But things have changed—dramatically. Today our survey results show that charismatics are part of the mainstream Christian culture. Relatively few Americans perceive charismatics to be on the lunatic fringe of beliefs or behavior.
Based on several national studies of charismatics conducted by The Barna Group, we have discovered that roughly one-third of the U.S. adult population claims to be a charismatic or Pentecostal Christian. That means up to 80 million adults in the U.S. characterize themselves as charismatic or Pentecostal. That's more than double the population of California and larger than the entire populations of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Korea, Spain or Thailand.
The actual figure depends on how the group is defined. Because there is no standard understanding embraced by leaders within the charismatic community, we have examined charismatics using three different definitions. In our surveys with more than 1,000 adults randomly selected from across the country, we saw that figure range from 30 percent to 37 percent, depending upon the definition used.
When we recently released information about the magnitude of the charismatic population, the national media reaction was one of disbelief. "Where are all these people?" was a common question from journalists. The simple answer is that charismatics no longer stand out like the odd child in an otherwise normal family. They are now integrated into virtually every dimension of the Christian body in America, attending churches that are known to be charismatic in orientation as well as churches that are not known in that way.
Research shows that at least one in five adults in a wide range of denominations—Baptist, mainline, evangelical and nondenominational churches—claims to be charismatic. A substantial number of Catholic believers—perhaps as many as one-quarter of that group—also consider themselves to be charismatic Christians.
What Charismatics Believe
The survey data shine a flattering spotlight on charismatic believers. For instance, charismatics are more likely than noncharismatics to take the Bible at face value, largely because they are more likely to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches.
As evidence of that trust, charismatics are significantly more likely to accept the biblical accounts of a six-day creation, the virgin birth, the serpent tempting Eve, Jesus feeding the 5,000, Noah and the flood, and Jesus turning water into wine as accurate depictions of what actually happened.
Even perceptions of God differ between the two groups. Almost nine in 10 charismatics contend that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe who still rules that universe today. Yet, barely seven in 10 noncharismatics view God in that way.
The role of faith is more significant to charismatics than it is to other Christians. Ninety percent of charismatics say they believe their purpose in life is to love God with all their heart, mind, strength and soul, compared with 66 percent of noncharismatics. This corresponds to the finding that nine in 10 charismatics say their religious faith is very important in their lives, compared with 74 percent of noncharismatics. Charismatics are also more likely to have embraced Christ as their Savior. Overall, six in 10 charismatics have done so, compared to four in 10 noncharismatics.
Traditional spiritual activities are more likely to be part of the lives of charismatics. In a typical week, 55 percent of charismatics read the Bible; just 36 percent of noncharismatics do so. About 60 percent of charismatics attend church services in a typical week, compared with about half of noncharismatics.
We also measure something we have labeled "active Christianity," which entails a person having read the Bible, attended a church service and prayed to God during the course of the week preceding our contact with them. We found that charismatics are more likely than noncharismatics to fit that category by a 42 percent to 25 percent margin.
The differences in religious behavior described above are undoubtedly related to the fact that 66 percent of charismatics say they are "absolutely committed to the Christian faith." In contrast, 51 percent of noncharismatic Christians make the same claim. In addition, our research revealed that 75 percent of charismatic Christians stated that their lives had been "greatly transformed" by their faith in Christ. Only half the noncharismatic believers made the same claim.
An outgrowth of this is seen in attitudes about evangelism. Slightly more than half of charismatics strongly believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with other people who believe differently. Less than one in three noncharismatics possesses a similar commitment.
To their credit, charismatic Christians are about 50 percent more likely than others to provide moral or spiritual advice to people under the age of 18 during a typical week.
We also interviewed more than 1,200 senior pastors of Protestant churches and learned about charismatic churches. Contrary to popular opinion, we found that many past patterns have changed. For instance:
•Pentecostalism has now crossed denominational boundaries. Denominations that shied away from the charismatic side of Christianity are now more accepting of it. Amazingly, 7 percent of Southern Baptist churches and 6 percent of all mainline Protestant churches are today described by their pastors as "charismatic or Pentecostal."
•Though charismatic churches are often thought to be small and culturally backwards, our study found that charismatic churches are roughly the same size as other churches and are actually more likely than their noncharismatic counterparts to use various forms of technology in their ministries. That included the use of large-screen projection systems, movie clips in worship services or congregational events, blogs and Web-based social networking by the church.
Reasons for Change
What has caused this dramatic growth and perceptual turnaround? Several factors have undoubtedly contributed to the shift. First, charismatic churches have maintained a focus on teaching the Bible. That has fostered normative Christian beliefs and resulted in a higher proportion of charismatics knowing and accepting scriptural content.
The emphasis on understanding the Word of God is also related to the fact that fewer charismatic pastors have attended seminary. Previous studies prove that seminary-trained pastors are less likely to believe the Bible is literally true and are less likely to rely on Scripture as their ultimate teaching authority.
Second, by the very nature of embracing the charismatic gifts, Pentecostal churches are more open to passionate expressions of faith and practice. That resonates with the emergence of the "postmodern generation," which appreciates genuine emotion and the permission to experience the world (including all aspects of their faith) in intimate or unconventional ways.
Third, the media environment has changed significantly in recent years. The consequence has been the media becoming more accepting of charismatic ministries while some of the more flamboyant Pentecostal televangelists have become less prominent. Most journalists do not understand the theological underpinnings of the Pentecostal movement, nor do they typically invest sufficient time to gain such insights. Perhaps owing to the cultural determination to be tolerant or embrace diverse lifestyle expressions, the media have generally chosen to allow the charismatic orientation to exist without as much judgment and scrutiny as was common in the past.
Finally, note that demographics have played a role in this acceptance too. The profile of the charismatic community is one of younger adults, including a higher proportion of those who are single, and substantially higher numbers of nonwhite adults.
If the trend lines continue on their current trajectory, the 2000s may wind up being known as the "Charismatic Century" for American Christianity.
For Ed Young, however, the shadow cast by his father wasn't just big, it was megachurch big, from a dad with a worldwide broadcast ministry, the largest singles ministry in the United States and a church (Houston's Second Baptist) that now numbers more than 45,000. Add to that a pair of brothers in high-profile ministry positions—Ben is associate pastor at Second Baptist; Cliff is the lead singer for well-known Christian band Caedmon's Call. High standards? Imminent comparisons? Most definitely.
Yet more than 17 years after the younger Young broke away from the elder, Dr. Ed Young, to start Fellowship Church, one thing remains obvious: Doing things big—Texas-size big—runs in the family.
Fellowship Church (FC), located in four Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex campuses and one in Miami, now has more than 20,000 people enter its doors every weekend. Young (hereinafter referring to the younger) can be seen daily on television throughout the world, has written 11 books and is one of the premier creative pastors in the body of Christ.
And his style couldn't be more different than his father's.
"The great thing about going to Dallas," Young says of his move from Houston in 1989, "was that I was able to cut the cord, so to speak. Of course people knew who my father was up here. But the biggest thing for me to go through as I became my own man was developing my own style. I had to learn how to be myself."
I Am Me
Becoming comfortable in his own skin wasn't automatic for Young. During his first few years of pastoring he naturally took after his father's preaching techniques and style. Mission church Las Colinas Baptist hired Young to serve as senior pastor, but shortly after he came on board the church not only went through multiple name changes, it also shifted to a seeker-sensitive style modeled after Willow Creek Community Church. That didn't go over too well with the initial 150 people attending.
"Basically, after about four or five months I wanted to quit," Young admits. "Irving, at the time, was probably the worst place you'd want to start a church. There were churches everywhere, on every corner. There was no bloodshed on the church floor or anything like that, but after the first year about 85 to 90 percent of the original people who started FC left. There was a lot of negativity and criticism. Those were very difficult times that made me question: Did God really say Irving? Maybe He said Irvine—as in California."
The turning point for both Young and FC occurred on July 4th weekend of 1990, when he first preached about the church's vision and that of his own life. Having drawn a line in the sand, the then-29-year-old pastor looked up to find seven families still standing with him. Today each of those families is still represented on FC's staff. And what Young outlined back then remains essentially the same.
"Our vision hasn't really changed," says FC executive pastor Preston Mitchell, one of those original members who stayed. "It's pretty much the same thing on a bigger basis. ... Logistics are a little different now that you've got so many more people on campus. [But] when we had 100 people, we had parking lot guys, and we had ushers and greeters. We just have more of them now."
Freedom to Fail
Along with more parking attendants, bigger buildings and a larger staff come more stories of success—and failure. Young is quick to allude to the numerous mistakes he's made along the way while attempting to keep his ministry relevant, engaging and innovative. In what has become almost legendary at FC, the pastor once attempted "simultaneous services" after the church expanded to an arts center across the parking lot. For several weeks, he preached at one site while the worship team led at the other—and the two groups would switch at some point during the service. The idea, by Young's own account, was "a miserable failure."
The majority of other mishaps revolve around Young's onstage creativity. To show how worship isn't compartmentalized, he's cut through cubbyholes with a chainsaw—as boards flew everywhere. While illustrating how we often jump from emotion to emotion, he narrowly missed a fall as he leapt from the platform to a rope swinging across the congregation. Yet such laughable experiences go hand-in-hand with Young's unorthodox but ultimately memorable teaching style.
"We've tried from the get-go to create a culture that makes mistakes but isn't afraid of trying things," he says. "The higher the unpredictability, the more you communicate. ... If you look at the life of Jesus, He used different methodologies to communicate the same theology. His message was the same, but His methods were constantly different. We in the church should spend time thinking about how Christ communicated, how we can take technology and things of our day and use them as illustrations and word pictures so people can get it. That's all we're doing—it's nothing new. It's as old as the New Testament."
Young stresses, however, that FC's goal is not to "put on a bigger and better show each and every weekend. Sometimes the most creative element can be the most simplistic, the most basic; it can be a very dialed-down service. Other times it can have a lot of different elements that can even borderline on sensory overload. We just try to change it. Christianity is all about change. Whenever you have change, you've got conflict, and with conflict, you've got growth. It's the spin-cycle of growth."
Growth Beyond the Numbers
The 46-year-old pastor certainly knows a thing or two about growing through creativity, which is why he began a series of conferences and a Web site dedicated to helping other pastors and church leaders find similar success (see "Tapping Your Inner Genius"). That doesn't necessarily mean a larger church or ministry, however. "Some of the greatest churches I've seen in my travels are the smaller churches," Young points out. "Usually the giant ones are the ones we hear of, yet some of the lesser-known churches are probably some of the most effective."
For all his ingenious methods of communicating, Young's message to pastors—whatever the size of their congregations—is essentially the same: "Every church should be growing because living things grow." To keep a church healthy, active, creative and maturing, he offers these seven keys:
1. Say it and spray it—often. Leaders love to pull out the old "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Prov. 29:18, KJV) card. And yet churches typically perish just as rapidly when a vision exists but is never declared by those who lead. Asserting what your church is about and why it does what it does from the pulpit is a must to discover who is truly on board.
"I've discovered that people forget why they do what they do after about three weeks," Young says half-jokingly. "When it comes to changed lives and evangelism, it's all about the vision. We want to say it, spray it, wheel it, deal it [and] make them feel it for the purpose of the church. And the purpose, of course, is to glorify God and to share Christ."
2. Go gospel. There's a reason why fellow megachurch pastor Rick Warren describes Young as one of the country's "premier evangelistic preachers" and "a pro at capturing the mind-set of the guy who hates church." Under Young's leadership, FC saw more than 2,300 new believers baptized last year alone. Sixty-two percent of those were age 18 or older, while 70 percent had no church background. In addition, more than 95 percent of those who enter FC's doors do so at the invitation of a friend, proving that at least two-thirds of FC's mantra of "reaching up, reaching out and reaching in" rings true with the congregation.
At the core of every activity within church, Young believes, must be the simple message of the gospel. "It's always about the gospel, no matter if it's about marriage and family, whether you're going through the Book of Romans, whether you're doing a character study or talking about being comfortably uncomfortable as a Christian. It's all about Jesus, and we have to point people to the cross because if we're not, we're just talking about good things and nice things. There has to be that focal point."
>3. Pastor your future church. Young often tells leaders to pastor their churches as if they were three or four times their present size. This isn't just for pastors' own sake, but to prepare the entire congregation for future growth. FC staff members can attest to the wisdom behind this directive as they've seen their church increase a hundredfold.
"Ed knows 'church' better than anyone I have ever met," says Troy Page, FC's communications pastor. "I think his experiences with his dad prepared him for the quick growth we have experienced. I remember him telling us, 'Get ready [because] this and that will happen in the future as we grow.' Sure enough, it did!"
4. Use what you've got. For a congregation as large as FC, the church's staff remains surprisingly—and intentionally—lean (the Grapevine "headquarters" has 206 full-time and 66 part-time workers). The reason is twofold: Young is cautious when appointing the title of ministry leader to those who will shepherd; and he believes the church body should be comprised of active contributors rather than "La-Z-Boy Christians." Because of this, FC is renowned for its "all-inclusive" approach to ministry—more than 6,000 individuals help out at least once a month.
5. Do only what only you can do. Every pastor knows the feeling of being overwhelmed with responsibilities, expectations and a "to do" list longer than Leviticus. We're good at taking on burdens, whether we have the ability or gifting to resolve them or not. Yet as multitasking as Young is (even by a pastor's standards), he learned early on that the effectiveness of his ministry would be determined by his discipline in limiting his scope. Find those things that you're good at, he believes, and assign the rest to those who are more qualified.
"As far as my schedule as a leader, I still put about 70 to 75 percent of my time in weekend message preparation," Young says. "I did that 17 years ago, and I do that today."
Easy for a megachurch pastor to say, right? What about bivocational pastors or those who are just starting churches and have no staff? Having experienced this, Young emphasizes that any pastor in any situation can use delegation. "Use the laity and treat them like staff," he advises. "Even though you can't pay them, delegate to them. God has, I believe, a leadership core around everybody, but we have to have discernment to see who's around us to utilize their giftedness. ... Too many pastors are trying to do too much stuff. What happens is that you get stuck in the superfluous and miss the significant."
6. Be your own best critic. FC plans every service, ministry and activity using creative teams. Even Young's messages are group efforts. The same approach is used in critiquing everything from segues to sermon illustrations. "I can only have so many original thoughts or cool ideas," Young says. "But, someone else can double my thinking; another person added can triple it. Starting this creative team approach has been the greatest thing that I've done in ministry next to starting Fellowship Church."
7. Grow with subtraction. "A church develops and grows as much by subtraction as by addition," Young says. "When you make the key decision to delegate rather than take on everything, you're going to see subtraction. Every time you take a hill, you will have casualties. Every time you go to the next level, there's going to be a new devil, and people are going to go by the wayside. So don't tell me who's coming to your church, tell me who's leaving your church. Because whenever you talk about vision, people will bolt—and that's OK, because when they bolt, more will be added."
Obviously, that has been the case at FC, which continues to face the challenges of growth. Last year the church added a Miami campus, and additional ones are in the planning. Regardless of FC's size, Young is determined to stay true to the core vision that he believes God gave him almost 17 years ago, even if that means breaking from tradition just as he did then. "Back then I knew God was going to do something awesome," Young says, "but I had no idea that it was going to be what it is today."
Has Ed Gone Charismatic?
His father may be a traditional Southern Baptist pastor who twice served as president of the Convention, but Ed Young has continually and intentionally kept one foot in the Baptist world and the other amid the smorgasbord of interdenominationalism. He's a frequent speaker at of denominational conferences, and his buddy list spans the faith spectrum with names such as Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll and Erwin McManus. Still, it's his association in recent years with the likes of T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Tommy Barnett and Creflo Dollar that's raised eyebrows and drawn harsh criticism from fundamentalists.
Young, in typical manner, deflects the negativity with his clear-cut passion to grow in both ministry and education. "I have a lot of great friends in the charismatic-Pentecostal world," Young says. "I've learned so much from them and their churches and gained so much from their friendship. Our church has been heavily influenced by charismatic and Pentecostal churches. I love their openness, the expectancy of those styles—that God is going to do something great, something big. I like the encouragement, the positivity, obviously the worship and the music, and the entrepreneurial vibe in many of those churches. I like the structure; many of those churches have a great view of some of the authority issues that our culture is trying to process.
"I can learn from everybody whether their church has five people or 50,000. Leaders need to ask the right people the right questions to get the right answers. But the tough thing is finding the right people to ask the right questions—and to do that, you got to ask the wrong people the right questions and discover who the right people are."
Most North American Christians are aware of the global church, but we still view Christianity through Western-tinted glasses and assume we are the dominant players in the kingdom of God. We don't realize how proportionately small we actually are, even among our own denominations.
Did you know that 88 percent of the members of the Assemblies of God live outside of North America? Of course, the Western church has always had a greater influence than the numbers of its congregations. But the world is changing, and the church is changing along with it. Globalization is making the world smaller and more connected.
Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat famously documented these changes a few years ago, and Christian writers like Philip Jenkins and Andrew Walls have chronicled similar patterns in the worldwide church.
Through these readings and personal observations around the world, I am coming to a conclusion. If the world is flat, so is the church. The same factors that are impacting the world are also impacting the worldwide Christian community.
Since its release in April 2005, Friedman's book has brought the challenges of globalization to the popular stage and continues to prompt discussion, and sometimes disagreement, over the significant impact of globalization that has occurred in our world since 1989.
Though others had often recognized various aspects of globalization, Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, compiled in a readable style a variety of factors and conclusions that helped focus attention on our rapidly changing world.
The first part of the book describes the "ten forces that flattened the world," beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Friedman's list of flatteners is insightful and relevant to what is happening in the church world. Without attempting to duplicate his entire list—some of the points are more relevant than others—I am going to use it as a loose guide to show the various factors of globalization that are contributing to the changing landscape of the global church.It's a Flat World After All
Flattener No. 1: The fall of communism. In a belated answer to Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev began to "tear down this wall" in 1989. The church of the Soviet states, thought to be dead under the iron weight of atheistic communism, was actually very much alive, and, like Lazarus, waiting to come forth. And come forth it did.
In Kiev, Ukraine, Valeriy Reshetinsky founded the Christian Hope Church in 1990 and has planted 150 churches in the country. In 1993, Sunday Adelaja, a Nigerian, founded The Embassy of God in the same city. His church has planted other ministries in 22 countries.
Flattener No. 2: Worldwide immigration. A report by the International Organization for Migration in 2000 revealed there were 175 million international migrants. That means one out of every 35 persons in the world is an immigrant. The report projected the number will rise to 192 million by 2005.
In terms of international money flow, only oil exceeded the money remitted from immigrants back to their origin countries. For example, in 2003, Indians from around the world sent back $15 billion to India, more than the total revenue of the Indian software industry.
The church is not ignoring these patterns. London has numerous immigrant congregations providing fresh spiritual vitality for the historic city. A Pentecostal Holiness church in Hong Kong has planted a Chinese congregation in Kenya to serve the growing Chinese population in East Africa.
In the 40 years since U.S. immigration quotas were eased in 1965, the world has come to the United States. By November 2006 there were more than 560,000 foreign students on 900 U.S. campuses. Those students will be the next leaders of government, business and education in their countries of origin.
Flattener No. 3: The South has risen. The 20th century began with Christianity's moral, theological and missional impetus flowing from the West (Europe and North America). Though weakened by theological liberalism and the dominance of secularism in many institutions, the 1900s ended with Christianity still growing in the West. Europe (including Russia) and North America had more than 700 million Christians in 2000, compared to 427 million in 1900.
Yet there is no question that the influence of the West has waned in global Christianity. In fact, the terminology has changed in missiology from comparing "First and Third World Christianity" to "North and South Christianity." Latin America, sub-Sahara Africa and much of Asia—all part of the Southern Hemisphere—constitute the rising force in 21st-century Christianity with more than 800 million members. Global South Christianity currently sends out 53 percent of the missionaries in the world.
In 2006, Philip Jenkins contrasted the North and South churches in terms of how they read the Bible. In general, the North leans toward a liberal interpretation of Scripture, while the South reflects a conservative view.
This contrast was apparent when African and Asian Anglican Bishops rejected the liberal North American accommodation of ordaining homosexual priests. The Nigerian Anglican Church called the U.S. Episcopal Church a "cancerous lump" that should be "excised." Numerous Episcopal congregations have severed their relationship with the American church and submitted to the authority of Anglican bishops from Nigeria and Rwanda.
The fact that a Nigerian bishop is welcomed to exercise spiritual authority over predominantly white congregations in North America is indicative of the shifts that are occurring through the flattening of the church.
Flattener No. 4: The rise of the Internet. Today we take the Internet for granted and are frustrated if we can't log on anywhere in the world. Our cell phones send and receive e-mails, and we talk while searching the Web on the same device.
In underdeveloped countries, dilapidated shacks advertise "international calls and Internet available here." In Muslim countries, young people fill Internet cafes seeking the latest news, fads, information and contacts. Asia now has 399 million Internet users compared to North America's 233 million.
It's difficult to underestimate the impact the Internet is having on the church. Pastors from El Salvador to India can have access to the same materials and connections. They can communicate to exponentially more people and raise funds in new and creative ways.
I visited a Pentecostal national bishop in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in January 2006. While riding in his Ford Explorer, I was amazed as he coordinated his numerous churches in Kinshasa using three cell phones that rang almost nonstop. All this while we rode through a city and country devastated by civil war.
The flip side of this, of course, is that the Internet is a ripe field for the enemy as well. In March 2007, an article in The Washington Post observed that "the boom in online religion comes at a time when people, especially the young, are questioning traditional institutions... Many are interested in religion, but they want the freedom to fashion a personalized style of worship."
Flattener No. 5: The influence of television. In September 2004, I was in the home of a black African pastor near Rustenburg, South Africa, when I heard his children laughing in another room. I found them watching satellite television and giggling at the antics of World Wrestling Entertainment.
As television's global audiences increase, so does its impact on the cultures of the world. Viacom's huge media family, under the general name MTV, is one of several media giants that span the globe. The MTV music channel is found in 495 million households in 27 languages and in 179 territories/countries, including so-called "closed countries."
Conservatives from non-Christian religions are just as concerned as Christians about the impact of American networks such as MTV on values in the West. They also see the pervasive secularism and moral relativism of television as a serious threat to their young. Ironically, it's possible that the influence of these programs on the young around the world may actually undermine the foundations of non-Christian religions and ultimately make it possible for doors to open for the gospel. For Christian television, the technology revolution has made it possible to reach many homes around the world. Satellite and Web-based Christian television today make the gospel accessible in closed countries, including the 10/40 Window, with Web sites such as Persian Christian TV and Arabic Christian TV.
This doesn't affect everyone, because there are significant parts of the globe that are without the benefits of modern technology. But one thing is certain: the same technologies and resources that fuel the Arabic-language TV channel al-Jazeera are also tools the Holy Spirit is using to reach millions in closed countries.
Flattener No. 6: The window to the 10/40 Window. The phrase "10/40 Window" describes the nations of the Earth nestled between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north of the equator. It is home to roughly two-thirds of the world's population and most of the Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu populations.
The vast majority of un-evangelized people live in the 10/40 Window, because many of its countries have been closed to Western missionaries. But these countries are often open to non-Western missionaries, giving the South Church a unique opportunity for evangelism.
Another opportunity afforded by globalization is to recognize the millions of immigrants from 10/40 countries who live in open countries. Seen in this light, immigration is not primarily a political issue for Christians, but rather a "kingdom of God" window of opportunity.
Linwood Berry, a missionary leader in Spain, refers to this window as "the transition belt" along the middle of the North/South divide. "Transition states are especially critical to the globalized world," he writes. "There are three major reasons for this: this is where the oil is, this is the gateway where immigration occurs and this is where the major religious sites are found."
Flattener No. 7: Global problem awareness. There are certain global issues that determine whether the world even recognizes us, much less takes us seriously. AIDS, poverty and ecology are the headliners.
Far too often American Christians have defined these issues by political affiliation rather than biblical imperative. Rodney Stark's book The Rise of Christianity has shown that the way Christians responded to health crises in the Roman Empire was one of the reasons the church ultimately prevailed.
The church's failure to take the lead in these global problems has been inexcusable. Will the close of the 21st century find us with the same lame excuses?
A Triple Convergence
Friedman closes the list in his book with what he calls the "Triple Convergence:" "New players, on a new playing field, developing new processes and habits for horizontal collaboration." This is a great description of what is happening in worldwide Christianity. The new players have African, Asian, and Latin American names and accents.
The new playing field may still be financially funded by the North (I suspect that will change in this century), but the field now includes the North as the new players are coming to save us.
Sunday Adelaja's church in Kiev attracts mostly Ukrainians, not displaced Africans. We are seeing "missions in reverse" as the new players seize a unique opportunity to spread the gospel among those who have gone astray.
This is not a time for us to remain nationalistic, culturally homogenous and fearful of others. God has given us a "kingdom passport" that knows no boundaries. Only those who discern that passport will find it easier to serve the 21st-century church.
Founded in 1983 by Houston and his wife, Bobbie, Hillsong Church, in Sydney, Australia, began with 45 members in a school assembly hall. It is now Australia's largest church, with satellite congregations in London, Kiev and Paris. Additionally, Houston serves as president of the Assemblies of God in Australia, representing more than 1,060 churches in that denomination.
Hillsong's prolific worship teams have produced more than 30 Gold and Platinum rated records since 1992. However, the notoriety of Houston's church's music ministry does not distract him from the priority of pastoral leadership that provides the groundwork for the other ministries in the church.
"I felt 15 or 20 years ago that the music was like an arrowhead for a bigger message," he explains. "A great church will produce a great worship album, but a great worship album won't necessarily produce a great church. The songs we write are an expression of the house. Therefore, the worship is not the growth formula in itself. The growth formula is simply building a healthy church."
Ministry Today recently had a chance to sit down with Houston and asked him a few questions about ministry balance, public criticism and what revival really looks like in the local church.
Ministry Today: How is Hillsong different from traditional churches? Many have pointed out that traditional churches are decreasing in number in Australia, while Hillsong is growing. What would you attribute that to?
Brian Houston: I think "relatability" has got a lot to do with it. We're not just speaking to people on Sunday, but we're speaking to their Monday. We're asking, how can we build people's families? How can we build their work? I honestly think that when people feel like their lives are being built—that their kids are being ministered to, that their teenagers have got healthy peer relationships at church—then they'll be drawn to it.
Ministry Today: Hillsong has connections in civic affairs, media and entertainment. How did you go about gaining access into the corridors of power?
Houston: It's all about encouraging people to be successful in every sphere of life, and that's attractive. They come to you. We don't go out searching for influence.
Ministry Today: Speaking of success, could you define what success in life means to you?
Houston: Well it's not material, if that's what you mean. It's about effectively living out God's purposes. I don't think you can measure success in any one way.
Ministry Today: Hillsong's success has attracted some accusations of materialism. What has been your response?
Houston: That criticism mostly comes from secular sources. I think the agendas are often impure, let's put it that way.
To some, the church can represent the wider growth of fundamentalism, whatever that means. So, some groups assume we're anti-this and anti-that. So if you're outside the church and you're pro-certain agendas, you're going to see the church as a threat to your agenda. I must admit, though, being misunderstood is frustrating. The best thing we can do is to stay true to ourselves, to keep doing what God has called us to do.
Ministry Today: Could you talk to us about revival, and what that looks like to you?
Houston: I think people's mind-sets about what "revival" means can often be very introspective, and if revival is just about us, then I am not a real big fan of it anyway. I really believe that what the church needs to be doing is to be focused outwardly, rather than inwardly.
My dad was a Pentecostal pastor, and I grew up in a Pentecostal home, so I was very orientated toward feelings and the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. And that's all fantastic—it was a fantastic heritage. But in the outworking of that, I would probably have a different perspective now.
For their generation, revival was a lot to do with being at the front of a church, and to me it has much more to do with what we're called to do. "The Spirit of the Lord has come upon me because"—to preach the gospel to the poor, to reach hurting people, to open blind eyes and so on. So, as far as I'm concerned, I'm not a great fan of some people's paradigms of revival.
Ministry Today: One of the things which Hillsong champions is relevance. But some churchgoers from traditional backgrounds see a "trendy" church as a sign of compromise or an attempt to manufacture revival. What's your take on that?
Houston: I'll just make one comment. The message is timeless. The methods have to change. If people want to make the methods holy, they are going to find themselves irrelevant.
Ministry Today: How about the outworking of the spiritual gifts in church life? How does that fit with the Hillsong model of church in the 21st century? Houston: I am a great believer in the gifts of the Spirit. I believe absolutely in speaking in tongues and prophecy and so on. It's part of the spiritual life of a believer.
But for practical reasons, we would tend to allow the outworking of the gifts to be expressed more in our smaller groups or in day-to-day church life. Our Sunday services are more of a gathering. There's a right time and place for everything.
Ministry Today: How do you go about making decisions and releasing people into their callings in a church of thousands, where there are so many people to pastor?
Houston: To an extent, we are still learning as we go—learning by our mistakes, building teams. Teams are a great pastoral care tool. Teams are like families, with purpose.
Ministry Today: As a pastor, how do you make sure your own life is growing?
Houston: Well, it's a challenge. I've been pastoring the same people for 23 years. I've got to get up each Sunday and say something fresh. And you can't do that if you're not fresh yourself. I value devotional time for contemplation. And I take Friday and Saturday every single week to meditate and to study and to think.
Ministry Today: What was the last profound thing God said to you, personally?
Houston: The importance of keeping myself fresh. To those whom much is given, much is required. So it's a real challenge that I do keep on the increase. I think you must use every obvious means—spend time with God, spend time with people and spend it in places that are going to stretch you.
Ministry Today: Some senior ministers of megachurches are so busy. They have a seemingly intergalactic schedule—flying off here, there and everywhere. What do you do, in your own time, to just be Brian, and to just relax?
Houston: Drinking coffee, hanging out with friends, spending time anywhere near water. Also riding my Harley. It's my little vice in life.
Ministry Today: So what does it mean for a local church to be a part of the Hillsong network?
Houston: The network is not a spiritual covering. It's really intended just to resource and encourage other church pastors. You see, I have really resisted starting Hillsong churches everywhere. We've got only three congregations in the world—Sydney, London and Kiev, plus Paris—which is an extension of the London church.
There are cities where we would sure love to do something. But the reason we haven't gone that route is because we're saying to pastors, "We want to help build your church." For us then to go and start a church right next door to them—well, it would make a lie out of what we are saying.
Ministry Today: Finally, what would you like to say to the American church?
Houston: Well, I just love America. I've been to the States many times—dozens and dozens of times—and certain pastors and leaders have really helped me over there. I think I'd only say, just like I would to leaders anywhere else in the world, that when you're the biggest at something, you've got to stay open. Open to change, open to new generations.
From my experience in America, that has been happening more over the recent years. When I started going to America, the church used to be very introspective. Some Americans didn't even know where other parts of the world were.
Because of that dynamic, if you were an outsider, you felt very much like you were an outsider. But that's changed dramatically. I think the Americans' openness to people from the outside is phenomenal. And that can only be a good, positive thing for the nation.