Friday, March 27, 2009

Pew Center Data

There's been a great deal of discussion lately about the declining number of people who consider themselves to be Christian. I started looking at some Pew Center data the other day and decided to look at it first from a fisheries biologist perspective, i.e. if this was a population of fish what would the data tell us and as a result, how would we manage that population. First step is to examine the age data. There is what I would call a recruitment problem, particularly among the youngest demographic (18-29) for Mainline Protestant churches. While this age demographic makes up about 20% of the U.S. population, only 14% identify themselves as Mainliners. Looking through the rest of the age demographics for Mainline churches, it is evident that this is an aging population, more so than the U.S. population as a whole which is what is really concerning. As anyone who is associated with a church knows, this is nothing earth shattering. It just backs up with numbers what one can observe in most any Mainline church on any given Sunday morning. You don't want to know what I'd do with a lake that had a fish population that looked like this!
As I dug into the numbers a little bit more though I found some interesting trends, particularly in regard to church attendance and prayer. Not surprising, about 60% those who identified themselves as members of Evangelical and Historically Black churches thought church attendance was necessary AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK. On the other hand, Mainliners considerably lower than that at 34%, in fact it was 10 percentage points lower than any other Christian denomination. Mormons, Jehovah Witness, and Muslims also ranked this very high. The first thing that jumps out at me is that churches that expect their members to attend church on a regular basis have high attendance. If you are a member of a mainline church and stopped attending regularly would anyone call you? When my wife and I were dating she attended an evangelical, non-denominational church and I the UMC. When she started coming to church with me her absence was noted at her church and she was called asking her if there was something wrong, they showed a genuine concern about her and the kids. The follow-up calls weren't quite as caring and could have used some work, but nonetheless they were made. Do mainline churches do that? Have they taken for granted that people are going to always be there? Don't we as Christians have an obligation for discipleship and for holding others that claim to be Christians accountable to that discipleship? I know we're often concerned with stepping on toes, hurting feelings or even driving people away. Should we be worried about that?
The other surprising figure in the Pew data was the overall lack of prayer by mainliners. Just over 50% prayed on a regular basis (weekly or daily). Mainliners are obviously not doing a very good job at developing the spiritual lives of our members either. There are exceptions, and several of them can be linked to from here, just scroll through the UM links and you're going to find several folks who are doing beautiful, thoughtful things in their congregations.
My attempt at analyzing the data as I would a biologist was pretty much a failure. Still, I think it raised some interesting questions. Thoughts?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just a little update

Not much in the way of posting lately, I've been working on an academic paper that I'm presenting on Saturday at the American Academy of Religion. The paper is entitled "Beyond Ecocentrism: Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic Viewed Theologically". I generally enjoy giving papers like this, I've done some 15 or 20 in my career, but this one is different - different format, different audience, and different topic than I normally work with. I'm a bit nervous about it, but am fairly confident it will go well.

I just got word of my first publication in the theology field, it is based on a paper I did for my Pauline studies class last spring. I also just got a book chapter published on regulating fisheries and have a journal article coming out in early summer, so it's going well on the writing fronts!

I'm also working through the discernment process about UM schools of theology. I had a great visist to Candler and that would certainly be my first choice thus far. But I'm also looking at the cost and time away from family, so that's not a done deal yet by any stretch of the imagination.

One that is becoming apparent, is that I really enjoy the "academic" side of things. That's why I've stayed in my current position with DNR, I can do research on things that interest me. I'm finding out, and perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, that it is the same with my theological studies. Of course the problem with that is running the risk that one looses the spiritual side of faith to the theological side. The Theology Forum has some great discussions on this topic, and they're currently discussing a book by David deSilva entitled "Sacramental Life: Spiritual Formation through the Book of Common Prayer". By the looks of the reviews it's definitely one I need to read.

I've also added a link to United Methodeviations a blog by former GBOD staff member Dan Dick. He has some really interesting blogs on the sacraments and church growth. He also has one of the most honest reviews of "The Shack" that I've come across. (I'll admit that I started the book, but couldn't past the first chapter. Not a great literary work if you ask me.)

That's all from this corner of the world.
Lenten Peace,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From the Beach

We had a pretty good trip to the southeast, even the snow in Georgia and Alabama was kind of pretty (we didn't stop to take any pictures!). I had a good visit to Candler, the highlight being able to participate in the Friday Mid-day Eucharist. It would seem Candler might fit well with what I'm wanting to do with my studies. More on that at a later date though. Given the snow here, and the below zero temps, here are some beach pictures for you to enjoy.

Sand Fences help shape new dunes and hold the beach in place. They also make some interesting subjects for photography.

Bits and pieces of sand dollars are all over the beach. This one is eroding, becoming sand again.

The brown pelicans are "back" after being nearly wiped out from the hurricanes. You don't hear much about the effects of these massive storms on wildlife, but they suffer just as humans do.

This gull feather was being washed into the sand, becoming part of nature's big recycling program.