Thursday, December 6, 2012

Justin G. Wilford's "Sacred Subdivisions"

Justin G. Wilford has a PhD in cultural geography and an MA in political theory.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sacred Subdivisions: The Postsuburban Transformation of American Evangelicalism and reported the following:
The “Page 99 Test” produced a positive result in the case of my book. The central argument of my book is that American evangelical megachurches are growing at a time when other Christian denominations are shrinking because they have rooted themselves on the post-suburban fringe of large metropolitan areas and have found a way to make these environments religiously meaningful. One of the key ways they do this is through the church’s self-initiated fragmentation and diffusion.

The most successful evangelical megachurches, like the one I focus on in my book—Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California—do not revolve around the central church campus, at least for their most devoted members. The religious practices and narratives that capture the hearts and imaginations of the churchgoers takes place in residential homes, scattered across the post-suburban landscape. On different week nights, Saddleback church members gather in groups of 5-15 in each others’ homes, and pray, share stories, and discuss various Christian readings or watch short christian videos. At Saddleback they simply call these gatherings “small groups,” while at other churches they have slightly more descriptive names such as, “home groups,” “community groups,” or “discipleship groups.” But generally their purpose is the same: to provide members with an individualized, intimate, and flexible mode of connecting their everyday lives with conservative evangelical narratives. The church, then, becomes as fragmented, mobile, and diffuse as its members’ post-suburban lives.

In older or less innovative forms of American Christianity, this fragmentation of the church into thousands of small groups, might be cause for concern. But for a church like Saddleback, it’s embraced. And this is how my page 99 begins:
“Who is the church?” and “Where is the church?” are not questions that a Saddleback pastor wants to answer with any certainty. In attempting to mirror its postsuburban environment, Saddleback refuses to draw growth boundaries, locate a dominant multifunctional center of activity, and enact strict regulation on what can and can not take place in given zones.
Learn more about the book and author at Justin G. Wilford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue