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2009 Conversations

2008 Conversations

2007 Conversations

2006 Conversations

2005 Conversations

Benji creator Joe Camp: Moral movies, personal cost (12/26/04)

Gloria Gaither: A Gaither family Christmas(12/19/04)

Allyson Feliz: Olympic medalist  shares passion for following Christ (12/12/04)

Dan Dean: Walking by faith (11/28/04)

J. Don George: Every church can touch the poor (11/21/04)

Brock Gill: Jesus is no illusion (11/14/04)

Ted Dekker: Good, evil and the battle for souls (10/31/04)

Bob Kilpatrick: CCM: Growing and changing (10/17/04)

Eugene H. Peterson: Man with a message (10/10/04)

Caz McCaslin: Fixing kids sports (9/26/04)

Jerry B. Jenkins: A novel approach to evangelism (9/19/04)

Natalie Grant: Living the dream (9/12/04)

Sharon Ellard: A life-changing education (8/29/04)

Steven Curtis Chapman: All things new (8/22/04)

Jim Ryun: Running to Jesus (8/15/04)

George Barna: Today’s church: By the numbers (8/8/04)

Randy Singer: Made to count (7/25/04)

Holly McClure: Morality and the media (7/18/04)

Don Miller and Richard Flory:Taking the Church to today's culture (7/11/04)

Cecil Richardson: Pastoring the Air Force’s 'Pastors' (6/27/04)

Barry Meguiar: Driven by faith (6/20/04)

Thomas E. Trask: Concerned for America (6/13/04)

Dr. David Yonggi Cho: The work of the Holy Spirit (5/30/04)

Tom Greene: High school: A great mission field (5/16/04)

Jennifer Rothschild: Walk by faith, not by sight (5/9/04)

Chaplain Alex Taylor: Forgiveness and restoration (4/25/04)

Joshua Harris: Not even a hint (4/18/04)

Nicky Cruz: Changing America (4/11/04)

Jason Schmidt: Lessons learned on life’s field (3/28/04)

Scott Temple: One church, many colors (3/21/04)

Michael W. Smith: Called to worship (3/14/04)

Representative Jo Ann Davis: Christians in politics (2/29/04)

Darlene Zschech: Sing, shout … just shout the praise the Lord (2/22/04)

Surgeon James W Long: For your heart’s sake, get fit (2/15/04)

Jerry R. Kirk: Battling pornography (2/8/04)

Dr Michael Ferris: A choice to heal (1/18/04)

Chaplain Al Worthley: Outside the four walls of the church (1/11/04)

2003 Conversations

2002 Conversations

2001 Conversations

Taking the Church to today's culture

Don Miller is a professor of religion at the University of Southern California and also executive director of the university’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Richard Flory is associate professor of sociology at Biola University. Miller and Flory collaborated on the book GenX Religion. They spoke with Managing Editor Ken Horn at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary where they were speaking at a forum for the D.Min. program.

PE: Why is it important for the church to understand the culture?

MILLER: At the risk of sounding too much like a marketing answer, businesses that don’t pay attention to their customer base go out of business. There are certainly eternal truths that are part of Christianity, but the actual package in which those eternal truths are put changes. During the last 2,000 years many of those packages have, for a period of time, been enormously successful. But the culture changed and churches that didn’t repackage essential fundamental elements of the Christian message disappeared.

PE: What does a church have to do to be relevant?

MILLER: Churches that are growing are innovative. The pastors are reading the culture. That doesn’t mean that they are compromising the gospel message to the culture. Rather, they’re understanding the crises that this culture creates for individuals. These crises differ from generation to generation. These pastors create worship and programming that address the crises that individuals are experiencing. That immediately creates a bond between people who have a need and a church that is providing an answer.

FLORY: People are looking for permanency in a community of faith. The appeal of some of the groups we’re talking about is not their programs, but that people can actually go there, actually know people, and actually interact with people. They can, in effect, be part of other people’s lives on a basic and intimate level.

PE: What specific kinds of things are successful churches doing?

FLORY: A lot of visual technology is used in these churches. Whether there is artwork going on during the service, or whether it’s in a return to older rituals and traditions where you have to interact in some fashion. This interactive visual experience is one level. There’s also an outworking of the smaller community where participants are committed to each other but they’re also committed to their surrounding community. The personal religious experience is important. But these churches try to cultivate outside relationships from that. They live out their faith, whether it’s in a programmatic kind of social ministry or whether it’s participating in whatever issues are going on in their city.

PE: Are there things that churches hold on to that they need to get rid of in order to reach today’s culture?

MILLER: The hallmarks of being a Christian are people who have dedicated their lives to Christ, who are loving each other without reserve and who are caring for their neighbors who are Christian or non-Christian. These believers basically have leapfrogged the traditions of organized religion and have gone back to the roots of their faith in the first-century church. They have taken that as normative for what the life of a Christian should look like. At the same time, they have recognized that clearly one has to translate that faith in terms of worship forms that are contemporary but with substance.

FLORY: The issue of authenticity — authentic Christianity, authentic life — is really enormous. What you say you are, you had better be.

PE: What are some strengths and weaknesses you have seen in Pentecostal churches you have studied?

MILLER: I’ve mostly studied Pentecostal churches that are vital and growing, so I could comment more on the strengths than the weaknesses. There seems to be a flexibility of leadership that is often thoroughly decentralized. There may be a strong leader at the helm, but the ministry is really given to the people to do. That really has led to a lot of innovation in these congregations.

Congregations I’ve studied have a lot of new converts in them. So these are in a sense first-generation Christians, and these first-generation Christians bring with them a certain freshness because they don’t know what church is supposed to be. So they oftentimes are radically contemporary in their worship styles, worship forms, and that’s one reason why a lot of Pentecostal churches are growing.

Churches in decline tend to be overly bureaucratized and they simply, for all of their higher education, oftentimes culturally aren’t very responsive.

Another strength is that, in an emerging way, a lot of Pentecostal churches are becoming more sensitive to community services and to community outreach as opposed to simply preaching the gospel. Particularly in the developing world, the Third World, there are a lot of Pentecostal churches that aggressively are meeting the needs of people with AIDS. They’re meeting the educational needs of people. They are right out there on the front lines trying to respond to people, and not in a manipulative way.

PE: A number of churches hold separate traditional and contemporary services. Have you seen examples of churches that are successful in actually bringing generations together?

FLORY: Yes. We categorize them as “cultural innovators” or “cultural appropriators.” In these churches the younger generations are part of the larger church. They’re not shuttled off to be with the college group, or the young adults group, or the contemporary service, or whatever. They’re just a part of the church, part of the community.

PE: Where do you see the church going?

FLORY: I think one of the fears, particularly among evangelicals, is that it’s going to be secularizing. I don’t see that happening. I think it’s a sign of vitality that people are creating new ways to express their faith, but ways that are rooted in old ways. Churches are discovering how to be relevant in the best sense of that term to newer generations while maintaining the important core elements.

MILLER: I think we will experience as a country a continuing increase of people of secular commitment. But I’m not at all convinced that church attendance per se is going to drop off. It’s been very constant for three decades. I suspect that it will stay constant, but there will be some reshuffling of the deck. There’s going to be growth and decline. I think there will be a continued growth in independent churches that are nondenominational and I suspect that there may be some continued growth among Pentecostal/charismatic churches.

I think that there is culturally a great openness to personal healing, out of a nonmedical bottle, and that churches that lay hands on people with expectation as opposed to empty promises may experience growth. The modernist worldview separated mind and body. In this sort of postmodern generation, body and mind are coming back together. Therefore you’ll see more full-bodied religion both in terms of worship, but also in terms of touch and healing. I think you’ll see a supernatural dimension too with a younger generation actually more open to that than their parents or grandparents were.

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