Campus Ministry at the Ivies

One of our alumni, Elizabeth, emailed me this fascinating NYT article: On a Christian Mission to the Top. It’s an article about ministry at the Ivy League schools focusing on a group called Christian Union

. There’s a related NPR story.

I really appreciate their vision. I’ve often thought that someone ought to establish evangelical ministry centers at the top tier universities, so I’m glad to see that they’re running with it.

Anyway, this paragraph leapt out at me:

By the 1970’s, Assemblies churches were sprouting up in affluent suburbs across the country. Recent surveys by Margaret Poloma, a historian at the University of Akron in Ohio, found Assemblies members more educated and better off than the general public.

I’m speechless.

The Assemblies of God and education are not two concepts that are often linked in the minds of the populace at large (with reason, I might add: I’ve actually heard these words uttered at a ministerial gathering with absolutely no hint of humor, “The problem with the Assemblies is all this eddikashun.” Moreover, I saw several heads nod in agreement). Perhaps that instance has unfairly tainted my perceptions of the movement as a whole, but I’ve never been particularly impressed with our intellectual prowess in the Assemblies.

On the flip side, one of our AG ministers in San Francisco is a Harvard grad who lives in a bus and ministers to the homeless. And of my three district officials (bishop-equivalents) one has his doctorate and another just needs to finish his dissertation. A pastor I know in the San Joaquin valley was once nominated for a Pulitzer. Come to think of it, I know lots of sharp, well-educated ministers and even more sharp, well-educated laypeople.

I just always assumed they were a minority. I should really rethink that.

Gene Scott Died

Gene Scott died yesterday, and I feel obliged to say something for some strange reason. I guess it’s because I’m always struck by the vaguely overlapping areas of our lives.

First, he was at one time an Assemblies of God minister in my district. He left the denomination years back (in good standing, surprisingly enough), but the connection is still there.

Second, Dr. Scott had a connection with Stanford University–he earned his doctorate here in 1957 and was apparently once profiled for the cover story of the Stanford alumni magazine (this seems to be an undigitized issue or else I would link to it).

Third, his ministry was by its nature a money-asking sort. His methods were way over the line (some allege immoral and illegal), although he was pretty funny about it: “I sometimes get asked about what happens to all the money that comes in to this ministry. Let me tell you what happens to it. I spend it!”

Fourth, he was eccentric. That’s putting it mildly. If you’ve seen his show you know what I mean, and if you haven’t there’s no way you would believe me–for instance, one of his peculiar worship songs was Kill a Pissant for Jesus (I do not, sadly, have the lyrics). While I applaud the use of the underutilized word pissant , the song gives me pause. If you’ve got a few minutes, read over this old article from the LA Times: The Shock Jock of Television to get a feel for his unique ministry style.

The Assemblies of God, Stanford, fundraising, and eccentricity. That’s really all we had in common as far as I can determine (that, and we were both California white males). In some ways I admire him tremendously, and in other ways I shudder when I think of him. Either way, I consider him a distant cousin in ministry.

I hope he’s in heaven. If so, I imagine there are a lot of surprised people having some very unusual conversations with him.

Stateside Versus Global Effectiveness

I emailed my observations about the Assemblies of God reaching just under 1% everywhere to a few of my friends.

Earl Creps weighed in with this comment:

I just did some research for an AGWM presentation and found reports that about 40% of all Pentecostals (not just AG) live in Latin America (with a lot of those in Brazil), comprising about 10% of the area’s 500 million inhabitants. You’re right about the gross statistics concealing huge disparities, with the consequent danger of an “average” reality. We are definitely much more “successful” abroad, but only when certain selected head-to-head comparisons (e.g., New York vs. Malawi) are used. When other comparisons are in view (e.g. Arkansas vs. Sweden), well, things just a look a little different.

Steve Mills noted that my stats might be flawed

For example, here in the NW we have a population of 6,131,445 and total adherhents of 118,662 making 1.9 percent of the district. Even if you add in 2 million people for North ID which is also in our district the number is still 1.4 percent.

First, bravo to the Northwest District. I’ve long thought they were among our most effective districts in terms of coaching and flexibility. Now I know that my subjective impression is validated by the facts.

Second, this is the sort of thing I’d expect. We have hot spots and cold spots in America just as we do worldwide. They’re probably balancing out places like the northeast where we’re struggling much more.

The Assemblies of God in Nor Cal and Nev

After musing about collegians in the AG, I got curious about our district’s demographics and so I emailed Rich Hopping (our secretrary/treasurer) and asked him how many people are in our district and how many we’re reaching.

He said:

It is our estimation there are 16 million people who live in the geographical boundaries of the NCN District. There are 130 thousand people who call an Assemblies of God church their church home. On any Sunday morning there are 80 to 90 thousand folks in attendance.

For the record, our geographical boundaries are the entire state of Nevada and California north of Fresno (but not including Fresno).

That translates to roughly 0.8% of our district. By comparison, we’re reaching less than 0.5% of the collegians in our district. So college ministry lags behind in the Assemblies (although not nearly as badly as I feared).

By the way, I find Assemblies of God triumphalism pretty funny given that we’re reaching less than 1% of our audience (in our district, at least). Worldwide we rock, but in America things are a different story. update: in 2003 America had a population of 290,809,777 and the Assemblies of God reported a constituency of 2,729,562, which works out to 0.9%. So our district is just a tad below the average in terms of constituency as a percentage of the population. My curiousity piqued, I checked our worldwide constituency as a percentage of global population–50,000,000 versus 6,000,000,000 also comes out to 0.8%. We’re nothing if not consistent…

Some other details that interested me in my research:

  • Our district had more involved collegians than any other: 2,147 (5.1% of the AG total). At least, we had more as a raw number. We probably trail several other districts when you evaluate involved collegians as a percentage of the population (the Northwest District, for example, has 2,040 students involved but many fewer collegians and colleges in their district than we do, so they’re doing better than us).
  • Our pastors estimate that about 41% of the collegians in our churches are involved in campus ministry. 24% in Chi Alpha and 18% in other ministries (like InterVarsity).

Anyway, all that was of tremendous interest to me. I hope it is of at least moderate interest to some of you. 🙂

On an unrelated note–is there anyone else blogging about the Assemblies of God? It is the world’s fourth largest Christian body (with an interesting mix of adherents), but I haven’t stumbled across anyone else commenting on us from the inside. I’ve hit a few other AGers online (such as John Abela, Tim Bednar, and Randy Jumper), but I haven’t really found any dialog about the movement.

Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places. Or maybe we’re all so scared of our leadership that AG bloggers keep as quiet as we can.

Or maybe we’re simply lazy…

College Folk and The Assemblies of God

This from the head of Chi Alpha: According to the 2003 ACMR Report AG churches report there are 245,912 adherents that are 18–24 years old that attend our church. This represents 9% of all AG adherents.

By way of comparison, 18–24 year olds comprise 14% of the California state population (I was unable to quickly find the equivalent national statistic).