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The fastest-growing churches in America, Minister contracts SARS during hospital visit, 'Inflatable church' in England, Church targets dance clubs, Head of sex-addiction ministry resigns Pentecostal, Black Churches Fastest-Growing
HEADLINES

Pentecostal, Black Churches Fastest-Growing

Pentecostals and a historically black denomination are among the fastest-growing churches in the United States, according to a new study.

Published by the liberal National Council of Churches in February, the 2003 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches found that the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church experienced 12 percent growth. Catholics followed with a 2.5 percent increase, while Mormons and the Assemblies of God (AG) each reported 2 percent growth in 2001, the latest year for which figures are available.

Catholics remained the largest group, reporting 65 million parishioners, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention, with 16 million adherents and the United Methodist Church, with 8.3 million members.

With 5 million members, the National Baptist Convention USA is new to the list of 10 largest denominations. The largely black denomination had not been included in the yearbook since 1998 because of unreliable figures.

Two other denominations on the list, the Church of God in Christ (5.5 million members) and the National Baptist Convention of America (3.5 million members) are historically black churches. The AG reported 2.6 million parishioners.

Between 1.5 million and 2 million Americans who belong to megachurches--independent Protestant churches that have more than 2,000 members--are not counted in the yearbook.
Source: The Los Angeles Times

Pentecostal Pastor Dies From SARS

After going to the hospital to pray for someone with the condition, a 39-year-old Pentecostal minister died in April from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which has caused near-panic in parts of Asia.

Simon Loh became a victim in Singapore, where he pastored Faith Assembly of God Church. Loh contracted SARS after going to pray for the hospitalized daughter of a man who also died from the disease.

Churches in Singapore considered canceling Sunday school classes and youth meetings to try to prevent SARS from spreading. The denomination's Asia-Pacific regional director appealed for prayer for pastors as they ministered to those affected.

Elsewhere, Canadian public health authorities say dozens of members of a charismatic Roman Catholic Church group in Toronto may have become infected by SARS at a prayer service. In April, health officials asked more than 500 church members to enter quarantine out of concern that they could spread SARS.

The SARS virus, which is new to science and has no known cure, has infected nearly 6,000 people in 25 countries.
Source: Assemblies of God News, The Washington Post

INNOVATION

Inflatable Church to 'Revolutionize' England

A British designer has made what he says is the world's first inflatable church--a gray plastic building with a blow-up organ, pulpit, altar, Gothic arches and fake stained-glass windows.

The church can be "built" in three hours and disassembled in less than two.

Michael Gill believes the church, which is hand-painted, made from colored polyvinyl chloride and stands 47 feet high to the tip of its steeple, could revolutionize the Anglican Church in England, suffering from dwindling attendance for years.

He sees vicars carrying it around with them on the back of a truck so they can set up the inflatable church anywhere for impromptu services.

"This could change the whole perception of what the Church of England stands for," Gill said. "It's revolutionary. It's moving with the 21st century. If people won't go to church then the church needs to go to the people. This is one way of doing it."

Inflatablechurch.com says that the inflatable house of worship is also perfect for weddings: "No problem with high heels, our church has a hard floor. But please no smoking!"
Source: Reuters

Church Targets Dance-Club Crowd

While not advocating that Christians go to dance clubs, a Dallas congregation is seeking Saturday-night partygoers.

"All over Dallas people are looking for the hottest party in town. So, before you drop it like it's hot at the next house party or go to G.G.'s to get your groove on, try stopping in at the party that never stops," said the Friendship-West Baptist Church ad running on mainstream radio instead of Christian stations.

The spots borrow lyrics from today's hottest club dance songs played against Jagged Edge and rapper Nelly's "Where the Party At."

"We weren't trying to get the Christian folk," said pastor James Fitzgerald, the service's coordinator. "We were trying to get the folk that don't normally go to church."

The 6 p.m. Saturday Nite Live service--which started in April 2002--uses rapping, mime, skits and plays, while sermon topics may include "When daddy's little girl has baby daddy drama," and "You've been set up to blow up."
Source: The Dallas Morning News

THE MEDIA

Charismatic Evangelist Dismisses "Examination"

Charismatic televangelist Mike Murdock dismissed a Texas newspaper investigation that called into question his lavish lifestyle, biblical claims for prosperity and use of supporters' donations.

In a three-part, 13,500-plus-word series earlier this year--which was the result of a six-month inquiry--it called "an examination," The Fort Worth Star-Telegram just stopped short of accusing Mike Murdock of wrongdoing in operating his Denton-based ministry.

Known for his teachings on biblical wisdom and "seed sowing," Murdock, "[who] says his mission is to rescue people from poverty, is living lavishly, while the ministry he founded spends most of its money on overhead," said the newspaper, noting that Murdock drives fancy sports cars, owns Rolex watches and recently purchased a jet.

Murdock told Charisma News Service that he was saddened by the attack "targeting" his ministry. "Every minister of the gospel always finds hatred, anger and false accusation from non-believers to be painful, devastating and soul searching," he said.
Source: The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Charisma News Service

RELIEF WORK

Christian Groups' Iraqi Effort Scrutinized

Two major Christian groups that have been critical of Islam were scrutinized for their plans to send relief workers into Iraq as soon as the military situation permits.

In March, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation's largest Protestant denomination, and Samaritan's Purse, run by evangelist Franklin Graham, announced that they were ready to provide emergency shelter, food aid and medical care to Iraq's mostly Muslim population.

The plans fueled concerns among U.S. Muslim leaders that the groups wanted to proselytize in Iraq. Graham, the son of longtime evangelist Billy Graham, has called Islam an "evil" and "wicked" religion that foments violence. Jerry Vines, a former SBC president, made similar comments last year.

SBC officials said the group's $250,000 relief effort was misunderstood.

Commenting on his group's $500,000 effort, Samaritan's Purse international director Ken Isaacs added: "Compassion and service is a vital expression of Christianity. We don't have an evangelism strategy. ... We don't have Bibles ... or Christian literature waiting in the wings."
Source: The Washington Post

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