A Few Thoughts on the CDC Births Study

Millennials are having babies. Yes, this is certainly true. Since Millennials are the primary segment in the age range that is most likely to give birth (what my grandmother called the “fertile years”…enunciating each syllable mind you) this conclusion is broad and simple.

A recent CDC study on the trends associated with Millennials births, and other age segments which mean Gen-Xers, has some preliminary conclusions which are helpful for us who are in church ministry. Their report surveys the birth rate and other factors around births for the 2013 year. Here are some quick highlights:

1. There were 3,957,577 births in the United States during 2013.

2. The birth rate was 62.9 births per 1,000 women which is slightly lower than 2012 and represents a birth rate in older womenrecord low fertility rate. This is something that statisticians and demographers have been watching carefully, western fertility rates have been steady falling for some time now. It represents a coming shift in global population growth over the next three or four generations if unchanged. Equally concerning for these experts is that the birth rate for women in their early twenties has dropped to 81.2 birth per 1,000 which is also a record low. However, birth rates for women in their thirty and forties rose again, by 1%, to 98.7 births per 1,000 women. This is a developing trend which is worth paying attention to for a number of reasons listed below.

3. The non-marital birth rate rose again to 44.8 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, though births to unmarried women is statistically the same from 2012.

4. The replacement rate of births within the population continued to fall below the replacement level. That means the generation being born right now will likely be smaller than Millennials, perhaps considerably smaller.


A couple of quick observations from this study note that the birth rate in women between 20-39 is continuing to decline the United States. This is not surprising. If one adds the filters of women who college or graduate degrees and their place in the workforce the rate likely falls off more significantly. For many women in the United States, the primary goal of their post-high school lives no longer is finding a husband and being in the home, but it is getting their degree(s) and finding their desired career. This is a generational shift that many of our Boomer church members will not entirely understand.

Likewise, with the massive increase in cohabitation among Millennials, and the ready access to contraception this is also lowering the child birth rate. Some women are waiting until their late thirties to early forties to consider beginning families, and many times having a suitable male partner is ancillary to this later life quest.

There are plenty of other conclusions one can likely draw from this data. However, we in the Church should note these trends particularly as they intersect with those we are trying to reach. The new traditional family would be considered highly un-traditional several decades ago. Yet our goal in reaching those far from Christ isn’t to scold them or require them to conform to some older relational paradigm. Instead it should be to understand where they are coming from and craft new ministries that relate and connect well with them to draw them towards faith in Christ, whether a new faith or renewed faith.

Studies like this one from the CDC only help us better configure our ministry in this way.

Jul 2014



Building a Young Church: Part Two Some Data

The conversation about millennials and their spirituality continues to thrive, just as it has for the preceding generations. Over at Association of Religion Data Archives, they have posted a research backed study about some key characteristics of churches that reach young adults.

Here are the Seven Characteristics they’ve listed:

Young churches, young people: Congregations organized in the past decade were three times as likely to have a significant number of young adults as congregations organized before 1976. “One of the most effective ways to reach young adults is to launch new congregations,” Sahlin said.

The KISS principle: Keep it spiritual, stupid: Congregations reporting high levels of spiritual vitality were three times as likely to have significant numbers of young adults as congregations with low spiritual vitality. “What they are looking for is something that touches them,” Sahlin said of young adults. “They’re looking for something that connects to the divine in a palpable way.”

Eat, pray, read the Bible: Congregations that reported a lot of emphasis on spiritual practices such as prayer and scripture reading were five times more likely than congregations that put no emphasis on such practices to have large numbers of young adults in the pews. “It appears that congregations that teach spiritual practices are much more attractive to young adults,” Sahlin and Roozen reported.

Keeping up with new technology: Congregations that reported multiples uses of technology such as social media and websites were twice as likely to have a significant percentage of young adults as those that reported marginal use.

Electric guitars rock: Congregations that used electric guitars and overhead projectors in their worship often or always were about twice as likely as congregations who never used them to have significant young adult participation.

Gender balance: While women outnumber men in most congregations, the study found the more men there were in a congregation the more likely it was to attract young adults.

Promoting young adult ministry: Congregations that placed a lot of emphasis on young adult activities and programs were more likely to attract young women and men.


This list isn’t surprising, in fact, it is what should be expected. There are a host of reasons that some churches reach young adults more effectively than others and this list is a good place to start.

As we talked about in part one of our series, after a church has answered some basic questions about whether they can, should, or desire to reach young adults (we call this confronting the brutal facts conversations) this list is a helpful second step.

How are you doing in reflecting the characteristics of this list? What does your community do to utilize these marks, and perhaps some others, to aid in reaching young adults and building a young church?

We’ll be exploring some of these categories more deeply in the coming weeks. There are some provoking points about, and not just the one about technology. How our churches example gender equality (even for the most complementarian of churches) can speak volumes for our approach and theological grounding.

So, what do you think of this list? Is it accurate? Is it helpful? What should be added?

Aug 2013



Resource Review: Francis Chan’s Basic Series

Resource Title: Basic Series

Author: Francis Church

Year Published: 2011-12

Price: $49.99 for the entire set of 7 DVDs

In One Sentence: A video curriculum that seeks to explain the basic beliefs and practices of a Christian community while utilizing an integrated narrative to add a theme to each video.

Evaluation: 4 out of 5 stars, a very good series


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One of the great areas of curriculum growth over the past decade has been high quality video curriculum that delivers a compelling message that people just want to talk about. Francis Chan’s recent series, Basic, is another installment in the growing product line available to churches and groups.

In this 7 part series, the host, Francis Chan, utilizes a familiar pattern of video storying with dramatically plain presentations to deliver a compelling message about a central belief or practice of the Church nestled alongside a video narrative. 

Perhaps this sounds familiar, and that would be because it is. The once highly popular Nooma series that was conceived of and hosted by Rob Bell began this trend. If one we were to compare a Nooma video to a Basic video, the similarities would be striking. Now this isn’t a mark against Basic, in my opinion because the format and presentation work. Perhaps a lot of this has to do with the production company, Flannel, who brought together the video and story.

Essentially each session looks like this: slow, dramatic opening with a teasing video shot of someone doing something that doesn’t fit, hipster style music drifts in, a title slide tells you the name of the session, and then the speaker’s voice suddenly is laid over with some kind of compelling opening line. Soon the host shows up on the scene and his talking is the principal voice for the next 10-15 minutes. Video of the speaker is overlaid the narrative story that is going on. This works well, though it is predictable, and it engages the ADHD video multitasking context that so many young adults are used to having in their lives.

The videos are extremely high quality and the content from Chan is tremendous. 

The sessions appear to fit together in terms of the backstory that is going on behind Chan’s monologue. They start with three sessions identifying individuals and have them engaged in an activity or situation that speaks to a challenge of understanding the main figures of belief: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. For instance, in the first video on the Fear of God, we see a young woman on a bed and the room dramatically fills with water. It is supposed to symbolize how the fear of God is an all consuming force. It is an effective technique.

Once ou get beyond the third video the three main characters find themselves on a journey and a joined by a Messiah figure. In the remaining videos the characters take on a journey and we are shown how they encounter different experiences that shape them and, ultimately, send them off on their own. The message of the videos is very good.

The sessions are:

  1. Fear of God
  2. Following Jesus
  3. Holy Spirit
  4. Fellowship
  5. Teaching
  6. Prayer
  7. Communion


Now, there is a bit of disjointedness in the storyline. For the most unaware viewer (like myself) it does seem that the story lines in the first two were created separately and then mashed together when the producers realized how good the series actually was as they expanded their sessions. That does take away a bit from the overall but not terribly. These are very good videos.

As for content: Francis Chan delivers excellent content that stays within the appropriate boundaries of biblical orthodoxy as he engages a discussion about foundational things of Christianity.

One area where the series does fall off is in the “discussion guide” that accompanies the DVDs or can be downloaded for online videos. Like so many other guides of this nature it under-delivers for prompting discussion. Group leaders who have been through this before, with the Nooma series, will know what to use and what to add to facilitate discussion. Perhaps it is part of the larger strategy of the videos, but the overly simplified discussion guides are limited in the conversations they provoke.

However, this is a great video resource. I would recommend it for all ages, though it is highly suitable for young adult and student work. It will provoke discussion. As a small group leader myself, I can open up with the “What do you think?” immediately after the video and even the most reticent groups are engaging in discussion.


Why Names in the New Testament Matter

Every year (or several times a year) we hear about what the most popular baby names are for newborns. One of the fun things to do is to compare lists from different decades. For instance, here is a list of baby names from 2012 and 1912:

Now this kind of popular social science commentary has an apologetic appeal. One of the growing areas of research in NT studies has been to cross-reference the names of individuals and towns with the growing number of ancient external documents to evaluate how the NT lines up with its first century environment.

The idea is this: that if the New Testament documents were written far beyond the time of the first century the pseudo-authors wouldn’t have accurately ascribed first century names to their subjects or towns.

Think of it like this: let’s say you were to write a novel based in the early 1800s in rural Kentucky. You are going to have to give names to characters and towns. It is unlikely that, without research, you’d naturally come up with common names and accurate towns for that period.

In Richard Bauckham’s recent text Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, he evaluates the use of names in the New Testament with their first century lists of common names. The New Testament does extremely well.

Drawing on data from Tal Ilan’s 2002 study Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity, Bauckham evaluates the New Testament’s use of names against the lists established by scholars working outside Christian research. As he compares the lists, Bauckham finds several key things:

1. That the NT, the most popular names of the era appear at similar rates of popularity. The most popular men’s name of the era is Simon which is also the most popular NT name for men. For women, the most popular name is Mary which, in correspondence with the NT, is the most popular name for women there as well.

2. Where the Gospel writers make an additional contribution is found in the specificity of the names used and identifications of individuals based on their family or area of origin. For instance: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, Mary of Bethany, Mary the Mother of Jesus, etc.

3. One of the strengths of the Gospel testimony is that it appears to have been written by individuals of the same era as the original historical acts they describe, and it is informed by eyewitnesses who were present and others who were later interviewed for the source data.

One of the strengths of Bauckham’s work is the detailed historical scholarship he brings together to  prove his case. Ultimately, what one is left with is a reinforced basis for holding to the early authorship of, at least, the Gospel texts and some other New Testament books. (You can still hold to traditional authorship and dating while allowing Bauckham’s work to bolster some claims.)

Some of this data has been covered in a great discussion from a recent Vertias Forum titled, The Story of Jesus: History or Hoax? which is worth your time to give a full listen and thoughtful consideration.

On the other hand, the so-called Gnostic Gospels (Gospel of: Thomas, Mary, Judas, etc) don’t fair well at all. Whereas the NT authors have an affinity to using correct names and specific differentiation of individuals, the Gnostic Gospels do neither. There is a generalizing trend in the Gnostics that is different from the Gospels in the NT. This pushes against a view that the Gnostic Gospels had a source that would have been close to the events of which they speak.

So, we are left with an additional confirmation that the New Testament is a set of documents written in close historical proximity to the events it describes. It was written by eyewitnesses and informed by their accounts.

When one considers the various non-biblical religious texts, and also the Gnostic Gospels, there is a lack of credibility in these documents. They seem to be written significantly after the events they describe and are often descriptions of events not supported by eyewitnesses. The New Testament fairs well when one compares it to other documents in these regards.

As scholarly consensus continues to grow support for historical, orthodox Christian claims about the foundational documents of our faith, how much better equipped are we to answer the scurrilous charges of the critics.