KING 5 reports that "The Pacific Northwest is often called the 'None Zone' because 33% of people in Seattle claim no religious affiliation."
Seattle and San Francisco, both with 33%, are second only to Portland which is number one according to the survey with 42%. This trinity leads the nation in skipping church.
Scholars are studying the cities to see what can be learned and where "religion" is headed here in the great Northwest, and beyond.
KING 5 says, "Seattle is a leader in national culture trends like technological advances and social justice. It's also a place where organized religion is less popular."
No question about Seattle's leadership in technology and lack of church affiliation.
But social justice? That depends on how you define "social justice."
Special rights for homosexuals? Yes.
Religious freedom? Not so much.
One scholar referred to the Northwest as "a canary in the mine," giving the rest of the country a heads-up on where this may lead.
Christopher James told KING 5, "I'm studying Seattle to get a sense of postcards from the future..."
I have a couple of postcards from the future I would like to include in the study.
Some churches are attempting to adjust and adapt to this changing, anti-church culture in Seattle and the Northwest.
Methods may change. The Message must never change.
KING 5 TV quotes Christopher James, who is completing his PhD dissertation on Seattle new church starts, "When you have weak religious institutions and not that many people going to church, it actually opens things up for innovation."
The study James is referring to reports, "More Americans than ever are choosing to forgo formal religious attachments.
This study found that 42% of people in Portland are religiously unaffiliated. Seattle and San Francisco are second with 33%---Denver is 4th at 32% and Phoenix 5th at 26%.
Declining attendance is a concern for any institution, including a local church.
And it does "open things up for innovation."
"Innovation" apparently means different things to different churches.
Sometimes innovation can be related to style. Sometimes to substance.
Seattle's First Baptist Church is a leader in the religious progressive left. They have moved fearlessly to champion progressive causes in recent years. They have abandoned their theological roots on fundamental biblical truths such as marriage and family. And the sanctity of life.
During the marriage debate in Washington State, Seattle's First Baptist was an unfailing ally of Ed Murray in the campaign to redefine marriage.
At that time Rev. Tom Phillips, First Baptist's lead pastor. wrote a feature article published by secular left publications across the country.
While extolling the Christian virtue of WA. State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen for publicly supporting same-sex "marriage" in 2012, thus opening the door for the redefinition of the sacred institution of marriage instituted by God at Creation, Pastor Phillips also defined God Himself.
The pastor wrote, "What kind of God do we trust and what kind of Jesus do we serve? Christians like Senator Haugen seem to believe that the God we can trust is one of love and the Jesus we serve is one who creates family beyond biology, race, gender, and even sexual orientation."
He warned that the public would soon begin to hear [from biblical Christians] "dire ramifications of redefining the conditions of marriage to include two adult women or two adult men who choose to make a family together."
The pastor said, "The slippery slope argument is always about some kind of condition that would render all arguments for any kind of social change untenable."
More than 115 Seattle churches followed Pastor Phillip's lead and worked actively to redefine marriage.
One way the Reverend is demonstrating to revitalize a church is to revise the doctrines and beliefs so they reflect the culture rather than the Bible.
Paul characterized this as "having a form of godliness."
This, the theory goes, will increase attendance.
The Mormon Church recently took a different approach to help fill the pews. The media reported it like this: "This Sunday, Mormon leaders in the Seattle North Stake will role out the red carpet for their LGBT brothers and sisters, many of whom have shied away from the Church because of its official stance against homosexuality."
The leaders explained they were following Ezekiel 34:16 in wanting to "seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away..." The leaders said that "includes members who have been damaged by past experiences of prejudice at church."
Mormon leaders reported soon after their announcement that people are coming---they reported "one family is driving three hours to Seattle to welcome LGBT members at the special sacrament meeting and 'linger later' social event."
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been loosing members. They also have changed their beliefs about marriage. While the intent is to be "inclusive," it is splitting the denomination. It's happening in other Christian denominations as well.
This is but three examples. Many churches are implementing similar "innovations" by updating and redefining their beliefs.
Other churches in search of members are counting on a shift in "style" to fill the pews.
KING 5 reports one church in the Seattle area that has foregone traditional worship services in favor of providing community dinners.
KING 5 says the church started the dinners seven years ago when the church wasn't sure it would survive.
Verlon Fosner, pastor of Westminster Community Church, told KING 5, "Our attendance had started to decline."
KING 5 reports that Westminster's "roots date back 92 years, and like many churches across the country, Sunday's crowd had started to slim."
Fosner and his wife decided to start what they called "Community Dinners." First in one place. Then it expanded.
While serving a meal to get people to show up and hear the "gospel" is not new---missions, including the Salvation Army, have done this for more than a hundred years, this, however is a little different.
It was a paradigm shift. It replaced traditional services at the church. Now it's hosted five nights a week at five different locations across Seattle.
Fosner says it is not a church dinner, it "is" the church.
Last week they held their 1,000th meeting in Greenwood.
Fosner says their "congregation has expanded from about 250 in the traditional worship services to about 900 attending the Community Dinners.
KING 5 says, "Typically, the meetings include a reading from the Bible, a short message, and a prayer, followed by conversation while eating."
Pastor Fosner says this is very similar to how the New Testament church did it.
King 5 reports that "at a recent dinner, a guitar player strummed contemporary versions of Amazing Grace, while a man painted beside her."
Don Cooper lives near one the Community Dinner events. He tells King 5 the buffet line is now his worship service.
KING 5 says Pastor Fosner told them, "It looks nothing like church, but it feels more like the way church should be."
Fosner says this has changed us a lot. "It changed us forever. I don't think we'll ever go back to the other way."
I don't know what "postcards" from the future Christopher James may discover in his research, nor am I an expert of what the church should "look like" as far as style or method is concerned.
However, there are many "postcards" that define the "Message" and the "Mission" of true church of Jesus Christ.
Here are a couple of postcards:
- Jesus said He would build His church upon the rock of Peter's profession of faith in Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16, 17, 18). Anything else is not His Church.
- The true church will teach that Jesus is the only way in which man can come to God (John 14:6).
- The true church will teach that Jesus was born of a virgin, crucified and resurrected from the dead. And that He is deity, and is the only begotten Son of God.
- The true church will agree with Jesus that the entire Bible is inspired and without error (Matt. 4:4, 5:17,18).
And in regard to the biggest cultural issue of our day...
- The true church will agree with Jesus that marriage is only between one man and one woman (Matt. 19:4,5).
The true church of Jesus Christ cannot be silent.
"Church" can probably look like many things, but one thing is certain. Jesus clearly defined its Message and its Mission:
Mark 16: Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned...
Matthew recorded it like this: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
The message and the mission is very clear.
Be Vigilant. Be Faithful. Be Not Conformed to This World, Be Transformed By The Power of God.