Where do religious and spiritual communities come from? There are probably more correct answers to that question than you think.
Some form after perceived divine revelations. Founders feel a unique calling to create an entirely new religion or revitalize more familiar expressions of faith.
Other origin stories are more bureaucratic. Church planters can receive financial and spiritual support from an existing denomination and take courses on what it takes to hit the ground running alongside people with similar dreams.
Some communities have high-tech backstories. They might have formed in a chat room or a virtual world hosted by a video game.
New communities can emerge from a sense of anger, curiosity, confidence or obligation. They seek to fill a need or reclaim something that was lost.
This edition of ReligionLink is for those who are interested in learning more about these diverse origins. It highlights men and women who are experts on the formation of religious and spiritual groups.
For more information on how the religious landscape is changing, explore previous editions of ReligionLink on religious demographics, innovative faith communities and young adults and religion.
- Read “Hollywood’s holy hipster scene” from Vanity Fair on July 12, 2019.
- Listen to season two of the “StartUp” podcast, which focused on a church plant in Philadelphia.
- Read “The ‘start-up’ churches gathering in the cafes, halls and living rooms of regional Australia” from ABC News Australia on July 31, 2018.
- Read “If you build it, will they pray? Constructing religious worlds with Minecraft” from Religion News Service on Feb. 6, 2018.
- Read “This pastor is putting his faith in a virtual reality church” from Wired on Feb. 2, 2018.
- Read “Why are there no new major religions?” from The Atlantic on Aug. 6, 2017.
- Read “Virtual church meets needs of marginalized through extravagant welcome” from the United Church of Christ on Jan. 4, 2017.
- Read “Teen’s online church draws young people from around the world” from Faith & Leadership on Aug. 23, 2016.
- Read “New churches draw those who previously didn’t attend” from LifeWay Research on Dec. 8, 2015.
- Read “Mass online meditation lets you zone out in cyberspace” from The Conversation on March 10, 2014.
Winfield Bevins directs Asbury Seminary’s Church Planting Initiative. He previously served as canon for church planting for the Anglican Diocese of the Carolinas. Arrange an interview by filling out the contact form on his website.
Jan Birchfield is an expert on leadership, psychology and meditation. She recently launched a retreat center in Taos, New Mexico, offering guided meditation and assistance building a spiritual community. Arrange an interview through the contact form on her website.
The Rev. Tom Brackett is missioner for new church starts and missional initiatives for the Episcopal Church.
Eric Burch helps lead the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Second Life, a virtual faith community for users of the video game Second Life.
Heidi Campbell is a professor of communication at Texas A&M University. She has researched a variety of topics, including online faith communities, new media ethics and the relationship between digital culture and religion.
Matt Chandler is the president of Acts 29, a network of churches involved in the church planting movement. He is also the lead pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Chad Clarkson is co-founder and executive director of the Houston Church Planting Network.
The Rev. Aaron Damiani is head pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Chicago. He founded the church with his wife, Laura.
The Rev. Mark DeYmaz is the founding pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, which is acclaimed for being ethnically and economically diverse. He serves as an adviser to faith leaders hoping to build multiethnic communities.
Rabbi Barry Dolinger leads Congregation Beth Sholom in Providence, Rhode Island. He has expanded the reach of his faith community by launching a variety of small businesses, including a company that aims to increase access to kosher food.
Nabil Echchaibi is the associate director of the Center for Media, Religion and Culture at the University of Colorado Boulder. He studies Muslim identity politics, with an emphasis on how online activities affect organized religion.
The Rev. Jeff Eddings is the southeast region and coaching associate for 1,001 New Worshiping Communities, a Presbyterian initiative to launch innovative new churches. Previously, he helped found the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in Pittsburgh.
Bethany McKinney Fox
The Rev. Bethany McKinney Fox is a disability rights activist who leads a church start-up, Beloved Everybody Church, that’s ability inclusive. She co-hosts “Start in LA,” a podcast about what it’s like to launch new faith communities in Los Angeles.
The Rev. Jerold Garber is the founding minister of First United Church of Christ Second Life, the first virtual reality church to be given full standing by a mainline Protestant denomination.
Robert Geraci is a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York, where he teaches a course on science fiction, fantasy and religion. He is the author of Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life and Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality.
Ann Gleig is an associate professor at the University of Central Florida, where she studies Asian religions and the intersection of religion, gender and sexuality. Her first book, American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity, includes an exploration of online Buddhist meditation communities.
Megan Goodwin is a visiting lecturer on philosophy and religion at Northeastern University in Boston and the program director for Sacred Writes, an initiative aimed at increasing public scholarship on religion. She studies and writes about New Religious Movements, minority religions in the U.S., gender, sexuality and race.
Stanley Granberg is the executive director of Kairos Church Planting, an organization dedicated to launching new Church of Christ churches.
Gregory Grieve is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He studies digital religion, including how religious practices and beliefs are represented in video games.
Robert Guerrero is the associate director of City to City’s Hispanic and Caribbean affinity network, working to connect young churches and enable them to grow and multiply. He previously led church plants in Chicago and Santo Domingo. Arrange an interview through City to City’s contact form.
The Rev. Kevin Haah is the lead pastor of New City Church of Los Angeles. He teaches courses on church planting at Fuller Seminary.
Daniel Herron is pastor and founder of the Robloxian Christians Online Church, a faith community that meets within the virtual world of the video game Roblox.
Scott Hildreth is an assistant professor of global studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also directs the Center for Great Commission Studies.
Joseph Laycock is an assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University, where he researches New Religious Movements and American religious history.
Rabbi Esther Lederman is the director of congregational innovation for the Union for Reform Judaism.
J.D. Payne is an associate professor of Christian ministry at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He specializes in church planting and evangelism.
Anantanand Rambachan is a professor of religion, philosophy and Asian studies at St. Olaf College. He researches and writes about the Hindu community, including unique challenges and opportunities for Hindus in the United States.
Elizabeth D. Rios
The Rev. Elizabeth D. Rios is the board chairwoman and vice president of Plant 4 Harvest, an organization that trains church planters and urban missionaries. She is an expert on church planting within the Latino community.
Jeremy Grant Smith
Jeremy Smith is a substance abuse and mental health therapist who writes about the relationship between religion and technology for Church Mag. He has written and vlogged about the role of religion in the video game Minecraft, describing his own experience building religious spaces within the world of the game. Reach out to Smith with the form on his website.
D.J. Soto leads VR Church, a faith community that worships in virtual reality. He partners with faith leaders in other countries to offer five different services on Sundays.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as executive director of the school’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He was formerly the executive director of Lifeway Research, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He blogs on a variety of subjects related to American evangelicalism for Christianity Today.
Krista Tippett is the founder and CEO of the On Being Project, as well as the host of the podcasts “On Being” and “Becoming Wise.” Her podcast interviews often explore new or unexpected expressions of faith and spirituality.
Jihad Turk is the president of Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School and a regular commentator on issues affecting the Muslim community in the United States. He previously served as director of religious affairs for the Islamic Center of Southern California, the largest mosque in Los Angeles.
The Rev. Kodo Umezu is the socho, or bishop, of the Buddhist Churches of America. He previously served as director of the Center for Buddhist Education in Berkeley, California.
The Rev. Janet Waggoner is canon to the ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as chairwoman of the Episcopal Church’s Task Force on Church Planting and Evangelism.
Jason White is a musician, producer and vocal director who, along with rapper Kanye West, leads “Sunday Service” events in Los Angeles and across the country. Contact White through the form on his website.
JR Woodward is the national director of the V3 Movement, an organization that prepares church planters to launch new faith communities. He previously led churches in Virginia and Los Angeles.
Daniel Yang directs the Send Institute, a think tank focused on church planting in the North American context. The Send Institute is based at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Arrange an interview with Yang by filling out the contact form on his website.
The Rev. Janna Ziegler is rector and senior pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Los Angeles, which she co-founded.
Tim Hutchings is an assistant professor of religious ethics at the University of Nottingham. His dissertation was about online Christian churches and his research remains focused on digital religion.
Daniel Im is the senior associate pastor for Beulah Alliance Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He co-hosts the “New Churches Q&A” podcast and has helped lead church plants in Canada, Korea and the United States.
Hussein Kesvani is the author of Follow Me, Akhi: The Online World of British Muslims. He is also the Europe editor of MEL Magazine and writes about technology and identity.
Al Makin is a philosophy professor at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Indonesia. He researches New Religious Movements with a particular interest in Millah Abraham, a faith group that originated in Indonesia.
Dwight Martin leads CrossTies Asia, an effort to track Christian churches in Thailand and other Asian countries. He is an ordained Baptist pastor.
Jean-Francois Mayer is a religion scholar and editor of Religioscope, a website that tracks trends in religious practice and organization. He also serves as director of the Religioscope Institute in Fribourg, Switzerland. Contact Mayer by using the form on the Religioscope website.
Susan Palmer studies New Religious Movements and teaches religious studies at Concordia University and McGill University.
Scott Sanders is the executive director of Geneva Push in Sydney, Australia. Geneva Push encourages and assists church planters across Australia.
Bishop Ric Thorpe leads the Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication and oversees the Diocese of London’s effort to plant 100 new churches between 2015 and 2020.
Xenia Zeiler is an associate professor of South Asian studies at the University of Helsinki. Her research focuses on online expressions of Hinduism and the relationship between video games and religion.