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Thursday, July 13, 2006 

The Church Report on the Most Influential Churches

You might remember that some months ago I was lamenting about what folks made The Church Report's annual list of "The 50 Most Influential Christians In America." Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds addresses the newest list of The Church Report, which is the "50 Most Influential Churches in the U.S. There was very little surprise that the top spot went to Willow Creek Church and the second to Saddleback Community Church. But it was nice to see five Southern Baptist Churches as well as Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis, College Church of Wheaton, IL, Reedemer Presbyterian Church of New York, Mars Hill Church of Seattle, and Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, CA.

So let me ask you two questions:
1. Which church do you think IS the most influential in the U.S.?
2. Which church do you think SHOULD BE the most influential in the U.S.?

I wouldn't likely know anything about the most influential churches currently in the US and I'm guessing you wouldn't know the ones that I'd pick for the ones that ought to be. Except for maybe Church of our Saviour, in DC (Jim Wallis' church, who is conspicuously absent from the list mentioned above).

I'd probably vote for a church like the Riverside Church in NYC (probably not, though) or Peace Community Church in Oberlin, OH or the Community of the Third Way in Minnesota.

Oh, I know! Ched Myers' church in California: Bartimaus Cooperative Ministries! Their message/ministry is one that ought to be more influential.

Interesting question...

Dan, I know you participated in the last discussion we had about The Church Report's influential list and looking back at it, Brian noted that some of the people on the Influential Christians list had written for the magazine. And that is likely why some of them were voted as most influential. I imagine a similar thing occurred here, so that is probably why you didn't see Wallis' church (or any of the others you mentioned on there). It's not likely they wrote for The Church Report or their churches were featured or mentioned in the magazine.

Of course, when the CEO of The Church Report stopped by he told us that those we thought should have been more influential just must not have done a very good job of getting their message out - whatever that meant.

It would have been lovely to see the following on the list:
Christ Fellowship of Kansas City
Capitol Hill Baptist

On another note, I'm kind of saddened that only one church from the Pacific Northwest made the list. (Not necessarily because there are others that should have made the list, but because apparently most churches in the PacNW suck.) I'd go so far as to add Riverside Baptist in Denver (planting half the new starts in Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, and oh yeah, helping one church in New Orleans).

I did notice there weren't many black churches on the list. I'd probably add Fred Luter, especially post-Katrina. The man is incredible.

I like Rob Bell at MHBC in Michigan, but I know that's almost heresy on this blog. So... I'll say that I figured Piper would be much higher.

And I don't know who this lady at Without Walls Church is, but I thought the other pastor in town... at that other church... that I can't remember the name of... should have been on there (how do you know he wasn't, joe? because i'd remember it if i saw it.).

That'll do.

What a surprise to see Craig Groeshel's name @ #7 as pastor of Life Church. He filled in at Metro for a couple of summers back when Andy Savage was still there. I'd never imagined that I'd see his name on such a list. And, it seems odd that a church could go from unlisted to 7th in just a year.

Seeing two churches shepherded by second generation famous pastors like North Point Community Church and Fellowship Church (especially so high) intrigued me as well.

I was also surprised that Bellevue didn't make the list.

Considering I'm not really up on the national "church scene" and my religious reading list for the last couple of years has consisted chiefly of books over fifteen years old (most of the newer ones I used to read were bitterly disappointing) I consider myself mostly unqualified to comment except on theoretical grounds. I guess it does make for an interesting discussion, though. So, I guess I'll take a stab at some comments.

1. I have no idea which church is the most influential in the U.S. How would a mere mortal begin to quantify such a thing? I suppose it would be interesting to try an come up with the criteria for such a determination.

2. That goes back to the criteria as well. One could say that the church with the most active members or the richest members should be the most influential because they have the most resources. See where I'm coming from? But, I might argue that the most effective churches will never be the "most influential" because their attention and resources are going to missions and not building influence. On the other hand, perhaps it behooves an effective church to try to develop leadership.

Intuitively, churches from strong denominations—I’m using the word in it’s loosest sense--would have an advantage because the denomination would provide a framework for a church to build it’s influence. If the report has any real meaning or validity, perhaps it shows that affiliation actually impedes an individual church’s influence (or at least perception thereof).

Discuss!

Tracy, I did notice Craig Groeshel on the list, but I have been hearing about his church a lot lately, but #7 was pretty high. It may have to do with him being a featured writer for The Church Report or having his book featured by the magazine.

Since the list is compiled from votes by the readers of the magazine, it seems likely that there is no set criteria. I don't even think the magazine gives any direction to its readers as to how to evaluate the influence of a church. So, it's probably more of a reflection of which churches the magazine's readership are influenced by than anything else.

And Joe, I don't know what church you are talking about (Coral Ridge Presybterian, maybe?), but Paula White doesn't need to be influencing anyone, except maybe her hairstylist. If you have ever seen her on TBN, you will know what I mean. Whoa.

idlewild with ken whitten, but i realized it wasn't the one i was thinking of- i was mixing two different churches. the other one meets in a hotel or turned the hotel into a church or something. seemed like a neat thing to do, but i heard they were doing more than just that. that was a while back. i was thinking idlewild was that church- that met in the hotel and did all the cool stuff. i was wrong.

Joe,
I think you're thinking of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fl. They converted a mall, which is like a hotel only spread out more with larger rooms. And if you of all people can't remember the name of the pastor (Jay Dennis) or the church, are they really all that influential? ;)

DR
Something remarkable has happened. I found something about which I can agree with you. Paula White is a dangerous woman.

As to your second question, which church should be the most influential? How about let's hearing your answer to that? On its face the question seems bizarre. But for certain my list and yours would probably look different.

Jerry, if you think I believe Paula White is dangerous, you should talk to my wife. She has unfortunately heard a few "sermons" while watching TBN by White and was not impressed at all, especially when she claimed that T.D. Jakes was her "spiritual father." Yikes. I change the channel any time I hear because I know it will just engrage me more.


Now, as for your question about my question, I would be glad to answer it. There is no suprise here, I think Bethlehem Baptist Church should be the most influential church in the U.S. And here's why:

1. John Piper has a Ph.D. in NT. He is a recognized scholar and exegetical preacher. His messages mix passion with scholarly excellence. And Dr. Piper's biggest fan base is college students and young adults, many of whom attend his church. Additionally, he has been there for 26 years now. That is a tenure that speaks a lot to dedication, perseverance, and pastoral care. The church did not embrace Calvinism at the beginning and had stagnated over the past few years. In fact, it seems the church was dying. Yet, Dr. Piper stuck it out.

2. The Church is a growing church and practices regenerate church membership and discipline. It is an elder-led, congregational based polity. The elders are all able to teach, some having Ph.D's of their own. The church is located in Downtown Minneapolis and though they have grown out of the building, Dr. Piper has led the church and elders to the point that they refuse to move out of this part of the city just to build a megachurch. Thus, he has helped to plant satelitte campuses (which, though I am opposed to such, they seem to be working well). Bethlehem requires all of its staff to live in the Downtown area -- no commuting from the suburbs, even if it means being exposed to crime and danger. The church has intentionally sought to engage in racial reconciliation. The church has an on-staff counselor and a missions director.

3. Bethlehem alone supports over 100 missionaries currently serving on the field. The members and staff take numerous trips every year both stateside and overseas to do missions. They congregation is encouraged often to evangelize and they have been successful, growing from less than 300 to now more than 2500. Futhermore, Dr. Piper is training pastors at a school started by the Church and now they have just begun a church planting program in which Bethlehem will train pastors to church plant and then give them some support in doing so.

I could go on and on, but I think that is enough. Bethlehem is a very healthy church and its influence reaches far beyond its walls. It is not consumer driven, but Christ-focused and it is run like a well oiled machine.

Now, to head off the pass, so to speak, any criticism about the Presbyterian issue at Bethlehem, let me say first that Piper's propsed measure to include Scripturally-convinced pedeo-baptists into the membership was rejected by the congregation (showing the strength of their congregational polity). I disagree with the proposed change in the Bylaws, and in the end, cooler heads prevailed. Still, the church did not reject Dr. Piper or the elders, but spoke their mind nonetheless. Love still reigns and rules at Bethlehem and neither Dr. Piper or the elders have communicated any anger at the congregation for rejecting the proposal. The same is true of the congregation to the elders. If every church were this healthy, we wouldn't have to worry about church splits any longer.

So, there it is Jerry. So now, what is your pick for which Church should be most influential?

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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