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Outliers & Harbingers of Change Affecting the Church

by Dr. Ulf Spears, Dec 20, 2011

“What stands between growth and decline for most churches is an irrational and paralyzing sameness usually caused by the fear of change? Change is essential to the church. Only Jesus Christ stays the same” (Childress, 2001). How is change affecting the church in the U.S.? More importantly, how should church leaders anticipate change, and act on it? This article highlights three outliers, or harbingers of change that church leaders should keep in focus as they look forward.

Outlier #1-Churches are now starting without a senior minister.

One of the outliers that is affecting the church now is that more churches are starting without a lead preacher-that weekly sermon is provided by media. Goodmanson (2008) claims that

“Many church organizations will promote the use of best of or license videos from top preachers across America. Already there have been churches who have licensed Willow Creek material for tens of thousands ($50k) a year. There already is one church that has grown to over 600 within a couple months using this method.”

These media enriched churches have the potential to reach four segments of America who are not reached by the traditional church. Barna (2008) identifies the following:

1) Unattached-These are people who had attended neither a traditional church nor a small group type fellowship in the last year. The unattached make up 23% of adults in America. A third of the people have never attended a church in their lifetime.

2) Intermittents-These are people who have attended a traditional church or a small group type fellowship but not in the last month. The intermittent make up 15% of adults in America. Two thirds of the people have attended at least one service in the last 180 days.

3) Homebodies-These are people who have attended neither a traditional church nor a small group type fellowship in the last month but 3% have attended a house church gathering.

4) Blenders-These are people who have attended a traditional church, small group type fellowship or house church in the last month. This group calls the traditional church its primary form of worship but visits new forms and styles of worship as experimentation. This group makes up 3% of American adults.

The media church model is a far reach from the traditional forms of church that many individuals are use to but seem to offer help and solace to the wayward or even curious church goers. Finally, if evangelism is the goal of the church, then any form of church that effectively reaches the lost is a tool in the hand of God. How far will media churches multiply? Is this an enduring trend created by multi-site technology, a precursor to the holographic pastor of tomorrow? Or is this a fad?

Outlier #2-The establishment and expansion of hip-hop churches

Another outlier that might affect the church in America is the influence of rap or hip hop music on the church. Religion Watch (2002) noted that as “hip-hop and rap music become deeply entrenched in today’s culture, they are effecting postmodern change in many urban black churches–and gaining acceptance from evangelical churches.” One of the first hip hop churches was launched in Tampa, Florida in 2001 and has now spread to New Jersey, Atlanta, Memphis and Los Angeles. These hip hop churches are made up of a demographic of 18-35 and have all the graffiti, DJs, turntables and the other dance forms of the day. The hip hop rap artist that led this change is Mase or Mason Bethel. He is known for his apostle Paul-like encounter with Jesus and his ability to rap, preach, and lead a multi-million dollar music career. This style of doing church has many opponents but has met a need in urban communities due to the large youth exodus from the church.

Today you will find Pastor Kyllonen preaching a sermon to his congregation at Crossover Community Church in Florida, entitled “how Jesus would roll.” Kyllonen was “a rebellious pastor’s kid, who was rapping at the age of 10, and tagging Philadelphia walls with illegal graffiti at 15” (Grossman, 2005, p. 1). When Kyllonen attend college he started his a rap group and reached out to street kids. He served as the youth pastor at Crossover and became the head pastor with the congregation growing to 400 congregants.

“Crossover does 21st Century church in first-century fashion, going into the world like the Apostle Paul in Athens, telling of salvation in the language of the streets. Kyllonen meets people where they are and speaks them, sings them and dances them to God, even if it takes a break-dancer gyrating in the chorus” (Grossman, 2005, p. 1).

Crossover is a non-denominational church that holds annual conferences to share “techniques for running a multimedia church with biblical integrity and a hip-hop flavor” (Grossman, 2005, p. 1).

Kyllonen has company. Pastor Pogue who serves Greater Hood Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Harlem offers hip-hop services every Thursday night. Pogue suggests, “Hip-hop church highlights the positive sides of hip-hop, what hip-hop can do” (Herpich, 2006). The Greater Hood congregation highlights hip-hop to reach out to a new generation of young people. Hip-hop church is “slowly becoming a national phenomenon,” with conferences and seminars changing the image of hip-hop music and it gives techniques for growing hip-hop church services all around the world (Herpich, 2006).

Outlier #3-Youth will desire a whole-life gospel and a deeper walk with God

A third outlier that might affect the church is the desire of youth for a whole-life gospel since they are accustomed to viewing various screens including television, laptops, and movies. To outset this media rich world, some are seeking out silence, meditation and contemplative prayer to establish a deeper relationship with the Almighty (Youthworker Journal, 2005).

In “The Fabric of Faithfulness,” Garber (2007) suggests that coherence, perspective and purpose are brought to one’s life by weaving together the three strands of convictions, character, and community. He argues that those who have successfully persevered in their faith are individuals (youth):

“who (1) formed a worldview that could account for truth amidst the challenge of relativism in a culture increasingly marked by secularization and pluralization; (2) found a mentor whose life ‘pictured’ the possibility of living with and in that worldview; and (3) forged friendships with [individuals] whose common life offered a context for those convictions to be embodied” (Garber, 2007).

Change, Change, Change

Media churches, hip-hop churches, and youth in formation; these are three outliers affecting the church of today as they look towards tomorrow. What new signs are you seeing emerge in the church?

About the Author

Dr. Ulf Spears is president of Strategic Leadership International, an organization that seeks to fill the leadership vacuum in society through consulting, coaching, training, mentoring, and empowering emerging leaders and organizations from a biblical, academic, and practical perspective. Dr. Spears is a gifted seminar speaker, lecturer, educator, counselor, consultant, advisor, and entrepreneur, addressing issues affecting all areas of human, social, and spiritual development. Dr. Spears is a minister, community leader, as well as serving as adjunct instructor at Warner Pacific College and Mt. Hood Community College. He holds a B.S. degree in Psychology (Corban University), a M.S. degree in Management (University of Phoenix), a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Leadership Coaching (Regent University) and a Doctorate of Strategic Leadership (DSL) degree (Regent University). He, his wife, and three children reside in Vancouver Washington. Contact information: email:


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