GetReligion.orgH/T: – Bobby Ross, Jr.

Here’s a good article that describes how outsiders read and understand the Post-Dispatch articles about FCCF.  Anyone want to contact the blog and answer Ross’ questions?

In a way, church leadership disputes are like car wrecks — ugly but impossible to ignore.

I still recall a piece my wife, Tamie Ross, then religion editor for The Oklahoman, wrote 15 years ago concerning a church where an internal squabble had resulted in police calls, changed locks and offers of more than $250,000 for the pastor to resign.

This week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch grabbed my attention with a front-page story on “The battle for First Christian Church of Florissant”:


And if you’re like me, you’ll have a few questions.

Such as:

1. What is the denominational affiliation, if any, of the First Christian Church of Florissant? Could it be the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church)? Or perhaps the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (not to be confused with the non-instrumental Churches of Christ, another branch of the American Restoration Movement)? The story never says, although my own quick Googling leads me to believe it’s associated with the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.

An earlier report in the Riverfront Times cited the Florissant church’s ties to the Restoration Movement and described it as “an evangelical, nondenominational center of religious and communal life”:

2. Who controls the church? Is Wingfield his own boss? Or is there a church board that oversees him and has the power to fire him?

The newspaper quotes a church deacon but doesn’t elaborate on the role of deacon in this church. In reviewing the church website, it appears the congregation has seven elders, including Wingfield, who serve as the church’s officers. But the story refers only to “church leadership” — and in a vague way.

3. What makes a “megachurch?” According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, a megachurch has specific distinctive characteristics, including “2,000 or more persons in attendance at weekly worship.”

Yet the Post-Dispatch says that the Missouri church had only 1,200 members at its height. Unless that’s a typo, it doesn’t sound like a megachurch. (The earlier Riverfront Times piece put membership at 2,500 and weekly attendance at 1,000.)

Meanwhile, the Post-Dispatch refers to a “small crowd” and a “half-filled auditorium” but provides no actual numbers. After citing “many members” as disgruntled early in the story, the newspaper does — to its credit — provide this concrete detail later:

More than 300 members of the church have joined a public Facebook group dedicated to restoring the mission of the church, which they believe has been lost with Wingfield at the helm. They’ve also established a website that details the Milburn saga.Kudos on that specificity. It would have been helpful elsewhere.

Again, it’s wonderful that the Post-Dispatch devoted space and resources to this story. I just wish the newspaper had answered a few more questions.