Battle over downtown land in Brookfield: private owners wants a church versus village’s long-term downtown plans

The Chicago Tribune has a story about a battle over one area of possible development in downtown Brookfield, Illinois. Though it may be an relatively small development in a relatively small community, it illustrates a classic struggle in older suburbs: a property owner versus a community’s long-range plan.

On one side is a local resident who bought a significant piece of downtown property because she wants to build a larger building for her Methodist church and provide a place for families and teenagers to hang out. On the other side is the village who has a long-term plan for the downtown that includes using this land for tax-revenue generating purposes.

Here is some more detail about the discussion between the property-owner and the village:

After the vote Francis said she was disappointed but undaunted. She has invested more than $1 million and owns the 14 parcels of empty land and vacant buildings that form the triangle between Grand Boulevard and Washington Avenue, and she vowed that the church/community center will go there even if it takes years…

And village staff and the planning commission stressed that the project does not comply with the long-term 2020 plan. That plan calls for a mixture of businesses to attract customers and boost sales tax revenue along with residential development that would provide customers to those businesses during the day and evening hours.

“I just cannot bring myself to say this is a good project for that area of town,” Trustee Michael Towner said before the vote.

He acknowledged that new development has been slow in coming to the area, but said that just because it is the only proposal doesn’t mean it should be approved.

Both of the proposed uses for the land could be good: new businesses would bring in new tax revenues while a church/community center could help bring people into the downtown area as well as improve the chances for this church.

But in the end, Brookfield seems very concerned about not letting the property go off the tax rolls. How long will this woman fight the village or could they come to some compromise?

Asking why emerging adults seem to be leaving the church in greater numbers

A story in Christianity Today looks at recent research that suggests a larger proportion of Christian emerging adults are leaving the church compared to previous generations. On top of some questions about whether these numbers are a big change or not, there is another question: why is this happening? The author suggests more emerging adults are leaving because of reasons related to the church rather than due to outside pressures:

In my interviews, I was struck by the diversity of the stories—one can hardly lump them together and chalk up all departures to “youthful rebellion.” Yet there were commonalities. Many de-conversions were precipitated by what happened inside rather than outside the church. Even those who adopted materialist worldviews or voguish spiritualities traced their departures back to what happened in church.

What pushed them out? Again, the reasons for departing in each case were unique, but I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith. When sociologist Christian Smith and his fellow researchers examined the spiritual lives of American teenagers, they found most teens practicing a religion best called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” which casts God as a distant Creator who blesses people who are “good, nice, and fair.” Its central goal is to help believers “be happy and feel good about oneself.”

Where did teenagers learn this faith? Unfortunately, it’s one taught, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, at every age level in many churches. It’s in the air that many churchgoers breathe, from seeker-friendly worship services to low-commitment small groups. When this naive and coldly utilitarian view of God crashes on the hard rocks of reality, we shouldn’t be surprised to see people of any age walk away.

An interesting argument. But it would be helpful to know the converse – why do some emerging adults stay? What keeps them linked to churches while others head elsewhere?

Any sociological studies about moral therapeutic deism within evangelical churches and evangelical theology?

Meeting romantic partners online

Time reports on some research that suggests meeting romantic partners online is becoming a regular way of life:

Nearly 30% of new couples now meet online. Today the Internet is the second-most common way to meet a partner, according to results from the How Couples Meet and Stay Together Survey, with web introductions ranked only behind introduction by mutual friends.

Taken in 2009, the survey polled more than 4,000 Americans about their romantic relationships.

Looking online for partners is quite different than the traditional methods. For one, it expands the potential pool of partners. Before the Internet, people were generally limited to their personal connections, the institutions in which they were a part (work, religious organizations, civic organizations, etc.) or their weak ties (introductions by mutual friends). Two, it involves a different process of presenting oneself. Instead of an initial face-to-face interaction, the two people create profiles and search for matches.

According to the story, the research also found that those people who met each other through church had the highest relationship satisfaction.

Pastors as entertainers vs. helping people grow spiritually

In an op-ed in the New York Times, G. Jeffrey MacDonald argues that part of the reason clergy are so burned out is that expectations from parishioners have changed:

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy…

In this transformation, clergy have seen their job descriptions rewritten. They’re no longer expected to offer moral counsel in pastoral care sessions or to deliver sermons that make the comfortable uneasy. Church leaders who continue such ministerial traditions pay dearly.

Even as MacDonald suggests there is a large trend toward more consumerist church experiences, he does not mention how pastors might have fed into this or gone along with this. If he doesn’t think pastors have gone along with this, then perhaps the issue is that congregations have taken more control over local churches and demand things like video screens over protests from clergy. If he does think pastors have gone along with this, why did they do so?

I would be curious to hear how MacDonald would change the situation: should change come from pastors, the congregations, both, somewhere else? Is it a matter of the church giving in to cultural pressures?

The effects of decreased mobility

Christianity Today explores the implications of decreased American mobility for churches. According to Census figures:

Despite commercial air travel, interstate highways, mobile phones, and e-mail, the mobility rate has declined steadily since the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking such data in 1948. In the aftermath of World War II, as suburbs began sprouting from farmland, a record 21.2 percent of Americans moved between 1950 and 1951. But only 13.2 percent of Americans moved between 2006 and 2007. Then in April 2009, the Census Bureau reported that a mere 11.9 percent of Americans moved in 2008. This rate was the lowest in recorded U.S. history, and the 1.3 percent drop between 2007 and 2008 was the second-largest one-year decline. The number rebounded only barely in 2009, to 12.5 percent.

Looks like people are staying put though 35 million Americans still moved in 2008. This also suggests the suburbs are no longer drawing people like they used to – perhaps the result of many Americans growing up in suburbia and then sticking around. Some of these suburbs (and their churches) will become established places and will have to move past an image of being “new” or “recent.”

I would think this mobility rate will increase when the economy picks up again.