10 Favorite Facts & Trends Stories of 2016

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This has been a banner year at Facts & Trends. Many of you let us know how much you appreciated our four issues in 2016, which focused on reaching the nations, small churches, discipleship, and bivocational pastors.

Senior writer Bob Smietana was recognized by the Religion Newswriters Association for his reporting. The Evangelical Press Association honored Facts & Trends with an overall Award of Merit, second place for a single theme section or issue, fifth place in cover design and first place in general article long for online editor Aaron Earls.

With clicks and pageviews, readers chose the 10 most popular articles at Facts & Trends in 2016. Now, our staff voted for our 10 favorite articles from this past year.

10. Securing the Faithful: How Churches Can Best Prepare for the Worst Tragedies

Regardless of the route a church decides to take, Carl Chinn says the biggest need is “good solid and seasoned training.” The church security expert says that while he believes a trained protector with a firearm is beneficial, “too many [churches] are simply arming up and considering themselves ready. This isn’t about guns; it’s about serious readiness.”

Most visitors to your church are there because they were invited by a friend or family member and are interested in learning more about God, but occasionally some, like the shooter at Emanuel AME Church, have ulterior motives. Make sure you’re always welcoming to the former, but always prepared for the latter.

9. Reaching the Nations Among Us

Since 2010, First Duluth has seen the portion of its new members who are non-Anglo grow from 8 percent to 48 percent. “The church’s goal is to reach all nations,” says pastor Mark Hearn. “We want to see people of different language groups all worshiping together in the same body.”

According to census projections, the U.S. population will be “majority-minority” by 2044. By that measure, Duluth is 30 years ahead of the curve. Mark says the changes they’ve made to reach their diverse community haven’t always been easy, but they have been rewarding. He offers some advice for churches as they respond to America’s changing demographics.

8. Pastor, Find Your Identity in Christ

It’s easy to succumb to the temptation to compare one’s ministry to that of another pastor, or give in to the need to impress others and be liked.

The only remedy for these ministry idolatries and all others is the gospel because it announces, among many things, we are justified, accepted, loved, and satisfied by God in Christ.

Until pastors discover and embrace their identity in Christ—which is accomplished by Christ and received by faith, not works—they will keep trying to find their identity in their position, their preaching, their persona, and their programs.

7. Proceed With Care: Handling Pastoral Misconduct

While serious pastoral misconduct remains uncommon, it does happen. And church members are left to clean up the mess.

Few know what to do when the pastor goes astray. No one wants to believe a beloved pastor could betray their congregation. And no one wants to falsely accuse a pastor of wrongdoing. One wrong step can haunt a church for years.

6. Less Flash, More Truth: The Real Story on Millennials and the Church

When Pew Research released its most recent report on the religious landscape in America, much of the attention focused on Christianity’s drop of almost 8 percentage points in population share over the last seven years. Few paid attention to the relatively stable numbers of evangelicals, which declined less than 1 percentage point. Even fewer noticed the percentage of evangelicals who are millennials, which remained the same at 21 percent from 2007 to 2014.

According to the General Social Survey, more evangelical young adults are attending church than at any time in the last 40 years. Almost half of all evangelical young adults are at church every week.

5. Desperate Choices: How Your Church Responds to an Unplanned Pregnancy Could Mean the Difference Between Life and Death

Experts know women facing crisis pregnancies rarely see the church as a source of support. A new study commissioned by Care Net and conducted by LifeWay Research confirms it: Two-thirds of women who have had an abortion believe church members are more likely to gossip about a woman considering abortion than help her understand the options.

Ministry leaders say it’s time for a cultural shift. They believe churches can touch the lives of thousands of women and their unborn babies by welcoming them with grace and support.

4. Show Me the Way: What It Takes to Make Disciples

In the Great Commission, Jesus told his followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

While churches know how to baptize people and teach them about Jesus, they don’t always disciple them well, says Claude King, a discipleship specialist at LifeWay.

King says pastors often teach people what to believe, but don’t always help them put those beliefs into practice.

“We figure if people know the right things, maybe they will do the right things,” he says. “But we haven’t focused on obedience.”

Discipleship involves both learning and doing, says King. Combining the two can help people grow spiritually. The goal is to make disciples who become more Christlike—who act and love as Christ did.

An effective discipleship strategy begins with that goal in mind.

3. Power of Small: Church Size No Barrier to Thinking Big

Your worship leader only knows three chords. If you pay the part-time secretary, you can’t afford to fix the leaky roof. Without more volunteers, the mission trip will be in trouble.

Welcome to the small church, the fast-growing segment that triggers hand-wringing among the “bigger is better” crowd. The median congregation in America has fallen to 80 weekly attendees, according to American Congregations 2015: Thriving and Surviving a sobering report in January from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research that questions the vitality of small congregations.

Those in the trenches, however, say the undeniable struggles of small churches are a source of power that can’t be matched by the megachurch.

2. Human Trafficking Swings Community Outreach Door Wide Open

Human trafficking occurs when those most vulnerable are exploited for financial gain, whether it be the young boy in Pakistan forced to work in brick kilns or the teenage girl in California being trafficked for sex by her boyfriend.

Forced labor and human trafficking make up one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world, generating $150 billion a year, according to the International Labour Organization. Roughly two-thirds appears to come from the commercial sexual exploitation of women, children, and men.

Although human trafficking is found in many trades, the risk is more pronounced in industries that rely on low-skilled or unskilled labor. In America, the high demand for cheap labor creates trafficking opportunities in such diverse places as restaurants, nail salons, oil rigs, agricultural fields, and garment factories.

If you think this can’t be happening in your town, think again. Trafficking occurs in all 50 states and in most zip codes, according to Polaris, an anti-trafficking organization.

1. Second Shift: Thriving in Bivocational Ministry

These days, megachurch pastors get most of the headlines. They write books on church leadership, speak at conferences, and shape the way many churches operate.

But bivocational pastors—such as real estate brokers, information technology professionals, house painters, teachers, and lawyers who work both in the church and in the secular world—outnumber those big names.

And their numbers are likely to grow in the future.

Were any of these your favorite Facts & Trends story from this past year? What issues should we cover in 2017?

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