Friday, February 08, 2013

Learning to "Pray with the Church"

At the beginning of our spiritual formation classes at the university we always offer prayer in some form with which the students are not very familiar. A couple weeks ago I was preparing a brief service of Taizé-style prayer using Common Prayer (by ShaneClaiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro) as the primary resource as I had earlier decided to do. And then I read the reflection for the week:

"On January 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that a mother has the legal right to end her pregnancy up until the point at which the fetus can live outside of her womb. We lament the death of each child lost to abortion. We pray for each parent who has chosen to terminate a pregnancy. And we commit to become a people who welcome life in a culture of death…

"Cyprian of Carthage, a third-century North African bishop, wrote, “The world is going mad in mutual extermination, and murder, considered as a crime when committed individually, becomes a virtue when it is committed by large numbers. It is the multiplication of the frenzy that assures impunity to the assassins.”

Now I don’t think I am prone to unnecessarily shy away from this issue. I have often told people that I think abortion should be illegal except in cases or rape and incest. And I’m still theologically working through even this exception. I don’t have a problem with the reflection offered for this day, except maybe pairing Cyprian’s comments on war with a reflection on abortion without explaining the contrasts.

But our normal mode of operation as an ecumenical campus ministry is to avoid emphasizing where various strands of Christianity would differ on an issue. We fully recognize that there are theological reasons for a variety of positions on this and other issues. Individual members of our staff might speak out on one or another of these positions. But rarely would we address these topics in worship because we hope for the worship that we organize to be a place where all Christians can gather together.

But that is one of the great formative aspects of “praying with the church.” That phrase refers to the practice of praying through a set of prayers and times that are handed down from the tradition. These prayers in many cases have been used for generations or even centuries within the life of the Church. In one sense, the practice of preaching the lectionary, the three year cycle of prescribed readings for worship, is another instance of this. Praying with the church describes a prayer life that is submitted to the Church’s tradition of prayer rather than following only the whim or desire of the individual who prays.

And this tradition will often bring us to those Bible verses or prayers that we would otherwise not read or pray. It brings us to those verses about money and judgment and purity that we would prefer to forget about. And causes us to say prayers of commitment and allegiance to those callings from God as well.

Many of us would much rather read just those parts of the Bible that suit us. We would rather pray in the way that is most encouraging. We want to practice those spiritual disciplines that are most comfortable. But to pray with the church says that maybe there is a more holistic way of being a disciple of Jesus. And if only I will pray along with the great tradition of prayer that is forged over time by a great many disciples under the guidance of the Spirit, then maybe I will become a fully formed disciple yet.

While I really like the prayer book that we were using (Common Prayer), I would really encourage you to find out what prayer guidance is offered from your tradition. Do you have a prayer list that is published by your denomination regularly? Do you have a daily liturgy and lectionary such as the Book of Common Prayer? Are you willing to submit yourself to the great saints of your own church to let them lead you in prayer? Do you trust these saints that much?

If you don’t have something like this in your tradition, then I would recommend the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office Lectionary that is available in several convenient formats here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

My Unremarkable Ministry Among College Students

The American Church is pretty anxious about the failure to reach young adults with the Gospel. As I enter my fourth year as University Chaplain at the University of Indianapolis, I have just a few reflections on my rather successful, but unremarkable ministry.

Our United Methodist-related university is very supportive of our work in campus ministry, but our student body is not any more Christian than the state universities in Indiana. I like it that way. I do ministry among regular college students. And God is doing something among those students.

I hope that my reflections, which are quite personal, will be helpful to some pastors out there who are trying to serve these everyday college students well.

I try very hard to not be cool. This isn't particularly difficult for me. I was born "not cool" and I will probably retire even less cool than I am now.  And I think my students would rather not see me with bleached hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and screaming guitar. I think they want me to speak slowly, listen carefully, and resist the temptation to shout platitudes and oversimplify the complexities of life and theology.

The most valuable ministry that I have done is listening to young adults talk about their dreams. I often go the extra step to put an opportunity before them that I know will form them into deeper discipleship (summer camping ministry staff, short-term missions, a seminary catalog, etc.).  I eat a lot of meals with them--slowly. I ask them what they believe about complex theological concepts, and then I challenge them without trying to correct them.  Not very flashy. I know you are disappointed. 

I have almost completed my Ph.D in Theology from a major seminary (All But Dissertation). But I haven't won these students by brilliant teaching. I suppose I may be a slightly above average preacher. Because our campus ministry creates lots of opportunities for students to preach for the first time, I don't even preach that often anyway. I don't dazzle them with powerful lectures or even book studies on great books. Most of the bible studies that I do are really just reading a single book of the bible really slowly. We read Ephesians through a semester and Hebrews for an academic year. We are reading Romans now and will take a year for that one. We ask hard questions of the text and then together struggle with what the text might be saying and how it might be calling us to live. But I do refuse to let the simple answers offered by those on the right and the left to go unchallenged. I refuse to get anxious about those who disagree with me. I trust that if God is real then I don't need to change anyone's mind...the Holy Spirit will do what is necessary much better than I.

I don't preach something innovative. But my students seem to find the story I tell to be compelling. I simply talk about the power of the resurrection in everyday lives. I talk about the suffering of Jesus that was reversed by the power of the resurrection which promises a time in which all suffering will come to an end by the return of the King. I challenge them to join the story by fighting injustices across the globe and in our own city.  I challenge them to witness to the truth of the Gospel without the anxiety of having to convert the whole world.  The Holy Spirit will do what is necessary much better than them.

I challenge the places in their lives where I see inconsistencies (either with themselves or with the Gospel) and I give them confidence that our relationship is not dependent on accepting my challenges.

I've made mistakes. I've hurt a few students with things I've said these last few years. I always try to own the parts that are my fault and ask forgiveness. Others have simply not liked me. I've tried not to let those folks make me insecure about my work as a pastor.

I haven't done a whole lot that is impressive. But I have seen that my students love me and trust me. They invite me to be part of their illnesses, their successes, and the decisions that determine their futures. I thank God for this opportunity. They don't trust me because of my guitar skills or my hair style. But they do trust me to lead them toward the deepest kinds of discipleship. I imagine that 20 years from now they will not look back and see me as someone who changed their life.

I'm not suggesting that we minister from mediocrity. I hope that isn't what I am doing. I'm suggesting that really excellent ministry is done every day by compiling a series of otherwise unremarkable but terribly consistent acts of ministry and discipleship.

Here is the Good News:  if I can do this rather unremarkable ministry then so can you.  Nothing I have done these last three years is something that any pastor couldn't do among young adults. They are dying (spiritually, if not literally) for someone to authentically follow Jesus with transparency in close enough proximity to their lives for some of it to rub off. You can do that too. Just put the Gospel on display by serving students well

Maybe some of the young adults that have found my unremarkable ministry compelling can share some of why they have done so. Maybe they can teach us how to minister to them well. Add some comments that will help other pastors reach young adults.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Why Jesus Matters

Recently I had a friend invite me to speak on a panel discussing a pretty basic and essential question: Why does Jesus Matter?

I suppose that as an Assemblies of God minister there is an expectation as to how I would answer this question. In fact, I dare say that those who invited me to speak on the matter invited me for just this reason. They wanted to hear a clear articulation of the traditional answer to the question.

My Assemblies of God argues that “Man's only hope of redemption is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Salvation is received through repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, being justified by grace through faith, man becomes an heir of God, according to the hope of eternal life.” (

As far as it goes I have not one concern about this position, even though it has come under attack as somehow creating an image of a blood thirsty God who is simply waiting for us to mess up so that we can suffer eternal damnation. These critiques are simply misunderstandings and even a person with an undergraduate degree in theology can respond adequately: God does not desire to punish anyone but God’s holiness demands righteousness. This is not a limit on God, it is a fact of the very condition of holiness. We do not critique darkness because it is unable to accommodate the presence of light. It just is this way as an aspect of the very definition of the thing. And so the traditional argument that the importance of Jesus lies in how he is able to make it possible for unholy people to stand in the presence of God, by taking on their unrighteousness and exchanging it for his righteousness, is part of the message of the cross of Jesus. Jesus, being sinless and in fact even holy, did not suffer the death which is caused by his sin, rather he suffered the death of our sin in our place so that we may live life at its most full. Praise God.

But I simply cannot stop there. To do so would be a little like stopping at the narthex of a great cathedral because you had in fact, “gotten into” Notre Dame or St. Paul’s or the like.

My wife and I have a nerdy pastors’ tradition of making one of our vacation destinations a visit to the nearest cathedral to where we are taking vacation. Maybe the greatest that I have seen is St. Patrick’s in Manhattan but most of the great cathedrals share a common trait: the narthex is built such that when you enter it you are clear that you have not yet entered the greatest part of the cathedral. You can see rich imagery and form just beyond the narthex and you are drawn to keep walking past the narthex and enter the fullness of the cathedral.

I think stopping with the saving work of Jesus for you and me is a bit like stopping in the narthex. It is in fact part of the Gospel, but you and I are not the most important aspect of the Gospel story: God is.

If we were to rub our eyes a bit, as you do in the morning when you haven’t seen clearly in a while, we could begin to see the Gospel story’s significance is about the world which God has and is creating and re-creating. This story is significant not only because it includes the way in which each of us will enjoy God’s presence forever but more importantly because the Gospel is a continuous revelation of who God is independent from and yet imaged by God’s good creation. God made the world that he might enjoy it and that his creatures might properly enjoy him, but also because the way of the Gospel which is told in the story of God’s creation actually reflects the person and being of God. Do you want to know what God is like? Look at the story of creation and joy in the early chapters of Genesis. Look at Moses and the Exodus. Look at David and his salvation from both his enemies and his own sin. Look at Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. And ultimately, look at the redemption of all things in the final chapters of Revelation. That is what God is like. And if the story continues to play out as we are told it will, then we will all see the beauty of a God who makes in his own image.

So where does Jesus fit into this greater story? All of Christian theology deals with this question in one way or another. For brevity, I will function on only the two most significant aspects of Jesus’ ministry as window into the rest.

We cannot and should not ignore the cross of Christ in this wider and more expansive account of Jesus’ significance. Paul’s emphasis on preaching “Christ crucified” was central to his message, if for no other reason than its absurdity as a way of redeeming the world (I Cor. 1:17-31).

The cross of Christ is significant because it reveals to us our own sinfulness. Even the righteous man will not be spared the violence of sinners. When the truly righteous comes, his death will be the result of a conspiracy between political and religious leaders and even his own friends, all among those whom are expected to be the most holy in the community. Jesus crucifixion reveals to us the depth of humanity’s fallen nature. In the great sermons recorded in the book of Acts “whom you crucified” is spoken of as a word of judgment against those who conspired (Acts 2:36, 3:15, 4:10, 7:52-53). The cross by itself is not the glory of Christ, but the shame of sinful humanity.

The very heart of the Gospel lies in the second movement, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead” (Acts 3:15). Paul put it another way, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (I. Cor. 15:17).

Why is the resurrection of Jesus so important? Because his resurrection is the “firstfruit” of our coming resurrection (I Cor. 15:20). When we read the end of the story, those final chapters of Revelation tell a story of God’s city coming down out of heaven to dwell among people. God’s presence no longer will live in temples, but will be among the people. And what will be the great indicator that this has come? There will be no more mourning or death or crying of pain. All these things will give way to the power of resurrection. A power whereby “death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Jesus resurrection matters because it is the first moment of the initiation of the new world. Everything changes on Easter morning.

These different aspects of the Gospel message do not need to be set against one another. There are even a great number of other ways of construing the importance of Jesus. Orthodox Christians would say that the union of human and divine is the beginning of our union with God. Some Christians speculated that Jesus was the “ransom” for a debt owed to Satan. And some Christians have argued that Jesus made possible the path to the righteous kind of life by first living the righteous kind of life.

These are not mutually exclusive. There are some ways in which one of the other might be construed which would be exclusive. Jesus as a moral example has sometimes been proposed as an exclusive because it has been suggested that Jesus was necessarily human to the exclusion of divine. This is a problem for Christian orthodoxy. But most of these other proposals are parallel and not contradictory.

But I do think it matters which of these we try to articulate. The message that Jesus forgives us of our sins because of his sacrifice on the cross is important for persons seeking their life to be reconciled to God. This is the reason that this aspect has been told so many times.

But the proposal that I have just suggested has audiences which are drawn to it as well. Viewing Jesus this way means that you can affirm the place of the world in God’s plan of redemption. It means that you can account for the gross injustices in the world with hope that God cares and will do something about it. If the Kingdom has begun, it can also mean that we have some hope that small pockets of Christians may overcome injustice, even if only temporarily, as a sign and witness that God will finally defeat death in an overwhelming and final victory. That is Good News. And Jesus matters because his story is Good News.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Church Discipline Done Well

In the last couple days, the following blog post about on occasion of church discipline at Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church has gotten a lot of attention.

Mark Driscoll's Church Discipline Contract

I think a great deal could be said about whether the author has given Driscoll's church a fair assessment or not. One of my friends mentioned that the author sounds downright gleeful that he has finally caught Driscoll in something so obviously wrong. I'm going to give Mars Hill the benefit of the doubt here and do my best to assume that the author was not generous. I actually hope that the author has exaggerated the case for the sake of this person whom the article is about.

I definitely think that the church made a giant mistake here. The problem is that it is very difficult to explain the ways in which they did it wrong by speaking strictly of the facts. And yet I think I can still say that they got it wrong even from a distance and only having the story from the one who was offended.

I'll come back to this.

I think the problem is that church discipline is a practice. And, like so many other traditional church practices, it has so fallen into disuse that even when it is picked up again it is usually misused.

I shared this analogy with some students recently. Think about the practices of certain sports. For example, consider the precision required to hit a baseball. Something as small as 1/2 inch different placement of the bat is the difference between a pop-up foul ball and solid contact.  The difference between a ball that simply enters the field of play and one that is well hit (a home run?) is such a small fraction of an inch that I'm certain that I couldn't explain it. Very minuscule differences exists between baseball swings in which the balls land in very different places. Now a very experienced hitter or coach is able to help a hitter refine what they are doing so that they do in fact make changes of  just fractions of an inch to improve their contact.

Now imagine for a moment what would happen to a baseball player who was trying to hit without help from someone with experience. Maybe you had such an experience the first time that you picked up a baseball bat, tennis racquet, or golf club. The resulting hit was likely no where near where you wanted it to land and you had no idea even what you had done wrong. In fact, if you have truly had no exposure to a golfer who drives a ball several hundred yards down a fairway then you likely will not even know that your rolling the ball 100 feet is not a great accomplishment.

This is the problem with church discipline. The practice has so fallen out of use that we struggle to even recognize when it has been done rightly.

I've not been a part of a church when they disciplined someone well, so I can't give too much advice. But I can confidently name what the proper aims of this practice should be: reconciliation with God and the church.

Now part of the problem with naming this church's mistake is that at least in word they understand this is the goal, as evidenced by the consistent references to a person returning in repentance.

The best I can do to explain their error is this: if the pattern that you have established provides many ways that you can find your way out of the church and only one way that you can find your way back into good standing, then something has gone awry. And if the pattern that you have established has a big and wide path towards repentance and reconciliation, only continuing in sin and rebellion should be the path to find your way out.

The church further highlighted their malformed practice when they continued to try to control this person, and even more importantly others in the community, after he had left the church. I actually think that a letter telling the church (vaguely) what had happened would be appropriate, as well as explaining the rationale of the leadership.  But to suggest that members of the church would be setting themselves in opposition to their pastoral leadership if they do not respond "as if he were an unbeliever" is a mistake.

How do we treat unbelievers anyway? Do we refuse to eat meals with them unless they will listen to us talk about repentance?  Of course we don't. Neither should treating a disciplined church member as an unbeliever result in this treatment. Rather, we would refuse to let unbelievers into leadership in the community and may refuse them full membership.  But they must always be welcomed to worship with you and gather with you.

A friend encouraged me that we can't critique what they did to try to discipline without offering a positive alternative. I would suggest something like this.

The church did the right thing by creating the series of "meetings" that this person went through. Having ongoing conversations and accountability that help a person put safeguards against further moral failure is important.

Some time away from church leadership responsibility is also important. My denomination would require one year away from church leadership for a minister that made similar moral failure. This man was not an ordained minister, but this might be an appropriate discipline in this case.

You cannot discipline this man without similarly disciplining the woman involved. This is an example of the ridiculous sexism present in Driscoll's church and movement. Women too have the ability to maintain and "lead" a relationship toward holiness.

This man DID in fact repent. Assuming that the sexual sin did not continue after the initial conversations, this issue should never have gone any further. Matthew 18 only applies to those who do not listen to the admonishment. I suppose that Mars Hill could argue that "listening" would mean following their prescriptions. I would suggest that "listening" would mean responding with a heart of repentance.

I don't think discipline should require more commitment than other members require to be regarded as faithful. Being under discipline may require more accountability. But it should not require any more involvement than is required for membership of others.

Where are my long lists of Bible verses for the above suggestions?  I don't have any. Like the baseball coach I can only offer what I have and that is a little experience and knowledge. What we really need is a healthy community which disciplines under the leadership of the Holy Spirit in ways that are life-giving and directed toward repentance. That kind of community could "coach" us.

I don't think Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill is that kind of community.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Tension of Gray

I had a friend ask to write a blog entry about how I understand interfaith relationships and the future of interfaith relations.  His blog can be found at:

This is my humble response:

Thirteen years ago I walked into a banquet hall with a 12-foot suspended ceiling (the kind you see in hospitals and grade schools) and completely bare walls.  It was once a roller-skating rink, but this night it had been transformed into a worship space. I mean, I guess it was a worship space, but it looked more like a rock concert.  Huge guitar amps and a 9-foot high wall of speakers told me that this wasn’t like the non-instrumental Church of Christ that I attended as a young boy.  When the room filled with more than 500 teenagers jumping to the lyrics “I believe, I believe!” I knew something was about to change in my life.

Within about three weeks, I realized that this was a radical group of Christian disciples.  And my life was never going to be the same.  It hasn’t been the same. 

About seven years ago, I had another life-changing experience.  This time it was a small chapel with a couple dozen college students.  There were incense and statues and brightly colored robes with a priest who spoke in a slow and monotone voice. He spent the next hour or so explaining each element of the Roman Catholic Mass.  He told us about how the multiple readings of Scripture pointed to the importance of the whole Bible.  He explained about how the Eucharistic prayer recounted a summary of the whole of salvation history.  And then he handed out little wafers and a quick drink of wine and told the group gathered that Jesus was present in those humble gifts: and he meant it.

But I had long thought that Roman Catholics had hidden the truth of Jesus Christ among their stylized rituals.  Suddenly I realized that the faith I held so dear was at the center of those rituals.  After talking with a few Roman Catholic friends, it became clear to me that life was never going to be the same again.  It hasn’t been the same. 

Not only did I discover that I had been sorely wrong about the faith of my Roman Catholic friends, but I began to realize that I may very well be wrong about a great deal of other things.  But you simply can’t live that way.  You can’t walk through daily life without some idea of how the world works and what your place in it is. 

So I made a pledge.  I cannot dismiss the religion of another as foolish.  And I must not give up the faith I hold so dear as I explore life and faith and truth with those who see things quite differently than I.  Those notions were formed in the context of a Pentecostal Christian learning from Roman Catholic Christians.  But the tension between these two commitments doesn’t stop at the border of confession of Jesus.

The tension between learning from the Other and holding on to the faith which gives you life and hope can never be resolved easily.  And the generation who I serve as a University Chaplain at UIndy is ready to fully explore a world that is marked by shades of gray.  I think that the future of interfaith relationships is going to be marked by these two realizations. 

People in the emerging generation have eaten at table with Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, and Wiccan.  Some of the beliefs and commitments of these folks strike them as dead wrong.  On the other hand, I don’t know very many Christians, even those who count themselves among the radical Christian disciples, who have a prayer life which equals the prayer lives of their faithful Muslim friends.  We have some things to learn from each other, but some of our differences go down to the core of who we are and will never be reconciled. 

Dismissing the Other without questioning your own beliefs and practices is too simplistic.  The problem is, you might be dead wrong: just as I was about my Roman Catholic friends. 

But giving up the good gift that God has given me as a Pentecostal Christian denies the gift that I have to offer the world as I pray for healing and I live for Jesus.  If I give up my commitment that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” to pretend that we all worship the same God, then it seems that I have little to bring to the conversation and little hope for my life or theirs. 

There must be another option: one that is filled with ambiguity.  But the ambiguity encourages a life where faith is the “evidence of things not seen.”  It takes a mature and faithful person to raise their hands to God in worship and be fully aware that another faithfully religious person thinks you are deeply mistaken in that act of worship.  These are things that you discover when you refuse to let these difficult questions at the intersection of faiths be resolved with bumper-sticker theology.

This generation of faithful leaders will not be so easily charmed by images of a black and white world.  And I think their commitment to God will be better for it. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Incarnation of Jesus: A Devotional Reading

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

This statement is the primary reason that Roman Catholic Christians give such high regard to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The situation was obviously a terrifying one. Engaged to be married and met by an angel who gives word of her pending motherhood. Surely no one would believe the story of an angel’s message of her conception of a child. Would they?

But Mary had another concern on her mind as well. Her people, the Jews, had been under the rule of foreign government for generations. Constant fear that she and her people would no longer be given freedom to worship God drove her and her people to a breaking point. Unending rebellions against the foreign rulers threatened the lives of Mary and those she loved. When would the foreign armies grow weary of petty rebellions and put an end to them once and for all? But surely they could not endure the persecution of the foreigners any longer?

Mary responds with a willingness to receive the Lord, literally. And her reception of the Lord shows us a way forward. Her hope was being fulfilled because of her willingness to receive. She sings,

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham
and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
(Luke 1:52-55)

Our lives are filled with a constant struggle between simply enduring the hardships of life and taking matters into our own hands. If we do the former, we are prone to grow ambivalent or angry. If we do the latter, we are likely to become as unjust as the forces which come against us.

Mary accepts Christ into herself and avoids the conflict altogether by allowing God the prerogative to resolve the conflict according to God’s just ways. Do we really trust that the way of Jesus is the best way? For Mary it included watching the son she had raised die a horrific death on a cross. But it also meant she got to experience Jesus’ resurrection and the beginnings of a worldwide movement of peace and power.

If we are willing to receive Jesus and his ways, then there is a path to freedom from the torment of two bad choices. We need not choose between living righteously or enduring persecution for the battle is already won. In the words of St. Paul, “Grace and Peace to you."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Religious Conversion and Emerging Adults

This is a little bit different post than I usually do on my blog, but these are things worth thinking about.  I hope you think so too.

Christianity Today recently selected Christian Smith's book, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, as a book of the year. Smith has done a follow project on the study previously released as Soul Searching.  The first book was a survey of American teens, this book is a follow-up study on those same teens as they enter early young adulthood (18-23).

The part I want to talk about here has to do with how denominations are doing among this age group.  Other sections of the book would reveal that emerging adults in every denomination are less likely to attend worship weekly, pray on their own, or read the bible on their own.  But the kind of Christianity which they find attractive is also significant. The four categories of Christians discussed in Smith's book in the section on religious conversion are Conservative Protestant, Mainline Protestant, Black Protestant, and Roman Catholic.

Here are some summaries.

Of those who were Mainline Protestants at age 13-17, by age 18-23 they will be
51% Mainline Protestant
19% Conservative Protestant
1% Black Protestant
1% Roman Catholic
26% Non-religious or indeterminate

Conservative Protestant teens will be
64% CP
10% MP
2% BP
3% RC
20% Non or Ind

Black Protestant teens will be
55% BP
21% CP
2% MP
3% RC
19% Non or Ind

Roman Catholic teens will be
66% RC
6% CP
3% MP
<1% BP
23% Non or Ind

These are all rounding to the nearest percent, so the numbers may not add up to 100%.  I also didn't include the other religions because combined they equal less than 1%.  (Except for, interestingly, Mainline Protestants who were 2% likely to be a non-Christian but religious person.) He also includes some denomination specific numbers, but frankly these numbers are insignificant because the representative sample from any given denomination is small.  Some relatively large samples that changed are (Methodists decreased by about 23%, Baptist lost 19%, independent/nondenominational increased by 44%).

(All of these numbers come from my calculations based on the weighted numbers from his chart on 109.)

The first observation is that all of these groups have a net loss, which isn't reflected in these percentages but is in Smith's chart.

The rest of it is not very surprising.  Only about 1/2 of Mainliners will stay there.  Roughly the same amount will become a more "conservative" Christian as will leave religion altogether.  My conservative friends have long said that the lack of teaching and commitment among Mainline Protestants will leave young people spiritually bankrupt.  But they may be surprised to find that these young Mainliners are just as likely to find their way into a different kind of Christianity than to find their way out of it.  The inculturation of being a Christian worshiper, in any form, helps prepare them for the evangelical message of more conservative Christians. This may not be of any comfort to Mainline churches who are struggling to survive however.  The fact that they are being faithfully Christian somewhere else doesn't help keep the lights on.

Conservative Protestants have a higher retention, but they are far more likely to move to non-religious than to another kind of Christianity.  This is likely due to the premature "crisis" of faith which evangelical Christianity often creates when they pressure young people to make a commitment of faith.  It introduces an either-or proposition that will sometimes lead to a negative.  Imagine the teenager who experiences a weekly altar call for 18 years, but is not yet sure of their faith.  It becomes pretty easy to simply run when they are no longer required to attend church by their parents. 

Roman Catholics have similar retention to the Conservative Protestants, but their young people are far more likely to be non-religious young adults, almost to the same extent as Mainline Protestants.  While they too have a more clear either-or distinction which creates a certain amount of loyalty, Christian education among Catholics and Mainliners is not emphasized nearly as much as among conservatives.  The religious education seems to make a difference in retention.

Frankly, I don't know enough about Black Protestantism to make significant contribution, except to say that sociological barriers  mean that the small number of converts to Roman Catholicism or Mainline Protestantism is not surprising to me. 

Looking at these numbers from another perspective can also be illuminating.

of the Mainline Protestants at age 18-23, when they were age 13-17 they were from
53% Mainline Protestant
29% Conservative Protestant
2% Black Protestant
9% Roman Catholic
1% Non-religious or indeterminate

Conservative Protestant emerging adults were
71% CP
8% MP
8% BP
6% RC
7% Non or Ind

Black Protestant emerging adults were
79% BP
10% CP
2% MP
2% RC
6% Non or Ind

Roman Catholic emerging adults were
90% RC
4% CP
1% MP
1% BP
4% Non or Ind

The most surprising thing here was that almost no one converts to Roman Catholicism during this age group.  Experience tells me that the 4% of Conservative Protestants who convert to Roman Catholicism do so on very heady and theological grounds.  Roman Catholicism long history of theological discourse is appealing to some evangelicals who have experienced relatively shallow theological discourse.

Almost no non-religious persons find their way into Mainline Protestantism.  Some Conservative Protestants will land there after being disillusioned with their own tradition (which is my reading of the significant number that come to Mainline Protestantism from Conservative Protestantism).  But nearly no young people  who are non-religious find enough appealing in Mainline Protestantism to be converted.  This is not a good sign for MP leadership.  If MP leaders are going to take "church growth" seriously among these young people, it seems that "catching" falling Conservative Protestants is a legitimate call. I know that many become disillusioned with their bible churches or charismatic churches and they need somewhere to go if they are not to give up the faith altogether.  I think Mainline Protestants just need to embrace that calling at this time in their history and make what they can of it.  The plus side for them is that many of these people have been patterned into high levels of commitment and involvement, both of which are needed among young adults in Mainline churches right now.  

Of course, the non-religious people didn't convert to ANY of these traditions in significant numbers.  The higher numbers among more evangelical churches (BP and CP) is not a surprise. But even they saw relatively small numbers (6% and 7%, respectively). At the same time, the nonreligious and indeterminate categories together more than doubled (324 as teens to 690 as emerging adults).

Its hard to say much about Conservative Protestants in this regard, except to say that they are equally likely to see their potential converts come from Mainline Protestantism or Catholicism as they are non-religious.

OK....this data seemed more interesting when I started it.  Now that I have done some analyzing, it seems that the only significant thing that I learned is that Mainline Protestantism has a significant ministry among the 36% of Conservative Protestants that leave that category.  This may be the most important growth opportunity among young Mainliners as well.  They actually need these CP folks who come into MP churches.  How will Mainline churches reach out to them?  How will they cast their nets in that direction.  The other thing that I learned: Roman Catholicism either needs to take their "new evangelization" more seriously or change their tactics.  Again, I don't know enough about RC to say for sure.  My hunch is that Roman Catholics are doing very little to evangelize non-Catholics.  Its time.

What other observations do you have that I have left out?  Do you think any of my analysis is off base?