; into the compost go the dying lilies.  Now we turn the calendar page to things like Pentecost and summer.  Many of us have gone to church in order to do our twice yearly duty and are no worse for the wear, although less and less of us are doing this little dance each year.

I like Easter.  I have followed the tradition of Lent for all of my adult life.  I always feel elation on Easter Sunday, with a sense of accomplishment and reverence.  It is a sort of “holy high” that isn’t completely describable with words.  This year, I felt this high even more, due to the fact that I finished reading my Bible cover to cover in 90 days (OK, plus about a week).  Onward Christian soldier I went with my sword in hand, and committed in my heart.  I’d like to say that the church service magnified this sense of elation, but I honestly can’t.

As I left church on that day and allowed my mind to wander, I strangely started to think of St. Patrick’s Day.  At first I ignored this, because I felt that maybe I might have taken too much communion wine (OK, it’s grape juice).  But as I thought deeper, I realized that these holidays really have a lot in common.

I must have some Irish in me.  After all, both of my names point to the Emerald Isle.  But no matter what my Irish-blood-ratio may be, it is not something that I find any identity in whatsoever.  In fact, most St. Patrick’s Days I don’t even wear green.  I don’t pinch people, and I’ve never had a green beer.  I do enjoy the occasional Shamrock Shake, but that is about it.  I have no reason for this lack of “green pride.”  It isn’t like I wouldn’t drink a green Guiness if I had the chance.  I just feel no real desire to.

This is not the case with most people, I know.  Saint Patty’s Day is the one day where everyone is Irish.  From Snoop Dog to Isabella Rosalini, everyone is in on the action.  We can all grab a bagpipe and march down Main street in our kilt, and drink a pint at O’Malley’s when we’re done.  Tomorrow we go back to drudgery, but everyone can be a part of this party.  There is no card check at the door, no proving your heritage, no strings attached.  At the same time, no one I have ever met has their life positively impacted in a lasting way by all of this festivity.

I realized that in may ways, this is almost exactly like Easter.  On Easter people flock to the church in their new costumes (don’t tell me you wear a light grey suit any other time of year).  People go through the motions, eat their Easter meal, and hide their eggs.  This doesn’t mean that anything is required of them on Monday.  It doesn’t mean they change their heart any more than celebrating St. Patrick’s Day makes people join the IRA.  Easter revelry doesn’t contain so much beer and rowdiness, but other than that it seems it is pretty much the same for a lot of people.

I am not saying that Easter is meaningless (see paragraph 1).  I am saying that when Christianity becomes a culture it is easy to separate the meaning of its symbols and celebrations from the heart of what its true meaning is.  I saw this in a conversation I had with a friend from across the world the other day.  We wished each other a Happy Easter, and as we talked I realized that he didn’t have any idea that the holiday wasn’t mostly about eggs and bunnies.  I learned that our chief export in this regard was not a holiday centered around the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but instead one of fertility symbols and sweets.

I believe that there is a world agenda of forces that want to distract humanity from the truth of what Jesus did on the cross.  But I also know that people communicate what is most valuable to them.  It just kind of spills out of them constantly, and everyone around them knows it.  Jesus said that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).  In other words, what we communicate to the world, is what is truly in our heart.

America is filled with many sincere Christians who are doing powerful work in the name of Christ.  Many churches are transforming the world.  But the cultural Christianity that we’ve grown used to is not.  It has all too often spewed a non-committal holiday of Spring, like so much green St. Patrick’s vomit.  –Ryan

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Internet Evangelism Day

The other day I got a comment from Tony from InternetEvangelismDay.com.  I usually am very skeptical about people who try to sneak link-spam into my blogs, and I tend to be pretty heavy handed with the comment approval.  I checked out the site just for kicks-and-giggles, and was quite impressed with what I saw.  Their site is a veritable menagerie of tools and helps for churches planning to use their Internet ministry effectively.  At the core of their plan is to make April 26th a day dedicated to Internet evangelism worldwide.  I am waiting to hear back from them about a few things, and am happy to use whatever platform I can to help them reach our mutual goals for ministry.  This really gets to the heart of my passion.

InternetEvangelismDay.com screenshot Behind all my theorizing and theologizing regarding the Church and communication is a core conviction that has been growing inside for several years.  Basically, I have grown tired of the Internet being the Devil’s playground.  Christians fear it.  UnChristians revel in it.  It is the Mos Eisley Cantina (for all the Geeks out there) of our little planet.

The Internet is both the biggest opportunity for evangelism in the history of the world, and the greatest tool the Church could ever hope for.  Yet we are letting it slip by deeper and deeper into darkness.

When Gutenberg invented the Printing Press, the Christian Bible was the first book ever printed, and almost immediately the Church showed that it intended to use this medium to the fullest.  Still to this day, the Bible remains the best selling printed book of all time, and other Christian books are common worldwide best sellers.  Yet, as the Internet spawned, the Church has been painfully slow and wary to use this medium much at all.

Do you doubt me?  Can you name one major Christian blog that cracks technorati’s top 50 regularly?  Give me one Christian site that is on everyone’s bookmark list.  We have GodTube, the poor Christian cousin of YouTube (I’m not really dissing them at all), and other Christian versions of popular culture online.  And yes, we use the Internet pretty well for Bible tools, and maybe some “Christian dating,” but not much else with excellence.

So my conviction and passion is to point the way for Christians to use this tool to spread the great news about what Jesus did for humanity through cyberspace, and to use the World Wide Web to teach people wanting to learn more about God wherever they are.  I have a passion for this, because I believe that God has a passion for it.  I believe that no x-rated site, or malicious virus can prevail against God and His people.  I believe in a revolution of love starting on your web page, and mine.

That is why I am behind what InternetEvangelismDay.com is doing.  Mark April 26th on your calendar, and start a viral movement to take the Internet for Christ.  –Ryan

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2009 American Religous Identification Survery Analysis

I promised a day ago that I would pour through the ARIS 2008 (Published March, 2009) survey that forms the basis for Jon Meacham’s article in Newsweek, “The End of Christian America.”  I have spent hours looking through the survey, highlighting, commenting, and reading the original article that first lead me to this survey.  It is the cover story for the magazine.  The cover reads, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.”  I will do my best to summarize the basic findings of the survey and interact with them.

First, while I am not a professional statistician.  I will say that anyone who immediately finds fault in the survey itself has probably not read it.  The survey is quiet airtight.  It asks only open ended questions.  There is no “Do you think Christianity is A-Evil; B-Bad; C-just OK; D-A lie.”  Nothing of the sort.  Further, they did a good job of polling large numbers of people around the country in a random sample, that appears unbiased to any outcome.  In fact, the survey effort seems quite impressive.

Meacham’s article seems quite fair to the outcome of the survey itself, with a couple of areas that were significantly unmentioned, in my eyes.  Meacham did his job, and I am not criticising him at all.  But his article did leave me with some impressions that analysing the survey modified in some ways.

First of all, the survey was not a 2 part survey taken in 1990 and 2008.  It was a three part survey taken in 1990, 2001, and 2008.  the numbers can be compared between 1990 and 2008, and they should.  But leaving out the middle survey leads to one significant false impression.

When I read the Newsweek article, I was alarmed to the growing crisis of faith our country is now having.  When I read the ARIS survey, I realized that even though the numbers are striking, the real striking change did not take place between 2001 and 2008.  the really big change mostly took place between 1990 and 2001!  In almost every case, the change between the first and second survey is striking, and the change between the second and third is a slowed continuation of that trend.

Take for example, the biggest statistic quote of the article, that the numbers of Christians have decreased from 86.2% in 1990 to 76% in 2008.  That is true, but the 2001 number was 76.6%.  This means that in the 11 years of the first survey, the number of Christians decreased 9.6% in America.  That is .87% a year.  Between 2001 and 2008, the number decreased .7%.  That is a decrease of .1% per year.  This means that the Christian slide has been decreasing as of late, not rapidly increasing.  The increase in those with “no religion” also has followed a similar pattern.

Of course, this doesn’t make the survey good news.  It is bad news…very bad news.  It does mean that this is not a sudden and new trend.

Another thing that is worth noting is that the Christian slide is not across the board.  The article interviews a Baptist leader, and the Baptists have a whole lot to be worried about.  They are in steady decline.  There is no real slowing of the curve between 2001 and 2008 for them.  The “Mainline Christian” group (which includes Methodist, U. Meth, AME, Lutheran, Presbyterian Episcopal/Anglican, U Church of Christ, Reformed, DoC, Moravian, Quaker, and all of the Orthodox groups) have fared even worse, with their numbers declining even more in the 2001-2008 leg than the one before.

But, the “Christian Generic” group (containing those who would only answer that they were “Christian,” “Non Denom Christian,” “Protestant,” “Evangelical,” “Born Again,” and those who said that they were Pentecostal or Charismatic) actually increased in each survey period across the board.  Some of these numbers were striking.  Non Denominational Christians almost tripled between 2001 and 2008.  They increased by almost 6 million adherents in that time period.  that is amazing, compared with all of the other trends.

Those that list no religion have outgrown every other group in every single category, though.  Their geographical and demographic information is very interesting as well.  The Pacific Northwest is no longer the center of irreligion in the US.  That title is now held by the Northeast.  Vermont is particularly noteworthy, where No Religion is now the largest religious group, when catholics and protestants are separated.  They have  a population of 34% who claim to have no religion.

The No Relgion group has the largest disparity of any group between the sexes, as well.  Twenty percent more men than women (60-40) claim this category.  Every other religious group has more women adherents than men (Baptists with the biggest disparity that way at 14%), except for Muslims, Eastern religions, and the off-brand religions (wiener-dog worship, etc) who have more male adherents.

A lot has been said about rapid growth of Islam.  Statistically, it appears to be largely from immigration, and it is almost solely from unmarried men.

The biggest thing I noticed about the survey though, was how stratified it was according to race.  When race is factored in, black people are holding to their faith largely, and Hispanics are mostly shifting from one Christian group to another.  But Asians, and even more markedly whites, are leaving faith for agnosticism/atheism at huge rates.  While Asians (it must be noted that Asian includes any group from the continent of Asia—something that we need to stop doing—there is no way a Chinese person has that much in common with an Iranian, or Indian) are the largest group with no religion at 27%, the whites without faith doubled between 1990 and 2008, with the vast majority of that growth between the first and second surveys.

The numbers in these surveys are very bleak for Christianity, on the one hand.  It might be good for Christianity on the other, though.  This might force American Christians to re-examine the orthopraxy, one they realize that their orthodoxy doesn’t need to be changed.  Further, the old mainline denominations are rapidly deteriorating, while the more outside the box non-denominational groups are actually growing.  It must be noted that throughout the 90’s and 2000’s the mainlines were characterized by large theological battles over liberalization of theology, while the charismatics and non-denominationals did not have these struggles.  I do not think there is much doubt that these struggles factor in significantly to the trends shown in this survey.  It appears to me that theological and social appeasement has not led to increased adherents, but large exodus to other Christian groups.  –Ryan Shinn

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10 Ways that Churches can Improve Communication

communicate It seems that the Information Age has been one of the most aptly named epochs in history.  The popular meme may be true, that the average American accesses more information every day than was accessed by our grandparents in their entire lifetimes.  But even if it isn’t, no one can deny that everywhere we turn some advertisement, announcement, print ad, or electronic message is vying for our attention.  The advent of the Internet has done nothing but make matters worse.  Now, instead of a couple dozen pieces of junk mail in my mailbox, I have an email box full of “cheap replica watches,” “free iPods” and unmentionable others.  Unfortunately, the church is doing a worse job at communicating that most of these spammers in my inbox.  Here are 10 ideas for your church to improve communication. Continue reading “10 Ways that Churches can Improve Communication”

What Are We Doing Here Anyway?

This blog really stems from who I am.  I am a youth pastor/church planter, Internet entrepeneur, and the husband of an awesome woman from Taiwan.  I have a passion for writing, seeing the Church use communication technology (specifically the Internet) in the most effective way possible, and helping to grow Christianity in America into what Jesus intended it to be.  I blog about these things here in separate pages according to these various themes.

2009 American Religious Identification Survey

This week’s Newsweek has a cover story on “The Decline and Fall of Christian America,” written by Jon Meachan.  I read the article today (more on that in another post) and am now pouring over the actual survey that formed the basis of the article.  I will explain my findings on that in the next few days, as I discover new things.

Incidentally, it wasn’t easy to find.  There are simply so many blogs talking about it, most of them just scrapes of the Newsweek article itself.

A Great Church Tech blog

Drew of Monk Development, who makes Ekklesia360 (one of our partners at Epiphany Systems), just did a big Church web survey.  He blogs about some of the things that they discovered on his site: www.goodmanson.com.  I can’t even begin to describe how enlightening the webmeeting that we had the other day was.  I’ll include more of my thoughts as they coalesce.

Muchas gracias to Jon Bourne for using his secret spy tactics to share this with me.

Pledging Allegiance

This may seem like a stretch at first, but I think it bears consideration:

Do you remember when you were a kid and you stood up every day to say the Pledge of Allegiance in class?

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Those words are indelibly imprinted in my mind.  It is like an old TV or computer screen that was stuck on one thing for an extended period, and had that image burned into it for all time.  When I was younger, I felt like I couldn’t pass a flag without getting teary-eyed and patriotic.  Really!  I know it sounds hokey, and if you aren’t an American, you are probably rolling your eyes.  Maybe even if you are an American, you might be too.  There is nothing wrong with having a deep love for your country.

All of those feelings were concurrent with the whole “my daddy can beat up your daddy” phase.  That is natural.  Back in childhood we all had a natural sense that there were certain things in life that were unquestionable.  Your mom was a better cook than every other mom.  Your dad was the strongest man in the world, and everything they said about the world was written in stone as by the very hand of God.  Even when they said you had done something wrong, and you were angry, still you knew inside that they were right.

At some point in childhood this all goes away, slowly at first.  Then you wake up one day when you are about 13, and suddenly you realize that the opposite is true.  It sort of comes on you like a flood in the night, and you wake up in the morning, and you know everything about everything.  Anything else is to be questioned with the most stringent of examinations.  It isn’t until later when you realize that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Now, as I read my Bible I am daily confronted with a nagging question.  What should I do about those things that I am reading that challenge the way I’ve decided the way things are and should be?  What do I do about the words and commands in the Bible that say something I don’t want to be true?  Do I tear them out, pretend they are not there, or in the fashion of the day, explain them away as saying something else entirely?

I don’t have to enumerate these issues.  Anyone who has truly read the Bible has found them.  Issues of sexuality, the proper roles of men and women, giving money to the Church, speaking only words of kindness and blessing, all of these and more assault me daily.  In a post-Christian world this is increasingly going to be a battle line.  We have lost an innocence that repeats, “God says it, so I must believe it.”

One of the many questions to ask is how accurate is this paradigm of adolescence to the spiritual landscape?  In many ways I think we are in our spiritual teens as a society.  I think that we have in large part decided what we want to be true.  We want issues of sexual morality to be however we’ve determined them.  The Bible has to be wrong, in our eyes, if it says something other than what we’ve already determined is right.

The answer to this that many Christians in a post-Christian world are going to have to learn is not to simply return with “God says it, so you must believe it.”  That won’t affect people any more than convincing a teenager that you are right simply because you are their parent.  Notice the use of the word “you” in that quotation.  We must continue and hold fast to the fact that we MUST believe it simply because God says it.  That is where our allegiance lies.  Our reality must not be conditional or subjective.  But our dialogue must point to Christ, not to behavior.

Christ will continue to affect lives, no matter what title we give to an era.  But we Christians have failed in many ways to point our lives and rhetoric to Christ.  Instead we have pointed both towards our code of behavior.  This is not my idea of how things are.  It is fact.  Most un-Christians statistically view Christianity mostly as a code of behavior, and their criticisms of our faith almost unanimously stem from that.  Our behavior is important, as it points others toward Christ (as is the main point of Ephesians 5), not as an ends to itself.

What the post-Christian era knows that we don’t is that it makes no sense to say “God says, so I must believe it, and therefore do it,” if they have no allegiance to God.  We would do well to stop saying “you should live this way,” and start saying living lives that make people ask us “How can I have a life like yours?”

10 Commandments of Cell Phones

I wrote this a long time ago, but I thought it bears repeating.

The 10 Commandments of Cell Phones:

Ok, I know that we in America really value our independance, our sense of automatic rights, and our fast consumer lifestyle.  Cell phones have in one sense made all of that, and our lives in genral, a whole lot easier.  In other ways they have actually made life more difficult.  Of course, there is the fact that now with a cell phone everyone thinks that they have automatic access to you.  Also, there is the constant ringing and chatting and texting that surrounds us constantly.  There is also no peace that normally comes with going “incommunicato” and having alone time. Continue reading “10 Commandments of Cell Phones”