As Easter Dawns, Dizzying Changes Shape Church of Future Size and Location Who's Growing The Changing Look of Worship
Substantial numbers of worshippers will not open a hymnal, light a candle, smell incense, recite a creed or listen to an organ, religion experts and commentators say.
They will be more likely than ever to hear sermons in Spanish, shake hands with pastors who are not seminary-educated and attend churches with plenty of off-street parking.
Technology will continue to permeate all aspects of religious life.
The dizzying pace of change leaves Nebraska United Methodist Bishop Rhymes Moncure Jr. hopeful rather than depressed or bewildered.
While ministry will look different in 2020, he said, the church's primary task remains the same: sharing the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus Christ.
"This Sunday there will be an influx of people into churches across the nation," he said. "It's my dream, my prayer, my hope that the membership sees that as God's validation that something did happen 2,000 years ago and share it with others."
The Rev. Bruce Larson, pastor emeritus of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle and a national conference speaker, sees a new kind of worship involving "bodies, minds, spirits, voices and hearts."
Larson outlined his vision, "The Church in 2020," in the latest edition of Faith at Work magazine.
Another peek into the future comes from a recent study of congregational life done by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.
Researchers Carl Dudley and David Roozen surveyed 14,301 congregations in 41 denominations and faith groups. The data apply to about 90 percent of the nation's worshippers.
Several findings stand out.
One is that half of the nation's 300,000-plus congregations have fewer than 100 adults who regularly participate in congregational life. As is the case of Nebraska and western Iowa, the majority of congregations are in small towns and rural areas.
The study also suggests that churches with a clear sense of mission and high expectations report greater vitality, growth and financial giving. Contemporary worship and electronic musical instruments make congregations more appealing to new members and a magnet for youth.
It's no surprise, then, that evangelical Protestants, which exhibit these characteristics, led all groups in new church development in the last half of the 20th century.
Although Nebraska and western Iowa are still heavily Catholic and mainline Protestant, evangelicals are surging.
Sidney, Hastings and Omaha are just three cities where the Assemblies of God, Evangelical Free, Nazarene, Southern Baptist and Christian & Missionary Alliance churches have constructed new buildings or expanded existing ones.
Although many factors are at work shaping the church of 2020, several will have a major impact. Consider: Technology
The Rev. Gerald Gonderinger is ambivalent about technology. A computer wonk who writes software in his spare time, Gonderinger has computerized about everything in sight at the 10,000-member St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church in Omaha.
If a parishioner wants to know when he is scheduled to usher, he has only to log on to the St. Stephen Web site.
"We schedule 13,000 ministerial assignments a year by computer," Gonderinger said.
Technology used wisely saves time and money - $20,000 to $30,000 in administrative costs annually at St. Stephen, Gonderinger estimates - that can be put to work in ministry, he said.
It can keep people in touch, he said, but technology also depersonalizes things.
Technology also is affecting ministries such as Back to the Bible in Lincoln. A radio pioneer, Back to the Bible saw the potential of the Internet in 1996. Its Web site now gets 13 million hits a month.
Executive Vice President Tom Schindler said the virtual ministry may surpass the radio ministry in the next couple of decades.
"Radio will be the contact point to get people interested in the ministry," he said. "Once they are introduced to the ministry, we'll get them to the Internet."
In the 1990s, the number of Hispanics in Nebraska grew from 36,969 to 94,425, surpassing blacks as the state's largest minority group. All the state's major denominations have been scrambling to welcome the newcomers.
Brother William Woeger, the Archdiocese of Omaha's liturgical expert, said Latinos will have the "biggest single impact" on the Catholic experience in the next two decades.
Because Hispanics express their faith in visible ways during worship, he said, and because they have direct, simple, personal relationships with Christ, the saints and the Virgin Mary, "they will help us rediscover the 'affective' things of worship - that worship isn't just something you do in your head."
The growing number of Latinos has also attracted a growing number of Hispanic Pentecostal pastors to Nebraska and western Iowa. About two dozen are at work in Omaha alone, said the Rev. Miguel Armijo, who came to the city from Mexico two years ago.
While most of the new churches are tiny, Armijo said, "little by little, some of them are growing." Population Shifts
Nebraska's rural-to-urban shift, which shows no signs of abating, is putting stress on small churches in counties that are losing population. That means major headaches for the Rev. George Worchester of the Nebraska United Church of Christ and other denominational leaders who already spend a major chunk of time keeping these churches running.
"In the eastern part where there is growth, our churches will continue to hold their own or grow," Worchester said. "But in the areas losing population, that's a whole different story."
The West Blue United Church of Christ between Milford and Crete, for example, voted itself out of existence by a margin of 3-1 recently. United Methodist churches in Lamar, Rose, Herman and Berwyn closed last year. Remaining congregations need to revitalize themselves if they are to stay in business.
The Hartford study suggests that growth takes place in congregations with clarity of purpose and doctrine and high expectations.
The United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ and other mainline Christian denominations have prized theological diversity at the expense of clarity. And they have been less likely than evangelical groups to demand a lot of their members.
"Something is wrong when the Rotary Club expects more out of me than the Church of Jesus Christ," said Moncure, the United Methodist bishop. "We need to get focused."
It can be done.
In his new book, "Excellent Catholic Parishes," author Paul Wilkes cited St. James Catholic Church in Stapleton, Neb., as one of the nation's top 300 Catholic parishes.
Involvement in the liturgy, outreach to Catholic and non-Catholic alike "and the spirit in which we do things" contributed to that citation, said the Rev. James Novakowski, pastor of the 350-member parish.
At the 300-member Grace United Methodist Church in Marcus, Iowa, church members regularly set goals and strive to meet them, said the Rev. Roger Henry, the church's pastor. It has already met its goal for 40 new members and is planning a missions trip to Mali in northwestern Africa.
"God is calling us to be in mission and to be a place where people can feel comfortable and grow in their spiritual walk," he said. Protestant Megachurches
Like big banks, big grocery stores and big commercial airlines, said church consultant Lyle Schaller, megachurches will draw more and more customers.
These churches, which attract 2,000 or more adults each weekend, represent roughly 1 percent of churches and account for 12 percent of worshippers, Schaller said. By 2020, he said, that 1 percent will serve 20 percent of churchgoers, he said.
Megachurches were a 1990s phenomenon in Nebraska. The state now has seven, and all are growing. That's because megachurches are "one- stop shopping centers," said the Rev. Maurice Watson, senior pastor of Nebraska's newest megachurch, Salem Baptist Church in Omaha.
"It's where people can get their needs met," he said. Church of Omaha
The Rev. Les Beauchamp, senior pastor of Trinity Church Interdenominational, and the Rev. Bob Thune, senior pastor of Christ Community Church, have been leaders in an effort to develop friendships and cooperation among city churches and pastors. More than 300 pastors from a range of denominations and ministry leaders showed up at a recent retreat.
Both Beauchamp and Thune expect this growing unity and the prayer that has accompanied it to have a major impact on the city.
"Throughout so much of history churches were in competition with each other," Thune said. "The more we join together, the greater impact we will have."
Said Beauchamp: "We celebrate our differences rather than fight over them."Size and LocationHalf the congregations in the U.S. have fewer than 100 regularly participating adults, and more than half are in small towns and rural areas.Number of regularly participating adults6%: 1,000 or more11%: 350-99933%: 100-34950%: Less than 100Source: Hartford Institute for Religion ResearchWho's GrowingPercent of churches founded in the last decade per faith group.Percentages are rounded.Catholic and Orthodox: 3%Liberal Protestant: 4%Moderate Protestant: 6%Historically Black Protestant: 8%Baha'i, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim: 21%Evangelical Protestant: 58%Source: Hartford Institute for Religion ResearchThe Changing Look of WorshipWorship styles in today's churches reflect the decades in whichthe congregations were organized.Always use candles or incenseBefore 1945: 48%1990-2000: 10%Always use creeds or statements of faithBefore 1945: 28%1990-2000: 7%Always use electric guitar or bassBefore 1945: 10%1990-2000: 27%Always use electronic keyboard or synthesizerBefore 1945: 15%1990-2000: 33%Source: Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Does notinclude Roman Catholic or historically black denominationalchurches.
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