Category: Millennials

The E-book revolution

E-books are popping up everywhere suddenly.  As I write this, mediabistro.com’s e-book summit is livestreaming on my office PC.   The hot nearly-new gift for Christmas this year is an e-reader — a Kindle, a Nook, a Sony Reader, or one of the others coming soon.  The entire publishing industry is all abuzz about e-books.  Simon & Schuster announced last week that they would delay e-book editions for four months, giving breathing room to their print editions. Stephen Covey has just broken ranks with his print publisher, asserting his ownership of digital rights, and has struck a deal with Amazon to sell his books at the Kindle store.


What does all this mean?  Here’s my take, for what’s its worth:

  • E-readers are transition devices. Just like PDAs and netbooks, dedicated e-readers are going to bridge the gap between the non-technology generation (baby boomers and older) and the technology natives (those who grew up with all this digital stuff).  In less than 5-years (maybe sooner) e-readers will look as quaint as PDAs do now.
  • Print publishing and print publishers are going away. Just like newspapers, it’s not the content people don’t want, it’s the format (print) and the super slow delivery system.  Even daily newspaper delivery looks really slow compared to instant access to anything you want to read or see. Having to go to a store to buy a book, or even wait for the Amazon delivery 1-2 days later will quickly fade.  This is the always-on era, including all media — books and magazines are just late to this party.
  • Creators will own the entire process, if they want to. People can now create, format, and upload to Amazon and other epub bookstores.  Good stuff will still find its market.
  • Creators may not want to own the entire process, and may outsource the editing and epublishing technicalities to others.  Hence, epublishers are born to deliver as much or as little assistance as needed, both editorially and technically.
  • Distribution can work across multiple channels like Amazon, Sony’s ebookstore, B&N’s ebookstore, and lesser knowns such as Boooklocker, etc.  But, Amazon rules the day now.  They created the instant delivery, the first e-reader that did not need to hook up to a computer, and the “first instantly available with no hassles” delivery system.
  • Print publishers are still trying to protect a dying format — the hardcover first edition.  Note the ill-conceived plan of Simon & Schuster to delay ebooks for 4 months after the hardcover edition.
  • New epublishers who do not think “print” will offer new perspectives on the whole publishing industry.
  • It’s all going mobile soon. Back to my fascination with mobile phones.  Obviously the iPhone was the game-changer that set a new paradigm of multiple uses for a mobile phone.  Tomi Ahonen had a piece last week citing stats that Americans now use their phones more for texting than for voice calls.  The transition has already started of mobile devices as total communication tools — voice, text, data, reader, video, photos, music, internet, pda, etc, etc.  Depending on what Apple does with its iTablet, if it exists, this could be another game changer.  However, the new, rumored Google Phone (bigger screen than the iPhone), which is set to work seamlessly with Google Books is really the future.  One device, that fits in your pocket, that does everything you want to do.
  • What, you ask, does this have to do with small churches, or churches of any size?  For the first time ever in the history of humankind (drumroll) you will be able to communicate directly, personally, and at any time with anyone you choose to.  This has huge implications for how churches communicate, gather people, do ministry, and publish their message.  What do you think are some ways churches could benefit from the epublishing, ebook, and mobile phone revolution?

    Silly Titles For Serious Topics

    Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed how silly Christian book titles have become?  Zondervan is in a dust-up with Soong-Chan Rah and other Asian-American church leaders over the book Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.  Dr. Rah’s beef, and rightly so, is with the cultural insensitivity of the book.  But, if you don’t already know the subject matter of this book  (behaviors that can lead to moral failure in a church leader’s life), then you’d never guess it by the title.  The fact that it premiered at Catalyst, an event targeted to young pastors, might be a clue to the title.  However, if I were a young pastor, I think I would be insulted.

    I also ran across Frank Page’s book, The Incredible Shrinking Church, online the other day.  Page, former SBC president and now North American Mission Board evangelism head, seems to be a very nice guy with some serious things to say about church decline, growth, and evangelism.  Yet B&H Publishing, a Lifeway imprint, titled the book for 7th graders rather than church leaders.

    While these are two examples, they are not the only instances of trivial titles used to sell books on supposedly serious topics.  I’m all for a little light-heartedness, but is this dumbing down of Christian leadership books a trend, or am I just getting too old and grumpy to get it?  Actually, I never buy books that look like they are written for the lowest rung of the church leadership ladder.  What about you?  Do these catchy, and somewhat silly titles put you off?  Or, are you not one to judge a book by its cover?

    The Church of the Future: Urban, Minority and Progressive

    millenial_generation_onpageThe church of the future resides in an urban setting, consists of multiple minorities, and espouses progressive social values, according to two recently-released reports.

    While most church futurists have focused on church models (i.e., house churches vs. megachurches) in their predictions of the shape of church in the next 50-years, the demographic forces shaping future churches are at work now on a global scale. The report of the Population Reference Bureau, which published its comprehensive “World Population Data Sheet” findings in October, 2009; and the Center for American Progress’s “New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation” report contain valuable insights for church thinkers.

    Here are some of the findings of the World Population Data Sheet:

    1. The world’s population will reach 7-billion by 2011 or 2012. By 2050 10-billion people will occupy an increasingly crowded planet. We are adding approximately 1-billion people every 12-years.

    2. By 2050, 90% of Americans will live in urban areas.

    3. Most of the population growth in the US will come from immigrants already in the US, or those who will migrate to the US. The US population in 2050 will stand at 439-million, up 135-million from the 304-million today — an increase of almost 50%.

    4. By 2050, India will lead the world population with almost 2-billion; China will have 1.4-billion people; and, the US will be the third most populous country in the world with 439-million.

    5. No majority ethnicities will exist by 2050 in the United States.

    6. In the 20th century, 90% of population growth came from less-developed countries. In the 21st century, virtually all global population growth will come from less-developed countries, with some more-developed country populations actually declining, or being bolstered by increased immigration.

    Soong-Chan Rah’s new book, The Next Evangelicalism, points out that while church proponents decry the decline of the American church, it’s the white American church that is decline, while ethnic congregations are flourishing. Subtitled “Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity” Rah advocates a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic church whose seeds are already beginning to bear fruit. In other words, the shift that will be realized 40-years from today has already begun in our society. But, because the dominant culture in American society is the white European culture, church scholars are culturally blind to the rise of minority, urban, and ethnic churches.

    The report by the Center for American Progress gives additional credibility to the changing nature of the church. The Millennials, born 1978-2004, are an increasing force in American life and politics. The Millennial cohort will dwarf the size of the Baby Boomer generation, while actually bringing about changes in society that the Boomers abandoned after they matured. Sixty-four percent of Millennials agreed that “religious faith should focus more on promoting tolerance, social justice, and peace in society, and less on opposing abortion or gay rights.” Just 19 percent disagreed.

    The culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s are quickly fading, and a new generation that is more progressive in social views is assuming center stage. Millennials were a major force in the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and by 2020 will comprise 40% of the entire American electorate.

    Of course, world events such as the economy, war, natural disasters, and a host of other events could intervene and reshape the future that is evident now.  However, the trend toward multi-culturalism, urbanism, and changing social ideas upon us.  It remains to be seen exactly how these trends will influence and shape the church of the future.

    Interview: Russell Rathbun, author of ‘nuChristian’

    Russell RathbunRussell Rathbun, pastor of House of Mercy, has authored a new book, nuChristian: Finding Faith in a New Generation.  Rathbun’s title riffs off Kinnaman and Lyons’ book, unChristian, both visually and topically.  Rathbun knows what he’s talking about because he is one of the founding pastors of House of Mercy in 1996.

    Judson Press sent me a review copy, which I read with appreciation because Russell seemed to be writing to traditional churches, providing guidance on how to engage with young adults.  Rather than a book review, I asked Russell if he would respond to a few questions.  He graciously agreed, and here’s the interview:

    Chuck Warnock: As I was reading the book, I could see our congregation, comprised primarily of older adults, really benefitting from your insights on how to connect with a new generation.  Who did you write the book for, and do you anticipate it being studied by established congregations?

    Russell Rathbun: I wrote the book for churches, pastors and the folks in the pews who have  already begun to maybe have gotten a hint that there is something different going on that isn’t represented in their churches and are interested in exploring what ever that is (how is that for a nonspecific over qualified sentence?).  I really hope that it will be used as the beginning of a continuing discussion.

    CW: I’m hearing  a lot about “authenticity” these days.  How does a church navigate between being authentic and making changes necessary to reach out to a new generation?

    NuChristianRGBRR: That really is an important question.  And I think the answers are difficult.  I really would like to say that, if you are a church with no one under 50 years old, that the best thing you can do is figure out who you are, what you love, how God has called you to be the church in your context and do that—be who you are.  Don’t try to be something else, it won’t work and it won’t be true.  But, you know, by doing that, there is a good chance that you are not going to attract a lot of people under 50, which means the church wont be around in 25 years.  But on the other hand, what do I know?  I guess I do know that if we are honest, authentic, about what God has called us to do, beautiful things happen.  I hope people in churches like I’ve described really feel the gracious freedom to be who they are.

    CW: Some of my members would have a problem with your statement, “Love people; don’t save them.”  In our church, most of our members “got saved” as the result of an evangelistic, revival-type meeting or message.  How would you help an established, traditional church that is accustomed to “crisis” conversions become open to a more gradual process of transformation?


    RR: I don’t want to say that people have to change their understanding of the process of salvation (even though it might be different than mine),  maybe just refocus a little on some of the important ways that Jesus talks about making disciples and loving the neighbor, to maybe realize the Holy Spirit was able to speak to them in a way that compelled them to pursue Jesus and that the Holy Spirit is probably capable of speaking to others as well, so maybe we love and serve, and the Holy Spirit does the speaking.

    CW: If your book was intended as a kind of answer to books like unChristian by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, what would you say are the key steps a congregation needs to take to connect with a new generation?  I realize you took a whole book to answer this question, but if you had to summarize in one or two statements, what are the core elements?


    RR: Get know know them.  Ask questions you don’t already know the answers to.  Meet people you have never met before and enter into open relationship with them.

    CW: You’re really doing this stuff you write about, and you use House of Mercy as examples of how you have reached a new generation.  What issues is House of Mercy facing now that present new challenges to you?


    RR: We are facing the challenge of transitioning from a young, upstart community to being a church institution that has a youth group and volunteers to help with potlucks and all that stuff.  How do you become a church institution in a way that reflects who we are.

    Thanks, Russell.  Check out reviews of nuChristian at the book’s website.

    Seminarians Opt Out of Church and What We Can Do To Change That

    “Students don’t want to serve in the local church when they graduate; they want to do something more exciting.”Southern Baptist seminary administrator

    A prominent seminary administrator made that comment to me several weeks ago.  I’ve been rolling it around in my head since then, disturbed and challenged by its implications.  If his comment had been the first I had heard, I might not be so concerned.  But several months ago, another seminary leader expressed the same sentiment — seminary students are not planning to serve local churches.

    Of course, this might be their perception because they did not conduct a scientific survey.  But, let’s assume it’s true — that seminary students see themselves serving in more exciting settings than the local church.  If that is the case, then we have some serious work to do.

    First, those of us in local churches have to ask ourselves, What signals are we sending that turn off seminarians? Some answers come to mind very quickly:

    • churches can be slow to change;
    • established congregations are typically older and certainly not cool;
    • most churches are single staff settings;
    • pastoral ministry isn’t viewed as cutting edge;
    • most church programs are inward-focused; and
    • denominational politics turns young adults off.

    Those are the answers that popped in my head immediately.  I’m sure you and I could think of more if we really tried.

    Second, the more pressing question is, How can we help seminarians in their quest for meaningful ministry? Here the answers come more slowly, but I have a few thoughts:

    • Embrace the age of change. I’ve written before that church as we know it is going to change dramatically and soon.  Those of us in churches need to recognize that trend and dialogue with seminarians about where they see church heading. After all, whatever future the church has is in their hands.
    • Underwrite experiments in ministry. Most of us in mid-life are not going to start a coffee shop church, or an arts enclave, or a neomonastic order.  But seminarians might, and they could try out those ideas under the sponsorship of existing churches who have the funds and resources to help make those ministry experiments happen.
    • Participate in reverse-mentoring. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, had all his senior management reverse-mentored by younger employees.  The younger employees understood the value of the internet, mobile computing, and social networking and Welch wanted his senior managers to learn from them.  Churches and current church leaders need to do the same.  Seminaries could create space for reverse-mentoring workshops where local church pastors and denominational leaders could sit and listen and learn from the emerging generation of church leaders.
    • Provide seminarians opportunities for service. Seminarians need hands-on opportunities to minister at the local church level.  Most seminaries require field work, but I’m talking about a real position with real ministry responsibility.  The Lilly Endowment has offered grants for new seminary graduates to work full-time in a local church setting. While this is an encouraging approach, too few grants are available.  Churches and seminaries could figure out how to do this in a way that gives seminarians good church experiences, allowing them room for innovation in their area of responsibility.

    Churches of all denominations are facing three converging crises — clergy shortage, declining church attendance, and aging congregations.  No wonder the current crop of seminary students wants to work any place but the local church.  Time will tell if current church leaders will engage with this new generation of church leaders to forge new expressions of church ministry.  That would be exciting.

    For the latest in church news, ideas, and information visit NewChurchReport.com.

    The future of churches: A network of niches

    In the on-going debate “will digital replace books?” the conclusion of many media watchers is an unequivocal Yes and No. Amazon’s Kindle has really become a game-changer, delivering books within seconds of purchase via Sprint’s wireless network.  Problems do exist, as Jeff Jarvis points out, because if you do not have good Sprint coverage in your area, books take hours to download, not seconds.  In other words, it’s not perfect.

    So, will digital replace books? Yes, ebooks will replace printed books for many, maybe even most.  But, printed books will still survive in print-on-demand processes that print each copy as ordered.  Books will also survive in niche groups like “Save the Real Books” (which I just made up, but you get the idea).  After all, there are groups for vintage cars, vintage wine, vintage clothing, vintage furniture, so why not vintage book printing?  Digital won’t eliminate printed books, but digital will be another means to acquire and read books.  In other words, rather than one model (printed books), we’ll have a network of niche models from which to choose, including print, digital, audio, digital audio (the new Kindle can read your book to you), digital mobile, and so on.

    Which brings us to churches, again.

    Using the ebook versus printed book model, what does that say about churches?  I have been saying that we’re counting the wrong things in church (attendance) when we should be counting community engagement.  I’ve also said that church attendance will decrease (this is not an original thought), and we’re moving rapidly toward a post-Christendom era like Europe.

    That said, I don’t think all existing churches will die.  For instance, the megachurches spawned by baby boomers will not go away.  I think their influence will diminish and some will go downsize.  But churches will always exist, some will always have buildings and property, and most will always be trying to attract people to them.

    But, what I think will happen is new forms of church will emerge from the next generation of church leaders.  These forms are not even thought of yet.  Example: A few years ago who would have thought of LifeChurch.tv with an internet campus, and a bunch of satellite sites?

    Lyle Schaller came close in the 1980s when he advocated that small churches use video sermons from outstanding preachers, but Schaller did not imagine that video sermons would be simulcast to remote satellite locations where a live band would lead worshippers in person, cutting to the remote video of Craig Groeschel (or Andy Stanley) in time for the message.

    To get back to our question, Will churches of today disappear? Yes and no.

    We can be certain of this — we live in an age of discontinuous change and unexpected consequences.  Nobody knows exactly what church will look like in the future because we’re not there yet.  But I have  a feeling it will be multiple models, not one predominant model like we had from WWII until about 1985. That’s about the time the church growth movement popularized church planting by anybody, not just denominations.  That shift resulted in hundreds of new churches, led by entrepreneurial church planters who created different models. That is what I think will happen, again, but this time the new models will be even more innovative than those of the last 25 years.

    We’ll still have bricks-and-mortar churches, but also house churches, coffee shop churches, outdoor churches, churches that meet once a month, churches that meet online, churches that consists of groups which interact frequently, and churches that we can’t even imagine yet.  We will also see ‘single market’ churches that focus on the homeless or the physically handicapped or the poor or any niche group you can think of.

    In other words, the same thing that is happening in the broader culture will happen in churches, too — more options, more models, a network of niches, rather than a predominant church form.

    I am also certain that whatever emerges, church will not ever be the same again. By extension, neither will denominations, cross-cultural missions programs, or Christian education programs be the same again.  These will all change radically, because the current models are unsustainable in today’s culture.

    Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

    5 Lessons Churches Must Learn To Survive

    Another newspaper closed last week and more are on the way.  Print journalism is dying faster than the dinosaurs did, and for the same reasons — the climate changed.  Not the atmospheric climate, but the social climate.  TV ditto, and throw in retail while you’re at it.  What hasn’t changed in this new always-on, always-connected, we-want-it-when-we-want-it age?

    Churches.  And that is the problem.  You might think churches and denominations would look around and see the disaster in broadcast TV, print journalism, bricks-and-mortar retail, and figure out that this same tsunami is washing over churches, too.

    David T. Olson predicts that by 2050 church attendance in the US will be only 10%.  I think he’s wrong. I think church attendance will drop much faster, much sooner.  Currently we are at about 17% of the US population who attends church on any given Sunday. (Forget the old 40% attendance figures — pollsters have determined they were asking the wrong question to get an honest answer.)

    Here are the 5 lessons churches must learn from newspapers, TV, and retail if churches are going to survive as a viable social institution:

    1. Institutions no longer make the rules. Newspapers, TV, and even retail stores were the only places you could get news, entertainment, or goods in the old world.  But in the new world there are multiple options, multiple venues, multiple times.  People now are always connected, always on, and set their schedule based, not on the TV schedule or store hours, but on their preference.
    2. Institutions have no more credibility than individuals. Newsday, the NY tabloid daily, has decided to start charging for some of its articles because “people ought to pay.”  I predict they will fail miserably.  If I can’t get my news free from Newsday, I’ll get it from a 100 bloggers and citizen journalists.  Churches take note: We no longer are the only voice in the room, and the scandals of churches — sexual abuse, marital infidelity, leadership failures — only weaken our moral stance further.
    3. Our lives have taken on a different rhythm. Society’s life rhythm is different now.  Work is not confined to Monday thru Friday, leisure activities are not reserved for Saturdays, and going to church doesn’t need to happen on Sunday (if at all).  People will continue to connect, but churches need to change their rhythms, too.
    4. The “customer” owes you nothing. We sometimes think people should pay more (Newsday), come when we’re open (retail), and watch when we broadcast (TV).  Churches must realize that while we think people should come/attend/participate/etc they no longer have to.
    5. We’re using the wrong metrics. For newspapers it’s no longer about how many papers are on the lawn; for TV it’s no longer about how many people saw American Idol at 8 PM last night; for retail it’s no longer about how to get people in the store.  We continue to measure people coming to us, when we should be measuring church going to people in service, small groups, meetups, projects, and so on.  News is now being pushed out digitally via internet and mobile, TV is now on TiVo more than live, and retail is moving to the web.  Churches cannot continue to measure church attendance as the only, or prime, measure of viability.

    Will churches change?  Many will not and they will die.  Some will linger on, shadows of their former glory, and others will adapt and thrive.  We’ll explore what the future holds for churches, particularly small churches, later this week.  Stay tuned.