Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
New Research Debunks Myths about Megachurches
According to a groundbreaking study released by Leadership Network and Hartford Seminary's Institute for Religion Research, many of the most widely held beliefs about megachurches couldn't be farther from the truth. The Megachurches Today 2005 survey is the most thoroughly researched study ever made of the Protestant megachurch movement in the United States. More than 1,800 churches were contacted by e-mail, phone and mail. According to Warren Bird, Leadership Network's Director of Research, "Based on the results of this survey, we are able to conclude that there are at least 1,210 Protestant churches in the United States today with average weekly attendance of over 2,000. That is nearly double the number of megachurches that existed five years ago." Scott Thumma, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Hartford Seminary, said, "I am absolutely convinced that megachurches have blossomed… because they have responded creatively to the new needs and interests of people in a new cultural reality. The wide-ranging survey includes data which collectively debunks 11 of the most common beliefs about megachurches, namely: All megachurches are alike; All megachurches are equally good at being big; There is an over-emphasis on money in the megachurches; megachurches exist for spectator worship and are not serious about Christianity; megachurches are not deeply involved in social ministry; All megachurches are pawns of or powerbrokers to the Republican Party; All megachurches have huge sanctuaries and enormous campuses; All megachurches are nondenominational; All megachurches are homogeneous congregations with little diversity; megachurches grow primarily because of great programming; The megachurch phenomenon is on the decline.
National Prayer Breakfast Features Bush, Bono
Seeking God’s guidance and blessings to better serve the nation and the world, government officials and international leaders joined President George W. Bush and rock star activist Bono in Washington for the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2. The interfaith gathering featured mostly Christian politicians but also included Jewish Senator Norm Coleman (D-Minn.), and King Abdullah of Jordan, a Muslim. Speakers focused on affirming commonly held religious values and putting aside political differences. Senators, congressional representatives and others read from the Christian Bible, the Torah or Old Testament, and one speaker quoted the Koran. The event was sponsored by the International Fellowship, a Christian evangelical group. During Bono’s 15-minute speech, he said that early in his life as a believer, he had been disenchanted with the politics of Protestants and Catholics in his native Ireland. However, that activism by church groups on the issues of poverty forced him to look again at the cynicism he held about “God politics.” President Bush, who spoke after Bono, commended the activist’s efforts. “So I've gotten to know Bono. He's a doer. The thing about this good citizen of the world is he's used his position to get things done. You're an amazing guy, Bono. God bless you.” The president focused his words on the freedom to pray in America.
Iraqi Christians 'Endangered,' Fear Mass Exodus
Iraqi Christians are becoming extremely vulnerable, say Christian groups that have cited increased marginalization of the religious minority after Sunday's church bombings. The World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission requested specific prayers for the Christians of Iraq as the threat level rises against the already dwindling population. "Iraqi Christians are extremely vulnerable," stated the WEARLC. "They are endangered, without equality before the (Islamic) law, having no clan networks and retaliation ideology, and lacking security in a lawless Islamic society… As people, groups and whole communities start to identify by religious affiliation rather than their common Iraqi nationality, the Christian minority find themselves increasingly despised, marginalized and exposed," the commission wrote. Sunday's explosions occurred outside five Iraqi churches, killing a 13-year-old Christian on his way to mass and a Muslim couple living near a targeted church in Kirkuk. Evangelical congregations in Baghdad, where four of the car bombings were synchronized, cancelled services that night. Open Doors also released a statement expressing concern over an exodus of Christians from Iraq. "These attacks could also lead to a renewed effort by Iraqi Christians to leave the country altogether."
Canada’s Faith Leaders Launch Offensive against Violence
On the heels of an unusually bloody year that left Toronto residents quaking at escalating gun and gang violence, Christian leaders began 2006 with action aimed at combating the problem. A group of pastors calling themselves the GTA Faith Alliance held a prayer walk January 2, and announced their intention to find 400 mentors for at-risk youth as well as to open 70 drop-in centers and after-school programs in their churches. From January 8-11, the same group hosted Eugene Rivers, the pastor credited with helping to dramatically reduce violent crime in Boston. Al Bowen, senior pastor of the Abundant Life Assembly in Rexdale, Ontario, says Rivers reserved his strongest message for the Church. “To the Church he says, ‘You are a powerful political force. You shouldn’t belong to any party, but you need to advocate for the poor… the Church’s history is that it spends 90 per cent of its assets in both people time and in dollar value on itself. And it should be the other way around. We are imbalanced and we fail our Lord. We should be spending [our resources] on the poor.’” Bowen adds, “Everyone is salt. Everyone is light. If you are not prepared to do that, then please resign your status as a Christian and stop polluting the spiritual atmosphere of Christ’s Church.” But Colin McCartney, executive director of a ministry to at-risk youth called Urban Promise Toronto, says there are a lot of Christians willing to help, but they often just don’t know where to begin. “We’ve been trained to preach. But we haven’t been trained to do social work.”