DISCLAIMER: The first three paragraphs are NOT statistically backed. These are simply observations. I could be horribly wrong.
In the American south the churches that seem to be thriving are doing one of three things. Some are holding tight to the traditions, institutionalism, and the history of the past. There are several large traditional churches. My theory is that these churches were already sizable towards the end of the 20th century. As smaller traditional churches died their congregants flocked to these large churches in hopes of finding a worship style that connects them to their childhood experiences.
Some thriving churches are basically repackaging the same theology, doctrine, and ideals in a younger, faster, sexier package. Many of these churches started in the 90’s as “seeker friendly” churches. In my experience, they mainly attracted those who were already Christians and simply bored or discontent with their place of worship. The ethos of these churches seems identical to the traditional churches. Both are conservative theologically (and usually politically). However, the two look VERY different.
Finally, some churches that are thriving are rethinking what it means to be a church. These churches can look both traditional and “emerging.” They are not necessarily busting at the seams numerically. However, if you attend these churches you realize that they are authentic, warm, and deep. Many have put aside the traditional hot topics in pop-Christianity to engage the community in genuine and nonthreatening ways. Though these churches may be smaller than those mentioned above, they seem to be more numerous. I suspect that they are also more sustainable.
According to Jenkins, the growing church of the global South is successful for three reasons: new metaphors, indigenous worship, and social stances that are beyond any one political perspective. In our quest for precise theology and for meaningful acts of worship we have unknowingly confused our system of engaging with God as the only RIGHT way. Thus, our metaphors have become undisputable, timeless truths and our acts of worship have become the only acceptable way to corporately interact with the living God. Unfortunately, they only resonate with our culture.
Jenkins says that the church in the South is rewriting liturgy to better fit the context. In Africa some churches are calling God the “Great Ancestor.” This metaphor resonates with churches in Asia as well (135). Churches are also incorporating indigenous acts of worship such as dance and healings (145). I am sure many in traditional churches in the US would cringe if they ever heard this metaphor spoken in a prayer or song or experienced such a lively worship service.
Unlike pop-Christianity in the US, Churches in the South seem to take social stances that do not fit a particular political perspective. In some areas such as the role of women and homosexuality they are conservative (226). In other areas such as equality of classes and welfare they are liberal (215). Regardless of one’s particular view on these issues the church of the US needs to learn from this approach. We are not called to be Republican or Democratic. We are called to be children of God and followers of Jesus. This is a lifestyle that is bigger than any political party.