I recently heard a presentation by Dr. Richard Flory, the senior director of research and evaluation at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. He is a sociologist whose research focuses on religious and cultural change, particularly the spiritual lives of youth and young adults.
My first takeaway was from his introduction. I didn’t know the University of Southern California had a center of religion and civic culture. I’m always happy to see church acknowledged in academia in some fashion.
Flory is the lead guy on the Religious Competition and Creative Innovation project (RCCI). This $2.6 million study “…explores the proposition that competition between religious groups stimulates creative innovation, contributing to religious change and development.” Don’t get up in arms about this being a high-dollar study that’s a waste of tax dollars – this is funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
As Flory studied engagement in religion through the years he takes the bad with the good.
“It’s worse than you think, but not quite as bad as it could be,” Flory said.
Despite seeing every flavor of church in decline all over LA, it wasn’t the case across the board. Flory found churches which are successful at engaging new people, and re-engaging young people. He calls these Reimagined Communities, and says they usually embody the following traits:
- Adaptive – responding to new social challenges and opportunities
- Bounded – pushing boundaries within a tradition
- Enfranchised – led by loose hierarchy with ideas from all
- Embodied – integrating somatic experience
- Embedded – committed to a particular place
- Authentic – grounding truth in intuitive resonance
- Empathetic – centered on care and compassion
- Activated – enacting their vision for a better world
- Pollinating – spreading ideas not institutions
- Networked – connected within and across traditions
I found this list validating, because if you translate the language into words that are slightly less academic, you’ll find they pair up nicely with the resources you will find with the United Methodist Church’s Discipleship Ministries, or even closer to home, it matches well with everything coming from Bishop Bob Farr and the Missouri Conference directors. Flory talking about being adaptive sounded very much like Bishop Farr talking about seeking new people in new places (page 15). Flory talking about being enfranchised as “a loose hierarchy with ideas from all” sounds a lot like our Annual Conference Freed 2 Lead theme. Flory talking about pollinating sounds a lot like Director of Congregational Excellence Roger Ross talking about the need for churches to be moving to multiplicity, so they can grow exponentially rather than adding a few numbers to their existing institution.
Even the name of the event Flory was speaking at – Reimagine Religion – sounds a lot like Rethink Church, the marketing campaign of United Methodist Communications. It nice to see the direction United Methodist leadership is taking affirmed by a $2.5 million academic study. For more on the RCCI, go to https://crcc.usc.edu/rcci.