Twenty years or so ago, my dear wife Imbi was co-organizing a "worship conference" in Toronto to be led by Graham Kendrick. In an early planning meeting, the question was asked about Graham's North American itinerary. An Anglican pastor piped up with the memorized dates and times of Kendrick's schedule – as if reading from a calendar.
He was a Kendrick conference junkie – planning on attending a number of the events. Knowing this gentleman only casually, I cannot say I noted any particular changes in his ministry after his innumerable Kendrick experiences – though he remained consistently tongue tied in Graham's presence.
There is a mythology around church conferences that suggests efficacy. There are so many of them, one should reasonably assume they are having a positive impact on the Body of Christ – an impact that should suggest growth in church numbers, should it not? But, as this Pew Foundation survey shows,
More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion – or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.
The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.
Though other surveys may show the church growing, in terms of church growth vs population growth, population growth is significantly outpacing the growth of the Body of Christ in the West. Which begs the question – why so may conferences, at least in my not humble but accurate opinion? Do they simply make church folk feel like they are doing something? Alleviating their dis-ease as they sense something significantly wrong?
Yes, I read the reports of Mega Church X and Y, and their multitudinous baptismal services. "How can you comment on what we are doing, we baptized <insert inflated number here> this past Sunday!"
Baptized into what, one might reasonably ask? Were these baptisms simply initiation rites into a culture of consumer church? Is significant change taking place in the communities where these newly baptized live? Has the Kingdom come?
So why promote the simulcasting of The Nines web-conference here @kinnon.tv. First, presenters are limited to 9 minutes. (Although that may be too much for some of these folk, but…) Secondly, this has the potential to be great usage of social media – if people join in via comments here, @ Ed Stetzer's blog, at TSK's, etc., riff on the presentations via Twitter (hashtag: #thenines) and write your own blog posts about what you liked and what you didn't.
In fact, I hope the comments provide as much or more insight into what's happening in the Western Church as do the actual presentations.
So tomorrow, The Nines conference will be simulcast across numerous other blogs along with this humble nanonode on the interwebs. "Leaders" from all over the Western church world will have 9 minutes to share their thoughts and insights – people like my friend, Ed Stetzer, who is always worth at least nine minutes of your time. And I'm also looking forward to hearing Nancy Ortberg and a number of others. You can get more information and register for The Nines here.
Come back to kinnon.tv tomorrow, watch the videos and comment about what you liked and what made your hair curl – assuming you're not folliclely-challenged, of course. The Nines simulcast post will be stuck to the top of this blog (for the day). A Twitter window will be open in the column beside it – displaying Tweets with the #thenines hash tag.
I look forward to your response. You can be sure that I'll have a few responses of my own.