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Like GOP, evangelicals look to rebrand
Evangelist leaders such as Rick Warren have spoken for evangelicals for years, but he and other leaders must adjust, some say.
March 26th, 2013
09:47 AM ET

Like GOP, evangelicals look to rebrand

By John Blake

(CNN) - There’s been a lot of debate about the Republican Party’s need to rebrand after the 2012 presidential defeat, but could evangelicals face the same challenge?

The evangelical community, too, has been involved in some collective soul-searching. Evangelical leaders constantly warn that young people are deserting churches; pastors struggle to address changing views on homosexuality; and others wonder how evangelicals can remain relevant when a growing number of Americans refuse to identify with any religion.

Relevant magazine, an evangelical publication, tackles these issues head-on in its latest issue with an article titled “10 Challenges Facing Us in The Next Decade."

“The future is coming faster than ever," the article says, "with the tectonic plates of society, church, culture, technology, economy and environment shifting beneath us.”

How the church should change to meet this future is the thrust of the article. The magazine asked some of the nation’s top evangelical leaders for their take on the biggest challenges facing the church in the next decade.

Their answers varied, and some were surprising.

John Mark McMillan, a worship leader and musician, says religious entertainers can’t save evangelicals. Building more megachurches with slicker worship services that feature skits, live music and hip pastors in skinny jeans won’t do the trick.

“How will we avoid the temptation to simply draw crowds?” McMillan asks. “While a floating head on a Jumbotron can instruct us, I think we can only grow to maturity when we learn to love at point-blank range, where the messy aspects of relationship can’t be avoided.”

Another evangelical leader says making marriage relevant for a new generation is the big challenge. David Kinnaman, whose book "You Lost Me" examines why young evangelicals are leaving the church, says more youth see heterosexual marriage as outdated.

Relevant cited statistics from the Pew Research Center that show 44% of millennials (people age 18-29) say marriage is becoming obsolete.

“Millennials face many challenges when it comes to marriage,” Kinnaman says. "They have more financial pressure, more readily available sexual temptations, fewer social inhibitions with infidelity, not to mention overly distracted spouses who are working hard to get ahead or ‘screening’ away their valuable time.”

Shane Claiborne, author of "The Irresistible Revolution" and a founding member of an alternative community called the Simple Way, points to another challenge.

He says evangelicals must broaden the definition of “pro-life.”

Claiborne says we live in a nation where gun violence kills 10,000 people every year, dozens are executed under the death penalty, and the threat of nuclear annihilation looms.

Claiborne’s suggestion: Create a Life Party of Christians who “insist on protecting life in all its dazzling forms.”

“I hope that we can decrease and eliminate abortion, embrace the immigrant and orphans, end the death penalty in the U.S. and see poor people cared for,” Claiborne says.

Evangelicals can’t meet the future by simply altering the delivery of their message. The message will have to change in some ways as well, says Shane Hipps, author of "Selling Water by the River."

“The historic strength of evangelical churches to innovate methods without altering the underlying message will no longer have the same impact,” he says. “That’s because the cultural shift now under way is not merely about music preferences or the use of video clips in sermons.”

Hipps' solution for the future is to learn a lesson from the past. He cited Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor martyred by the Third Reich during the closing days of World War II.

“We must learn to embrace what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called 'religionless Christianity,' ” Hipps says. “These people will press beyond the tired religious categories of ‘liberal’ and “conservative.’ They will see the life and teachings of Jesus not as religious or even spiritual in nature, but rather as fundamentally human.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Faith

soundoff (602 Responses)
  1. peick

    All you religion-haters:

    If you are wrong about eternal questions, who stands to be lost, the evangelicals or you?

    The responsibility for how you answer life's biggest questions is squarely on your own shoulders, and no amount of empty boasting about "science" will argue in your defense after you die. A free solution to the punishment for your own sins has been offered to you, but if you reject it you can't blame anyone else.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • JJ

      You poor deluded simpleton imbecile.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • CP in Tampa, FL

      This is known as Pascal's wager. You believe this religious BS in case after you die and there is a god you will not be thrown into hell. Are you sure you believe in the correct fairy tale?

      March 27, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  2. Mike

    ".. religious entertainers can’t save evangelicals. Building more megachurches with slicker worship services that feature skits, live music and hip pastors in skinny jeans won’t do the trick." Maybe clowns would work. We need to keep spirituality simplistic and fun, and stay away from the heavy stuff. That would only serve to confuse Southerners. After all- everything has a simple black and white explanation, there is no reason to question dogma. If we go down that road cats will be sleeping with dogs and Jesus will end up being nothing more than some Jewish hippie God, who believed in some strange, non-violent revolution within humanity. We certainly don't want to change the world in some meaningful way... that would be uncomfortable and would require that each of us examine our core beliefs. How about those basketball playoffs?

    March 27, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  3. SkinnyPete

    From what I have seen, Evangelical mega churches do a really good job at teaching Christianity 101, but are not so good when the time comes to struggle with deeper, more intellectual/philosophical issues. The world is not black and white, and neither is religion. When I hear absolutes I am turned off, but when I hear honest discussion from people who are willing to accept they might be wrong I listen. People want substance, not simple rhetoric, crappy pop music, and seizure inducing light displays. I go to church to be challenged and enlightened, not entertained.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • CP in Tampa, FL

      Pete – if you want to be challenged and enlightened then open up a science book or read about science on the Internet and stop wasting your time going to church. If you are concerned about helping people you should donate your time to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.

      March 27, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
  4. brandynnez

    G R A C E – Gods Riches At Christs Expense

    March 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • who

      cares

      March 28, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
  5. Joe P

    What's that saying, "A pig wearing lipstick, is still a pig"? First, they need to acknowledge science just to get any kind of credibility.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • CP in Tampa, FL

      If evangelicals acknowledged science they would have to admit that all their religious teachings were bullsh!t.

      March 27, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  6. M.E.

    Science advances, religion doesn't. Well, except the Buddhists, apparently they're starting to study quantum physics and such, totally not kidding, google it. But I digress. Religion is an explanation for things that used to be unexplainable, now that there's explanations, less people need the old answers. It doesn't help that evangelical churches have only the loosest basis in Christianity and doctrine can vary widely even between churches across the street from one another. The lack of consistency kills. The churches you'll see stick around are the ones with a more cookie cutter doctrine between each one, run from one central place with a sort of "franchise" if you want in every town. So essentially Catholics (if they can stop diddling children and figure out birth control) CofE/Episcopalians and Mormons. Lutherans and Methodists may survive in the upper midwest, but let's face it, most of their believers are geriatric.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  7. brandynnez

    A government who maintains a stable viewpoint over a long period of time, rather than giving into every whim that comes along, whether by pressure or not, is a much more trustworthy government, and their judgement can be relied upon.
    Saying straight people have to accommodate the gay communities viewpoints, would that not then infringe on what straight people believe, who should have just as much power to stand for what their views and religious freedom allows them.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • who

      cares

      March 28, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
  8. Bob Lewis

    Best advice to Christians: Don't tell me about Christ; be like Christ and people will want to be like you. As Gandhi Said, "Be the change you want to see."

    March 27, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • DustyOnes

      II agree and Christ said to go preach the word of God to the entire world.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • houkoten

      And thus, Dusty, you made the classic fallacy of not distinguishing between the figurative and the literal when discussing a topic covering the organizations bound to religious beliefs.

      March 27, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  9. Huh?

    @Robert

    "There's a thing called the law of causality that says, all things that exist must have a cause, except by definition, God."

    Do you not see the flaw in your argument? You can't argue that all things must be caused by something, and ignore the fact that god then must also have been caused by something. Your argument is illogical. If all things that exist, e.g. god, then the god must also have been caused by something, and that something by something, and so on.... The funny part is you attempt to make up for the obvious weakness in your argument by say "except by definition, God." Doesn't fly logically.

    There is scientific discussions that if there was nothing that that would be better proof for a god to exist, since existence may be the normal state and non-existence would require a greater power.

    However, with that said – please believe as you wish and treat others well. We can agree on that.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Where is this alleged law stated and with what authority? I believe this is just more believer bullsh!t.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • denise

      HotAirAce, religion's success depends on it avoiding hard questions, and hiding in bafflegab and mysticism. Well, I suppose you know that.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  10. J the Agnostic

    The world changed a long time ago, the US is just now about to start catching up. Catholicism is used to oppress hundreds of millions around the world into abject poverty. American Christianity is just the opposite, promising a "Blessed Life" by giving your wealth to the church.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • dennis

      If you do not understand the full truth, you should not try to teach a doctrine you know nothing of.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Fernando

      Dennis, Wouldn't it be nice if you could silence him somehow?

      March 27, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  11. dennis

    Why do you continually try to brain wash America with your propaganda. The arena you are reaching are the ignorant. They believe your stats and are convinced by the unlearned sources you use. We must make the Bible relevant without changing it's truth's. In our age of technology, there is nothing wrong with the church using the resources that are available. You can't have it both ways.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • denise

      "it's truth's"

      Too funny. You can expect to continue to not have much relevance, but your brain sure could use a wash.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • dennis

      Yes, you cannot understand what you have never experienced. I was once on your side. How ignorant we were. I can only agree on this; when it is all said and done, we will stand before God and then we will see what we should have already known.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Fernando

      Hey Denise, I think you can take that as a threat. He likes to use the apostrophe where it doesn't belong, but I'm more concerned about the joy he seems to experience when he tells you that his god will make you burn for being a non-believer. I sure wish I could have gotten away with doing that every time my writing teacher corrected me.

      March 27, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  12. Tim Brown

    "Extinct" is a great brand.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  13. ken in MO

    I am a Christian and I love God but I stopped going to church. It breaks my heart. Churches stopped preaching love and the bible and started preaching hate and intollerance...that is why people quit going. I am now 46 years old with 3 children...that are of mixed race. The last thing I want is for them to think they are "dirty" or "bad" because they are a violation of Gods law. That is simply not true but churches have said that kind of garbage for MANY years and said it was the word of God. Many churches have not become arms of the Republican party...anti gay marriage but pro death penalty, pro torture, pro illegal wire taps, pro secret prisons. They preach against the Govt helping the poor and the elderly but believe it is Gods will to give to the rich and say it will trickle down to the poor....it never has. People did not leave churches....Churches left the people. God has always been and will always be good and right....but many churches are not. Just my feelings. Breaks my heart because I miss church...but really dislike bigots, etc.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • ken in MO

      Sorry typo.....

      Many churches have become arms of the Republican party

      March 27, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • dennis

      Then you must find the right church. There is one out there. Don't give up. Hate is not the message of the church I go to. Truth is the format with love being gracefully applied.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • Vikram

      We always have room for one more

      March 27, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • kris

      so if you are in violation of Gods law. what does that make you? if you are a christian that means you are christ like. And he did not violate Gods law? if you sin you must repent. but to not even care is wrong.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • kris

      Christ also died for the church. just saying.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • Rob-Texas

      I am not sure the size of your town or the church options you have there. My church in Houston does not preach hate and intollerance and would welcome you and yoru partner. Maybe you need to search some before you assume all churches are like the ones you have experianed.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Ken, you are half way out of the jesus dead zombie cult. You could take one more step and be free of 1st century bullsh!t.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  14. krehator

    Salesmen, selling you an invisible person, and man made concepts, nothing more.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Vikram

      Thats an assertion. Whats your arguments?

      March 27, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  15. Pan3

    For me spirituality has become more personal, it's between me and my "God". I don't judge others or try to convert. No church necessary, and that scares (rightfully so) the churches, because it's become a business of saving souls.

    March 27, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • dennis

      Then your source is not the bible. Or maybe you just pick and choose your verses to apply. To follow truth, you have to know Him!

      March 27, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • denise

      So how do you pick your verses that you apply, dennis? And why are your choices different from others in similar situations? Your god seems missing from the equation and can't seem to provide consistent guidance.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  16. Banjo Ferret

    No need to re-brand when you worship a false sky daddy. Just continue to fade into obscurity. Better yet, you can welcome Tim the Destroyer of Worlds into your heart and embrace Ferretianism, the one true religion. Repent and secure your purple energy bubble! (banjoferret d c)

    March 27, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • Vikram

      Make a case for Atheism. These are mere assertions

      March 27, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
  17. Tim

    They are not just losing the "young". I am 54 years old, pastored in an evangelical church and have left the evangellical church. It is a problem that for the last 40 years they focused on church growth strategies which gave them a good face but now depth to westle with hard issues. The sold their soul to the Republican Party platform believing that political reform would bring the Kingdom of God (Odd because they accused the progressive churches of doing this for years).
    Hopefully what will come out of this time of self evaluation is the realization that while the Christian faith is lived within cultures, a particular culture is not Christian. The progressive or the evangelical loses it's purpose when it fails the trifold test of Faith, Hope and Love.

    March 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • dennis

      You lost you call and then your vision. Wake up brother, you are in deception. You are agreeing with the enemy. Maybe this is what your church evolved into.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • denise

      Odd that Tim and dennis make the same grammar mistakes.

      March 27, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  18. sybaris

    Rebrand? No, just go away.

    The world would be a better place without your iron age mentality and aversion to logic, reason and education.

    March 27, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      World will be a better place without hinduism denial of truth absolute and hindu secular ism, filthy self center ism, not to disobey truth absolute in life to have Islam, peace on earth.

      March 27, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  19. Viper

    The world is FINALLY changing. Its taken forever, but now that it is much easier for people to be exposed to reality (as opposed to being trapped in whatever kind of dogmatic ideology they were born in to), we can start to reshape the world. No longer do we have to pretend to be Christians... The Christians can be Christians at home, but the public domain no longer belongs to them.

    Evangelicals and the right wing nutters that make "god's word" part of their political philosophy, are going to have to change with the times, TRULY represent the people who elected them, and make good on their promises. Otherwise, they will all go the way of the dinosaurs. (And I'm not talking about Jesus riding into the sunset on top of a triceratops.)

    March 27, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  20. mykroft

    It might help is they stop insisting that reality isn't real. The scientific evidence for a universe billions of years old is overwhelming, but many insist that everything started less than 10,000 years ago. They condemn evolution as "a lie from the pit of hell" and try to keep schools from teaching it, when it is a central tenet of biology and again, supported by overwhelming scientific evidence. I know one guy who sincerely believed that insanity was caused by demons.

    Science is going to keep advancing, and figuring out the universe. Religious leaders need to stop insisting that the stories in their holy books trump the real world, and focus on the spiritual aspects of their faith. Judge that ye be not judged, love your neighbor as yourself, etc. Sometimes it seems that these basic teachings have been lost, and the focus is on who to hate.

    March 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      Evolution is hinduism absurdity of hindus., crooks, Just a measure of progress, not the initiator nor the end. Way of hindu Pundits, crook shamans to hind, fool humanity

      March 27, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.