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Tap current cultural trends, Turner exhorts ministry leaders

RIDGECEST, N.C. (BP)–Instant messaging is widespread, a new baby boom is in progress and confidence in formal religion is slipping. Ministry leaders should consider using current cultural trends like these to reach the communities around them, Paul Turner, a LifeWay Christian Resources staffer, said.

“What do we need to do to reach out to the community around us?” Turner, a specialist with LifeWay’s church resources division, asked during a conference for discipleship and ministry team leaders at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina, July 7-14.

Using statistics from Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Barna Research Group, Turner demonstrated the need for churches to adjust and respond to current trends.

He suggested, for example, that the church make use of e-mail and the Internet. “You sure don’t want to [fill people’s inboxes with junk e-mail], but are you using it to your advantage?” Turner asked.

Instant messaging has become a way of life for “busters” or “20-somethings,” he said. Instant messaging is two or more people having a “conversation” through their computers by either typing to each other or by using a microphone. Seventy-five percent of people under age 25 use instant messaging as a primary form of communication. Attention spans are shorter. If people aren’t captured in eight seconds, they won’t listen, Turner said.

Population growth issues also affect the church. A new baby boom is in progress, with more than 4 million births a year. Baby boomers are having children later in life, and buster women are having them earlier.

“There’s a brand-new generation that’s being raised up into a lost culture,” Turner said. “We’re called to make disciples. What do we need to do to intentionally reach out to them?”

Turner emphasized the importance of learning the language of those the church is trying to reach. “We can be so arrogant in church sometimes,” he said. “We have to reach out and draw people in.”

In health trends, 60 percent of Americans are overweight, and 25 percent of Americans are obese. Turner suggested drawing people in through ministries that focus on healthy living and eating habits.

With confidence in formal religion at an all-time low, and doctrinal consistency is declining, Turner told the group of about 30 church leaders that people subscribe to a relative theology in which everyone will live eternally.

In America, 85 percent of the population consider themselves Christians. “People say they are Christians, but the evidence isn’t there. They go to church, so they think they’re a Christian,” Turner said. “Now I can climb into the oven and turn it on, but it doesn’t make me a muffin, does it?”

In 2002, 12 percent of atheists and agnostics attended an Easter service, Turner said. Of those, 57 percent attended because of relationships, and most of those returned for a second service.

“No offense to you pastors out there, but they came back not because of what you said, but because they felt you were open, transparent and sincere,” Turner said.

With Christians having the responsibility to reach out to the people around them, Turner said nine out of 10 unchurched people would come to church if they were invited, but fewer than two out of 10 have ever been asked.

“That’s huge!” Turner said. “If we would just go out and invite them, they would come.”

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  • Leslie Ann Shoemake