30 May, 2008

Pastors Complain About Low Interest Rates

Once again it's Sunday morning. Pastor Jack Hills of Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in Cincinnati stands before his congregation for another attempt to capture their hearts. He begins with a funny anecdote, attempts to tie it into the day's Scripture passage and weaves amusing or poignant illustrations throughout the sermon, but still his congregation sits before him, yawning, checking their watches or doodling on their church bulletins. Though the pews are full, the life of the congregation seems almost non-existent. Sadly this phenomenon at Fifth Avenue Baptist is not isolated, as fewer and fewer people are showing any interest in the gospel at all these days.

"We've been analyzing the problem of congregational interest for some time now," said Peter Deng, an analyst for the F.E.D.S (Faith Endurance Development Services). "Interests rates are at an all time low right now in American churches. We estimate that roughly 2.3% of people in the pews are actually interested in the sermons. That's down from 4.6% this time last year, and from 8.6% back in 2002. So we're seeing a disturbing trend happening in America."

Ask the reason for the drop in interests rates and one will get many different opinions. But the answers seem to fall into two basic categories, those who argue that the value of preaching is too low, and other's who say that it is inflated and too high. How one acts based upon these two opinions may make or break the future of Christianity in America.

"In my opinion the value of preaching is very inflated right now," said preaching analyst Mark Webinheimer. "We've got way to much invested in preaching out there, and churches are not diversifying enough, a kind of too many eggs in one basket kind of thing. In my opinion the value of preaching needs to drop by about 35-40% and then I think we'll see interest rates rise in our churches. So I think the time has come to invest in more youth programs, praise band equipment and carnivals. Those things are only going to take off more and more in the next 10 years."

But others disagree.

"I would say that preaching is undervalued right now," said Alvin Turnbull, another preaching analyst. "Let's look at the facts, for the last 25 years we've seen a dramatic drop in the value of preaching in America happening anyway. It's become so cheap that fewer and fewer people are taking it seriously so it's no wonder that interests rates have taken a dive. I would say that preaching is valued about 90-95% less in most churches than what it should be. My advice would be for churches to start taking preaching more seriously, investing more into it and then we'll see interest rates increase."

With opinions divided it's left to be seen how churches will deal with the problems of low interests rates in the coming months. But according to Hills the situation appears almost "beyond fixability."

"Every week we're seeing a drop," said Hills. "I think we're beginning to run out of options here, and if we keep going the way we're going we're looking at a possible recession in our membership. But no one's saying that definitely just yet. This is the kind of stuff though that can really make a pastor have depression."

28 May, 2008

Editorial: My Math Journey

I've never done too well with numbers. Growing up as a young boy in school, math was always my worst subject. There would be some report cards that I would bring home where I would have good grades in all my subjects except math. This was in contrast to my older brother and father who could do complex calculations and formulas in their heads. I have distinct memories of them sitting around the table developing theorems of probability for mathematical riddles while I listened in confusion. But math just wasn't for me. It was convoluted, too many formulas, numbers, rules and absolutes.

For the longest time I tried to resist my math upbringing. My math teachers tried to convince me telling me things such as, "This is important stuff! What if you're building a bridge that millions of people will cross or if you're trying to fly the space shuttle into orbit. The math needs to be precise and exact or else people could die." I listened to what they said, but I couldn't conceive of a subject so rigid, so demanding that if I didn't follow its rules exactly that people would die. That's not the math I wanted to know. I would ask myself "What kind of cruel subject is this?"

After I graduated from high school I went my own way and departed from the math that I had been raised with. Only occasionally when taxes needed to be done or when I was trying to do a difficult job did I ever think about math. Sometimes at Christmas time when I was buying presents for people I'd think about math to add up how much I had spent. Or even at Easter time I'd think about math when I was trying to figure out how much water to add to the egg dye. But for most of the year I went about my daily life never really considering math. I considered those who relied upon math for their jobs as 'weak-minded.' I would see people like bankers, construction workers, doctors, etc. all using math every day to do their jobs claiming that if they didn't use math people's money would get lost, a building could collapse or someone could get the wrong amount of medicine. To me math was cruel, toying with humanity down through the ages.

After college something happened to me one day that began to make me think about math again. A friend of mine from college, Aaron, invited me out to coffee one Friday evening. We met and talked for a while, and during our conversation he told me about his job as a carpenter. "So you've off and joined up with those math-freaks," I immediately scoffed. For a moment he smiled, but then told me something that I had never heard before. "We do math a little differently where I work," he said. "At our company no one is forced to follow any specific math rules. Everyone is on his or her own math journey, seeking to know what is true about the world of math."

I listened, fascinated for almost 3 hours as Aaron told me about his own personal math journey. "For me, math is what I interpret it to be" he said. "When I go to build a house, I don't even follow plans or blueprints. I just kind of do what feels right, what I think is true. I use no tape measures, no chalk lines, rulers, survey machines, or any of that old stuff. I'm seeking to understand what math means to me."

When our conversation ended I went home that evening with a profound sense of curiosity. For the first time in my life I realized that math didn't have to be this rigid set of rules and regulations. I didn't have to go by the book. Math could be what I made it to be. The most important thing was not whether what added up was right or wrong, but whether I liked it and how it made me feel!

So now I find myself on my own math journey, seeking to discover what math means to me. This has affected almost everything about the way I live from the way I do my taxes, to how I balance my checkbook, pay my bills or even take my daily medicines. It's not so much now about which numbers are right but which numbers Ithink are right. So there are many paths to math, and this is the one I have chosen. It doesn't matter which path anyone else chooses because every path leads to the same place.

23 May, 2008

Christians Dumping Mega Churches for More Efficient "Hybrid Churches"

Jackson, Tn - It's a Sunday morning in Jackson, Tennessee, and for David O'Rouke, on this particular Sunday, it's a day of uncertainty and possible change. O'Rouke, who has been a long time member of the popular Longview Baptist Church, which has over 15,000 members, has ventured out into the unknown, paying a visit to the much smaller but friendly congregation of Mt. Olive Baptist Church on the outskirts of town. With just over 300 active members and a 4 member praise band, Mt. Olive's worship service is a far cry from the massive production that occurs every Sunday at Longview. There are no video projectors, no high definition screens and only one drum set, yet there appears to be joy and life among the congregation. But lately mid-sized more compact congregations such as Mt. Olive are becoming more and more attractive to Christians, who, after years of flocking to mega churches have begun suffer from what some call "poor soul economy."

"I want to be careful what I say here. I don't want to leave the impression that there's something wrong with Longview," O'Rouke told TBNN. "Believe me, I've loved being there all these years, but I've come to the conclusion that perhaps I just don't need that much church in order to truly worship and know God. I mean at Longview there's always some program going on, some trip, Bible study, fellowship or meal. I like some of that stuff but not every night of my life. And if I miss one Sunday School event, I get all of these calls asking me where I've been. I need something in church that's smaller, more compact and efficient. I think a smaller church like Mt. Olive will help me go further in my Christian life but without having to waste and use up so much of my energy."

Lately churches like Mt. Olive have been given the title of a "hybrid church." A hybrid church is essentially a church that's large enough and vibrant enough to demonstrate good spiritual health, but yet still basically small and compact, not overusing the resources and times of its people. With so much going on in the world, hybrid churches are beginning to see growth in popularity all over the country.

"We've had 20 new people show up in the last month," said Rev. Albert Hoffman, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian in Eutah, Georgia. "For as long as I've been here, we've had about 100 people on Sunday mornings, and then all of a sudden people started showing up here and there, just out of nowhere. It's really an amazing thing."

Whether or not "hybrid churches" will catch on permanently remains to be seen. One thing appears to be clear though, and that is people seem convinced that now is the time to find new and better alternatives to traditional church, and that we should have less dependence on mega church evangelicalism.

21 May, 2008

Mysterious "Van of Glory" Sparks Small Town Revival

Percy, Tn - Patrick Treadwell remembers what happened like it was yesterday. That's perhaps because it was yesterday. According to Treadwell, who lives in the tiny town of Percy, Tennessee, all he wanted to do was drive to the store for a six pack of Budwiser, but along the way something happened that has changed his life.

"I was sitting there at the stoplight waiting for it to change when I glanced over and saw this vision of glory," said Treadwell during an interview. "There, before my eyes, was this thing of beauty covered all over with scripture verses, bumper stickers and stick-on lettering telling me to 'repent' and 'turn' from my wicked ways. Well, right then I was convinced by the majesty and wonder of God displayed on this glorious van. I turned around and went home. I never got my beer. Since 4:30PM yesterday, my life has been different."

And Treadwell is not the only one who can testify these days. As it turns out the "Van of Glory," as it has come to be known around the town of Percy, is stirring somewhat of a revival in the town. No one is quite certain who the owner of the van is, but its presence is changing the town of Percy one soul at a time.

"This is what did it for me," said Jill Coleman, a long-time resident of Percy. "I've been going to church all my life down there at the First Baptist Church. Brother Albert, our pastor has been trying to tell me for years how to get saved, but I just never really understood. Then the other day when I saw the Van of Glory parked outside the Sunflower grocery store, it was as if a lightening bolt from heaven just shot down on me. I felt this tingling feeling all over and like warm sun rays was basking my head. When I saw them words just covering that van I finally understood that old song when it says 'how beautiful heaven must be.' That van is preaching to this town."

Despite the waves of repentance that are hitting the small southern town and the fact that the van has been seen all over, its owner remains a mystery. Several churches have sought desperately to use the van for revival services but to no avail.

"We're trying to find out who this person is," said pastor Bobby Twine of Blessed Living Waters Pentecostal Holiness Redeeming Fire Church of the End Times. "This van is doing more preaching than any preacher in this town has ever done. We want to hold services and have this van out in the parking lot. It truly displays the glory of God when you see it!"

19 May, 2008

California Narcissist Plans to Marry Himself

San Francisco, Ca - A recent ruling by the California Supreme Court rejected the legal definition of marriage as "between a man and a woman." While this news has been overwhelmingly received by gay and lesbian communities, others are also finding reasons to celebrate, like Richard Potter, a self-proclaimed narcissist. Potter, who claims to have been in love with himself for over 10 years, was exuberant upon hearing the news.

"I'm still speechless," Potter told TBNN. "I've been wanting to marry myself for years now. This new decision to not limit marriage to just between a man and a woman finally opens up the door for me to plan that big day that I've waited for so long."

Potter has already started planning his "big day." The ceremony will take place at the Park Street Unitarian Universalist Church on Saturday, June 21st of this year. The sanctuary will be decorated with yellow and white roses. Potter, who will wear a dark grey tuxedo, will exchange vows with himself before a crowd of special friends and family. The wedding will be officiated by Park Street's pastor the Rev. Tricia Kirkwood-Hansen-Smyth.

"I'm so in love with myself it drives me crazy," said Potter. "Sometimes in the morning when I'm combing my hair I just stand there and look at my own face longingly in the mirror and just admire my own beauty. Or at other times I just like to snuggle up with myself on the couch on a rainy evening and watch a movie. Whether I'm cooking dinner, or just having a night out on the town, I'm so happy with me and want to make that known to the world out there by committing myself to myself."

"I think what Rich is doing is a beautiful expression of his love for himself," said Kirkwood-Hansen-Smyth. "We know that self-love is the purest form of love. The Bible says somewhere to 'love your neighbor as yourself' I think. Well, I think Rich, more than many, really gets it. He's making that first and foremost commitment to himself, to love himself for the rest of his life, and then, and only then will he truly be able to love others.

Potter also noted to TBNN that being married to himself will finally allow him to file for extra benefits for his spouse and to be able to file 'Married Filing Jointly' on his taxes each year.

14 May, 2008

Man Wears Suit to Church

Santa Monica, Ca - Almost everyone at Shepherd of Hope Church is still talking about it. It happened this past Sunday morning when young church member Christopher Lowe showed up at SHC wearing what some are calling "radical attire." Lowe came to the church's regular 11AM Sunday worship service wearing a sports jacket and grey dress pants replete with tie, black dress shoes (including matching black socks with small grey stripes) and a black leather belt with a gold-colored buckle. In addition, Lowe's hair was neatly combed and he had removed all of his facial piercings, even shaving off his almost permanent five-o'clock shadow.

"I just wanted to express myself, to be my own person for a day," said Lowe. "I think a person should be able to wear whatever he wants to worship without fear of being judged for it or looked down upon."

But not everyone shares Lowe's sentiments. After the worship service several people expressed their displeasure to one another about Lowe's apparent attempt to "draw attention" by wearing such strange and unusual clothing.

"I don't know if he was trying to prove a point or something," said Marcus White, a long-time member of SHC who normally sports a pair of shorts, flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt to church along with his prized crucifix lip ring . "To me it seemed rather pretentious, like he was trying to just get people's attention and make some kind of statement. I just don't think that's right."

But despite some of the comments of displeasure, Lowe does not seem dissuaded, stating that he's not out to make any kind of statement, but simply to wear what he likes and what feels comfortable.

"I'm not trying to rock any boats here," stated Lowe. "I'm just doing my own thing. I'm not saying that I'm going to start ditching my earrings and Birkenstocks every Sunday, but once in a while I just might feel like doing something different, something kind of crazy just to be different and not go with the flow. If people can't handle it that's not my problem."

07 May, 2008

Scientist Discover Atheist Gene; Now Caught in Paradox

London, UK - Scientists in the United Kingdom announced on Tuesday the accidental discovery of what some are calling the "atheist gene." While doing research on cloning, scientists with the European Biological Research Institute (EBRI) claimed to have come across a gene within the human DNA structure that renders one incapable of believing in a superior being of any kind.

"It's quite amazing really," said Dr. Chauncy Lemmington, head fellow of the research program. "In the data that we've analyzed thus far it seems that everyone who either claims to be an atheist or strong agnostic has this specific gene, thus rendering him or her incapable of believing in any sort of higher power."

The discovery has raised concerns around the world amongst the scientific community, especially among those scientists committed to obliterating any and all notions that God exists.

"The whole notion quite foolish," said Dr. Mertroid Dulphoon of the Yilvon Center for Sumapatric Development in New York. "There is no need to argue or even consider the possibility that God exists. As vast as the universe is, science does know enough to accurately prove the disexistence of any kind of god or all-powerful being. Science is not interested in myth and speculation but in facts, like the theory of evolution, and the theory of the big bang, and the theory of the extermination of the dinosaurs by Planet X."

While some dismiss the find completely, others are finding themselves in somewhat of a "paradox" because of the discovery.

"I'll admit it's presented a bit of a conundrum for me," said Dr. Halifax Nordstrum-Kopphlephther, research fellow with EBRI. "We've used science, which is intrinsically atheistic to prove that our atheism is intrinsic to our DNA, and therefore we may either be intrinsically wrong or intrinsically right. Therefore, it's like pi or the square root of 2, or the fact that any given number can be divided infinitely yet two points of distance can be intersected (which are infinitely divisible numbers) without breaking down the intrinsic structure of..."

Note: At this point the interview suddenly stopped due to the fact that Dr. Nordstrum-Kopphlephther suddenly vanished.

01 May, 2008

Try New Buffalo Bob's Man-Sized Texas-Style Communion Wafers!

Whether you've worked a hard week of cow-punching on the ranch, shoveling dirt on the job site or breaking bones on the gridiron, you need something more on Sundays than that tiny piece of bread they give you at church. Let's face it, by the time the end of the service rolls around you're hungry and need something to tide you over till you get home and have your fried chicken.

Well, if you're tired of puny little bits of communion bread tell your church to get Buffalo Bob's Man-Sized Texas-Style Communion Wafers today. Buffalo Bob's uses only the finest high-quality ingredients to produce the largest and most buttery flavored* communion wafers on the market today. Weighing in at just under a quarter of a pound each Buffalo Bob's Man-Sized Texas-Style Communion Wafer lets you get both spiritually and physically filled.

So what are you waiting for? Call a deacons meeting, talk to your pastor, threaten your elders to get Buffalo Bob's Man-Sized Texas-Style Communion Wafers before next Sunday.

*Also available in honey wheat and pesto.