The Facts & Trends team has received excellent feedback from our readers on our four issues this past year: Sing, Unchurched, Bible Reading, and Generation Z. We hope you appreciated those and gained valuable ministry insights.
But we also wanted to share with you our favorite stories from 2017. People often ask what are our favorite stories as writers, editors, and graphic designers. Well, here they are.
If you are curious about the most popular stories as chosen by you the readers, you can find those here. Three stories made both lists.
Understanding the cultural, historical, and grammatical issues that go into biblical interpretation can be challenging at times.
But we should never abandon the literal (plain sense) meaning of Scripture, following the rules of grammar with specific attention given to the style or genre of the literature we are seeking to interpret.
With the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts to illuminate the text, we can approach this task in faith that God’s Word is still speaking to us.
But it is often the case that these principles are ignored or set aside due to ignorance or modern-day tendencies to read or use the Bible for modern-day agendas.
We should be on our guard against the following list of errors that could steer us in the wrong direction.
Many Americans still want Christ in their Christmas, but their number is shrinking.
While 9 in 10 Americans tell Pew Research they celebrate Christmas, less than half (46 percent) say they see it as a religious holiday—down 5 percentage points since 2014.
Compared to three years ago, fewer plan to attend church as part of their celebration (54 to 51 percent) and believe Christian symbols like nativity scenes should be allowed on government property even if unaccompanied by other symbols (44 to 37 percent).
“You have to get to her, pastor!” Frantic members of my church begged for help as floodwaters rose around their homes and families. In the midst of a “thousand-year flood,” the 911 operators had told them to stop calling.
The relentless rising of waters throughout southeastern Louisiana in August 2016 left more than half a million people homeless. With some of our church members in shelters, some missing, and some on the roofs of their homes for more than a day awaiting rescue, I’ve never felt more helpless. But God used this circumstance to remind me, my church, and our community that we are stronger together.
Too many songs. Not enough singers. That’s the problem facing many congregations these days, says Tony Payne, veteran worship leader and associate professor of music at Wheaton College.
Whether a church plays hymns or the latest worship songs, fewer people want to sing along, he says. “There are a lot of people standing there mute during worship.”
Congregational singing has long been a staple of Protestant churches, ever since the Reformation, when “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was the latest hit worship song. And today churches have more songs to choose from than ever before.
Yet Payne and other veteran worship leaders worry congregational singing is on the decline.
Faith wasn’t important in Dan Kassis’ home growing up, and he had no intention of changing that—until he found himself in a difficult time as a college freshman.
He had heard the gospel before, but it didn’t stick with him until he found himself alone at night wandering on a football field near his dorm, thinking about his struggles.
Kassis says he looked out at the Santa Susana Mountains north of the San Fernando Valley in California and asked God for a sign.
“At that moment, there was a brilliant streak of white, yellow, and orange light from east to west across the sky over the mountain—a meteor, except exactly when I needed it,” he says. “I began confessing my sins and professing my faith in Christ, wanting Him to be my Savior and Lord.”
Kassis is not alone.
About half of Americans (47 percent) who were raised with no religion—known as the “nones”—eventually find some kind of faith, according to Pew Research. And many of those, like Kassis, become Christians.
Nathan Finn loves to talk about heresy.
Finn, a church historian and dean of the school of theology and missions at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, says he often gets questions about heresy from students or pastors.
They’re often worried someone in their church is a heretic. Most of the time he tells them not to panic.
There’s a difference between a Christian who is confused or ill-informed, he says, and a real live heretic.
“A difference of opinion does not a heresy make,” says Finn.
So, you’re a youth pastor, and you’re talking to your teens about a Very Important Topic.
A few might be making eye contact with you, maybe even taking an occasional glance at that nifty PowerPoint you stayed up all night putting together. But most have their heads bowed—not in prayer, but glued to that little glowing screen in the palms of their hands.
The good news is that many of them really are paying attention. Many of the kids in Generation Z—those born since the mid-1990—are proficient multitaskers. They can talk on the phone while texting a friend while posting on Instagram while watching TV while doing their homework while … you get the point. They’re wired in all directions—including into you and your presentation—so they’re engaged and totally getting it.
The bad news is that for each of those kids, there are likely just as many who aren’t tuned in to your lesson because Z’s are easily distracted by that same little glowing screen in their hands. Few things are calling out to them more loudly than their smartphones with their addicting apps and social media feeds.
What’s on the menu at your church?
Churches and restaurants are two very different worlds. A recent news story about Chili’s restaurant chain, however, highlights a problem many churches face—and possibly provides a solution.
Chili’s president, Kelli Valade, says the restaurant “chased consumer trends.” The result? A bloated menu and poor food quality. When trendy food items found success elsewhere, Chili’s made its own version. In losing sight of its identity, the restaurant hurt its brand.
But Chili’s is making a bold move—it’s cutting 40 percent of the menu. Some customers will lose their favorite item. However, Chili’s knows its long-term success and sustainability depend on maintaining its identity and executing what it can do well.
Unfortunately, like Chili’s, many churches have been guilty of “chasing consumer trends” by copying other churches’ ministries. They have a bloated menu of ministries, some of which don’t have the needed volunteers, leadership, or resources and don’t serve the church’s larger mission.
Whatever Americans may think about the 10 Commandments as a whole, they’re on board with the 7thCommandment: “Do not commit adultery.”
New Gallup research found Americans are softening on their opposition to other issues traditionally regarded as sin, but they remain strongly opposed to extramarital affairs.
Only 9 percent say adultery is morally acceptable, the smallest level of support among the 19 issues Gallup measured.
Numerous other moral choices reached or surpassed a record level of support in 2017.
On the evening of February 28, 1983, most of America came to a halt for the most important event of the year.
“School board meetings, athletic contests and civic events were canceled,” according to The New York Times. “On college campuses, studies—even in the throes of midterm examinations—were forgotten.”
What could draw an entire nation together like that? The final episode of the long-running television series M*A*S*H. That one show united Americans of all backgrounds—at least for a water-cooler conversation the next day.
Today, the illusion of a common culture has fragmented. What lies underneath has been exposed as isolated parts often warring against one another and actively working to avoid those who are different.
If we are honest, churches have not always been an example of unity. There’s a reason Martin Luther King Jr. and others have said Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the nation.
Yet the church has a biblical command to pursue unity. We also have a heavenly vision of the ultimate fulfillment of that pursuit.
The church can and should fill that role in culture, but it won’t be easy.