In this article, I will seek to answer whether theological conservatism and strictness play a vital role in denominational switching, as well as what factors cause churches to grow numerically. In the end, the idea that liberal theologies cause a deterioration in mainline Protestantism, while conservative theologies produce growth, is an oversimplification of the relevant factors that account for congregational development. Though theological conservatism tends to correlate with numerical expansion, it does not do so consistently and in all cases. Nonetheless, correlation does not equate to causation. Conservatism and strictness are merely two among a myriad of other influences that are present among growing churches, including (most notably) higher birth rates, higher youth retention, and a focus on evangelistic efforts.
Have you ever wondered if there are certain psychological variables that could potentially influence or distort someone’s observation of a “miracle”?
With all the claims of people having witnessed a bona fide miracle today, from both Christians and non-Christians alike, it seems incumbent for critical thinkers and spiritual discerners to evaluate each miracle eyewitness and the potential for psychological misrepresentation.
The 3rdedition of the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religionhas just announced the publication of an article by FaithX Co-Founder and Research Director, Darren M. Slade, entitled “Miracle Eyewitness Reports.”[Read more…]
I am a tenure-track faculty member, or
I am a graduate student trying to gain an academic position:
Why would I submit an article to SHERM Journal?
It is true, on initial review, a journal dedicated to the socio-historical study of religion or the socio-historical study of ministry appears to be a niche publication with too small of an academic market, possibly making the publication a low-impact journal. There are simply far too many other psychological and sociological journal options out there for academics to submit their qualitative research and quantitative studies. But a socio-historical examination of religion and ministry is almost unheard of as a sub-discipline in religious studies. So, who practices that?
The answer is: just about everybody who studies religion. Let us explain.
By Darren M. Slade
FaithX Research Coordinator
According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2016, nearly half (49%) of American churchgoers have actively sought a new church home at least once in their lifetime. Roughly three-in-ten Christians (29%) sought a new congregation within the last five years. While the main reason for this pursuit was due to moving (34%), the second and third most common reasons for seeking a new congregation was marriage/divorce (11%) or conflict with clergy or another member of the congregation (11%). Almost one-in-ten (7%) cite other problems with their previous church, including theological disagreements (3%), general dissatisfaction (3%), and difficulties with church leadership (1%). This indicates that internal conflict constitutes a substantial reason for why church members switch congregations and change churches, confirming the long-held suspicion that church fragmentation is due (at least in part) to theological and hermeneutical strife.
What is it about church life that compels American Christians to fight with each other and, ultimately, to abandon their houses of worship? Do we simply conclude that sinful humanity’s fallen nature precludes Christians from maintaining peace and harmony within the body of Christ? Is the problem regional where the individualistic, decentralized, populist, and pluralistic American culture (and even the West in general) creates a propensity for fragmentation? Does this trend reflect a more damaging christological implication, suggesting that Christ has failed in his duties to remain the “head” of an organized, coherent, and productive “body” (cf. Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18)? This is especially pertinent since conflict has permeated the church since its inception as indicated repeatedly in the New Testament epistles.
In his book, Paradoxy, Ken Howard argues that the focus of every church should not be doctrine or action but relationship with Jesus Christ. The foundation of this new paradigm is the acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord and that he loves humanity. This allows for a greater diversity of opinions and beliefs within the church body, but the presence of God’s love is the unifying factor that maintains a healthy and biblical congregation. A Christian is someone whose primary focus is to engage in a loving relationship with Christ and with others.
Is this a potential solution to the problem of fragmentation or does it reflect a community desperately seeking to avoid conflict at all costs? Is love for Christ enough to stop this trend of church splitting?
Dennis Hollinger explains that problems in ministry are oftentimes the result of overemphasizing one of three areas in the Christian life. He argues that churches need to focus on their maturation process by developing growth, balance, and interaction between the head (doctrine, theology), heart (relationship, worship), and hands (action, charity) of the Christian community.
Is this really the root cause of the problem? Are American Christians just overly immature and in need of good discipleship?
For me personally, I have attempted to be an active member of three separate churches in my life as a Christian, and I left every one of them due to internal conflict with members of the congregation, especially their leadership. While I have grown and learned from these experiences, the wounds of having been discounted, discouraged, and disowned continue to affect my understanding of Christianity today. And I know I am not alone. Even during my years at seminary and discussions with other PhD students, I have repeatedly encountered disenfranchised Christians who no longer feel welcomed inside a church building, though they remain anxious to build God’s kingdom. From my perspective, something drastic has to change in Christianity or the religion itself will surely die. [Read more…]