UnChristian & The Tribal Church and brand new home to the BookNotes blog
I hope you saw the last post--nothing about any books, but very important. It was an announcement that we are happily moving the blog over to the newly redesigned Hearts & Minds bookstore website. We are still transferring the tons of lists, biblios, essays and book review articles that we've archived for years. It will be a while 'til that is all there, but the great news is that we will now be able to edit and add to the website easily. The regular blog posts will continue, but will be more integrated into the bigger website. It's pretty nifty even now, so browse on over.
As we said, though, you have to re-subscribe in the little address box if you want notifications whenever I do a new post. I've got the list of those who do---friends and neighbors, relatives and loved ones--so sign up soon, or you'll throw me into more self-doubt and endless anxiety. Being a small-mart indie bookseller up against the Goliaths of A-zon & Company is hard enough. Don't let a guy hangin'...
Which makes me think, perhaps circuitously, of the big splash made online by UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...And Why It Matters (Baker; $17.99.) This groundbreaking bit of research and commentary (and you will be hearing more of it this fall, I'd bet) was done under the prestigious auspices of the Barna Research Group. David Kinnaman is the very young new Prez of the pollster group, and has turned their research work on young adults and what they think about Christianity, church, and evangelical faith. The study is powerful, clear, and nearly devastating: classic Christianity has an image problem.
As my old protest buddy, Charlie, still at an urban church in Pittsburgh, would shout, with feigned alarm: Call the Doctor! No, nobody with half an eye open, will be really surprised by this sad news. If you hang around with anyone under 30, with or without body piercings, or you go to any kind of ordinary church, you know where this is heading.
Ahh, but, here are three reasons this book is so very, very important.
1. This provides the hard data, so we don't have to speculate what young adults think about the church. We have surmised and intuited this before, but here are the goods. UnChristian gives us the facts which we need to work on. Read it and weep.
2. The book is laden with sidebars, counter-stories, examples of testimonies of those who are, in fact, doing the sort of stuff (or, as the case may be, not doing the kind of stuff) that younger folks talk about in this book. That is, the truth of the matter is that there are cultural creatives, edgy folks with compassionate hearts, who are passionate about loving God and following Jesus, who bear little resemblance to the picture held by most non-churched folks. They simply don't match the assumptions that are carrying the day in the imaginations of the young adult population. These interviews and testimonial are in many cases folks we know, readers of BookNotes, even or people we admire, so we are thrilled to commend the book for this portion, too. The research piece of the book is supplemented and contrasted with stuff from Andy Crouch and Louie Giglio, Brian McLaren and Chuck Colson, Sarah Cunningham and Mark Rodgers, Jim Wallis and Margaret Feinberg, Jonalyn Fincher and Gary Haugen. If you don't know at least a couple of these names, you haven't been paying attention. And, sadly, that is exactly the problem: the brave and good witness of faithful, interesting Christian folks like this is evidently not changing the perception of the watching world.
3. This book is co-authored by Gabe Lyons, a friend of a friend who I can't wait to meet at Ivy Jungle later this fall. He is the genius behind the Fermi Project, who do the snazzy Q events. This is, if I can sound like the baby boomer I am, where it's at.
Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation by Carol Howard Merritt was just published by the Alban Institute ($17.) A bit pricey for a paperback, but the Alban I. folks are the best mainline denominational publisher for getting solid studies done with no-nonsense evaluations and clear-headed guidance. Much of what they do is based on a solid lay of the land, written by researchers and practitioners in the parishes sharing what they know. I haven't spent enough time with this new release to know how brilliant it may be, but I am very confident it is worth reading, if you are concerned about the lack of 20-somethings in your congregation.
Carol Howard Merritt is a very fine writer, and has been influenced by the popular books a few years ago that documented what some have called "urban tribes" of 20/30-somethings. Seen Friends? Here is a short piece drawn from the book, called "Ministering to the Missing Generation" which will tell you of her title, and draw you in to her journey of thinking about this.
I wish Merritt was more interested in the work of folks like the Fermi Project, and had the movement of transforming, evangelical cultural engagement in view. She is a Presbyterian pastor, so her book is informed by her day-to-day efforts in a fairly traditional church. This is, of course, her strength, and (not to sound too contradictory) that may be the vital contribution she makes. Q will attract some and connect their God-given yearnings for relevance and cultural engagement, purpose and vocation, with a vibrant and clear Christian faith. Wooly, emerging conversations will surely spark the hearts and minds of some, drawing skeptics and seekers, post-evangelicals and others. And, surely, Merritt's ordinary, multi-generational, mainline congregation that isn't chasing after hipster trends or zippy worship fashions, but is just doing what must be done, surely that is a very significant call. She helps us understand her own age demographic, and draws insights for congregational leaders. Her thoughtful (left of center) views and lovely meandering reflections can be found in her blog, here.
Of course, oodles of questions remain. I could offer concerns about either of these titles. It is my job, though, to commend them with great gusto, to hope and pray our announcements here get them purchased and discussed, and that---please, Lord!---churches of all sorts re-double their efforts to think about the unfortunate images we've presented to the young adult generation, the ways in which we've failed to present a compelling reason for young adults to be involved in the community of faith and serious discipleship, and to think hard about what to do. Either or both of these books could help. What do you say?