Mar 6, 2009

Essential Church Retreat

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Essential Church Retreat at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. This event was sponsored by Lifeway and featured its president Thom Rainer and his son Sam who co-wrote the book Essential Church: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts. I am a big supporter of Dr. Rainer's books, and my ministry has been profoundly helped by his insights during his time both at Southern Seminary and now as president of Lifeway. My denomination is blessed to have Dr. Rainer leading the helm at Lifeway.

I picked this book up originally because every time I go to the bookstore and see a Thom Rainer book on the New Releases shelf, I automatically look inside. The staff at my church read Simple Church a few years ago and radically restructured a lot of our ministry around the four discipleship envriornments we indentified as part of reading that book. Essential Church is in many ways a follow-up to Simple Church. The research was done to show how to recapture and prevent the large number of church dropouts that occur between the ages of 18-23. Being a previous youth pastor, I have seen first-hand how many students walked away from the local church during this time, no matter how strong the youth program or their seemingly strong personal walk with God during the High School years. I was also intrigued reading the book because the research is part of the basis for my Doctor of Ministry Project that I am working on at New Orleans Seminary.

During the retreat and in the book, the Rainers show that "of those who dropout of the church, 70% will do so between the ages of 18-22." There are many reasons given in the feedback by the survey respondents, but the primary reason for their dropout is that they no longer saw the church as an essential part of their lives. They made a consumer decision of their time and energy and the church lost out. The Rainers also show that these young adults did not necessarily walk away from God or change their views of God, just His bride. While these trouble me, they don't surprise me. The authors also did a fantastic job in the retreat and the book showing that there are four elements that are necessary to create the type of Essential Church that will bring this generation back. They also showed that while the research was limited to a young adult population, the principles of the Essential Church transcend all age groups and will probably be necessary to reach the de-churched no matter what the generational identification is.

Another very interesting insight from the Rainers is that of the "Third Place" mentality. At one time, it was common in the culture that outside of the home and work, the church was the center of cultural life. That is no more. However, many places have started to capture this "Third Place" mentality. Starbucks is a prime example of this. The authors encourage the readers to begin to investigate ways to bring this Third Place mentality back to the local church. I think this is an effort that deserves some more research.

Overall, a great time the whole weekend. The insights from the retreat were great. Alison and I got to spend some much needed time alone together. It was significantly impacted by the fact that Ridgecrest doesn't have televisions in the rooms. Wow! That was an adjustment. We took a rainy tour through the Biltmore Estate on Saturday and then had a fun ride home in the sleet and snow that hit the Southeast on Sunday.