Diana Butler Bass: Christianity for the Rest of Us

- How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming Faith (HarperOne, 2006)

1. Introduction 2. Research process 3. Tables 4. Highlights 5. Comments

Introduction (1/2)
1. The challenge of revitalization of mainline congregations is an important topic "back home", in my native country where 91% says "they believe", but only 12% are practicing Christians. In Finland almost 80% population is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran church, and the hot issue now is how to build "faith communities" within the "state church". The book promised to say something about this. Moreover, the setting in Annapolis Valley (and Nova Scotia in general) seems to be very similar to this: A lot of village / downtown churches, but not as many active and living "faith communities".

Introduction (2/2)
2. The book is based on a three-year research (20032005), and the process and methodology is well documented in the appendix. This makes the message of the book credible. The design of the study is an example of an "old school church growth research": First, one identifies vital and growing churches, and then studies what really happens there.

Research process
The research pool consisted of 50 congregations from six US denominations as follows: United Church of Christ (1 core / 4 validation) Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (2 / 3) Episcopal Church (4 / 18) United Methodist Church (1 / 5) Presbyterian Church (2 / 7) Disciples of Christ (0 / 3) The material was gathered from 10 core sites (participation and indepth interviews) and 40 validation sites (interviews, other forms of data gathering). The qualitative data was analyzed by NVIVO, that gives neat quantification for the researcher as a bonus (see tables).

Ten Signposts of Renewal
1. Hospitality: "In every congregation I observed, hospitality ranked as one of the strongest practices. But it was not just tea and cakes. … hospitality takes many forms. …[but] the core practices remains the same: Christian people, themselves wayfarers, welcome strangers into the heart of God's transformative love." (87) 2. Discernment: Asking "God-questions" as opposed to "I-questions"; Where is God's presence in one's life, what is one's call in the ministry of the church. What is God saying to me? Paying attention to His leading and taking risks, moving on from the comfort zone. 3. Healing: Social and psychological dimension, but also the supernatural / physical dimension. Churches have revived an ancient practice and carry it out in various ways and occasions. The emphasis is on shalom, the well being of the whole person.

4. Contemplation: Involves prayer, meditation on scripture, a lot of silence, listening God. "The form their prayer takes is as different as the congregations themselves." (126) 5. Testimony: Using individual public testimonies or "journey narratives" as a central part in the worship; not only success stories, but authentic sharing of life. Frequent practice, learning to share in various settings, not only in the service. "Unlike the stories of Puritans and revivalists, mainline testimony is the act of getting there. Pilgrimage stories. Testimony is not a formula of salvation; rather, it is a way of being, a map to a undiscovered country. … we find we are not alone in the journey." (142) 6. Diversity: "Besides the fact that diversity is a deeply biblical and profoundly Christian practice, it is just more fun to go on pilgrimage with interesting people. … I find it hard to imagine a church where everyone looks alike, thinks alike, and acts alike." (156)

7. Justice: Compassion enacted. Radical love. Tent village for the homeless in church's frontyard. Biblical/theological teaching about liberty and equality. No particular political affiliation or engagement (on the contrary), but action in grassroots level. "Justice is a verb… the pilgrimage of the beloved community, 'the journey toward the establishment of the Kingdom of God'". (170) 8. Worship: "…the particular style of music did not necessarily matter to congregational vitality. … New music or old music in new ways – people making music everywhere, playing and celebrating God in their midst." Churches studied linked music and art to spirituality. (p. 182183)

9. Reflection: The churches are deeply rooted in the Bible and practice "thinking theologically", but not in a "Bible lessons" sense; instead they learn to "think theologically", by reading and reflecting on what the Bible has to say in an issue under scrutiny. Learning takes place in interaction and dialogue, pastors (etc.) having a role of a facilitator and guide, but not speaking from high above. "Most of those folks were only looking for a place to ask questions, where they can rest comfortably with few answers, learn new questions, and to be accepted by others in faith community. … I do not know if liberality excites genius, but sure it seems it excite faith." (198-199) 10. Beauty: Some church buildings are beautiful by "nature". Some congregations add (classic) visual arts or poetry to their worship and other spiritual practices. (Note: This was not very common feature in the sample.)

(Positive) Comments
The author defined a new category "progressive". A progressive church is not liberal, but not conservative/evangelical either. I think this is better title than neo-liberal, post-liberal or such. After all, in a progressive church there is liberty, not liberalism. The study pointed out a church can be positively aware of its tradition, still avoiding "traditionalism". Target group thinking / church growth thesis (attraction of similar) vs. diversity Call to be boldly "a faith community".

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