teaches new strategies for post-Christendom churches.
By Michael Wacht
LEESBURG In A.D. 321 Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of
his empire, ridding the Christian church of its competition, according to the Rev. Roger
Swanson, conference director of Operation Evangelization.
But, he says, all that has changed. In the last 50 years secular culture has become the
churchs competition, with more people in the United States becoming unchurched than
"Were now in a missionary setting
a neo-apostolic age," Swanson
said. "Many people have to learn how to do church in a brand new setting.
Theres no big library we can go to to learn how to be the church in this new
Swanson has brought together resources, however, developed from his experience as a
pastor in New Jersey and staff person with the denominations General Board of
Discipleship to create "New Wine for the New Wineskins." The one-day seminar has
been presented in seven of the conferences 14 districts with the remainder to be
completed by the end of May.
The training is intended for teams of church members and pastors since part of the day
is spent in round-table discussions about local church applications of the material
Swanson says the major characteristic of this era of church history in the United
States is that most Americans are not involved in religious organizations. According to
the Percept Group of California, which provides demographic information to religious
organizations, 70 percent of Floridas population is either marginally involved in a
faith organization or not at all.
Despite that lack of participation, Swanson said the current era is a "very
"A majority of Americans are not practicing Christians, but they still have a
and longing," he said.
He said people looking for spiritual meaning are not studying Christianity, but
Christians themselves. "People know Christians. They dont know Christianity.
They learn from what they see from congregations," he said.
Reaching unchurched people, Swanson says, is a matter of changing the system each
church has for making disciples.
The first step is challenging the assumptions church members have about their church.
One of the most important is that "ministry is what clergy do to the laity."
"All who are baptized are ministers," he said. "Its a heresy to say
that ministry is to the members."
He said churches need to shift their thinking from meeting institutional needs by
creating programs that generate activity to meeting spiritual needs by helping people get
in touch with God and planning for results.
Churches also need to develop a "vision to serve," Swanson said. "If
your church closed tomorrow, one week from tomorrow, what would your community miss?"
Swanson says many churches assume they know the needs of people in their community when
they should be asking them. "Churches grow when they meet human needs," he said.
Swanson may be contacted at 1-800-282-8011, extension 109, or RSwanson@flumc.org.