Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Envisioning the Future Church

There are many who have sought to predict the future of the Church, and as a pastor, I too want to lead people to where they will be most effective.  Does this information help accomplish that?  Another question for the futurist....  Being a student of what might be ahead, I believe, is a healthy exercise for leaders.  Studying trends and expected environments helps make decisions in the present.  Waiting on the Lord is vital and the most important approach in looking to change and what the future will bring... for God alone knows the future.  Maybe God will give those who love and serve Him some insight along the way.  I read as much as I can find on the subject, spend time in prayer and try to apply it to where I presently lead at any given moment.... these ideas pile up.  Right now, here are some accumulated thoughts on the matter.... however, in a year or two... these may change in my mind as well.

1. Mission field among us: Millennial generation. (Church must become relevant to them or…. )
Our nation will see the emergence of the largest generational mission field in over a century. According to current research, the Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000, will have a very low Christian representation. Estimates now are that only 15% are Christian. With a huge population of nearly 80 million, that means that nearly 70 million young people are not Christians.  The dominant attitude of this huge generation toward Christianity will be largely indifferent. Only 13 percent of the “Millennials” rank any type of spiritual matter as important to their lives. They are not angry at churches and Christians. They simply ignore us because they do not deem church/Christians as meaningful or relevant.

2. Must change the way we minister to Senior Adults.
Senior adult ministries in churches will experience steep declines. As the large Baby Boomer generation moves into their older years, they will resist any suggestion that they are senior adults, no matter how senior they may be. Unfortunately, many churches are slow to adapt to new realities. If they do senior adult ministry the way they’ve always done it, it will be headed for failure.  The large Boomer generation will become more receptive to the gospel. Data is anecdotal for now, but we are seeing indications that the Boomers may actually become more interested in spiritual matters in general, and Christianity specifically. If so, this trend will be counter to other trends where adults tend to become less receptive to the gospel as they age. The Baby Boomers have tried it all and found no joy. They may likely turn to the hope of the gospel.

3. Family will be a key value for both of the large generations.
For the Millennials, family is their most important value. Nearly eight out of ten of the Millennials ranked family as the important issue in their lives. They reported that they had healthy relationships with their parents who, for the most part, are Baby Boomers. Some churches say they are family friendly, but few actually demonstrate that value. Churches that reach both of these generations will make significant changes to become the type of churches that foster healthy family relationships,

4. “Holy buildings” scare people
We live in an increasingly post-Christian culture.  To get people to “come to us” will mean that the structure must be culturally relevant.  Otherwise, we will have to “go to them” and use spaces that are familiar. The church should be in the culture and making a difference, that is a Biblical imperative and this makes it tangible!

5. Activate New Volunteers, quickly. 
If churches do not provide opportunities to quickly connect dedicated volunteers they will not consider being part of the organization a priority, regardless of membership.   Developing space that does not need volunteers to maintain it, set it up, lead in it, work in it, serve in it… will not prosper in the future. 

6. The ability to say no. One of the reasons churches don’t change is because leaders are unwilling to say no to current members who prefer things the way they were. When you learn to say no to the preferences of some current members, you learn to say yes to a community that is ready to be reached for Christ.

7. We exist primarily for the people who are not here….
Prioritizing a for you not from you culture. Andy Stanley often talks about what he wants for people, not just what he wants from them. Churches in decline often think in terms of what they can get from people – money, time, growth etc. Churches that will make an impact on the future will be passionate about what they want for people – financial balance, generosity, the joy of serving, better families, and of course, Christ at the center of everyone’s life.  For example, our parking experience is not about parking, but warmly welcoming people.  Churches that become passionate about people outside their walls will be far more effective than churches that are passionate about keeping the few people they have inside their walls happy. Better still, you will have a healthier church if people outside become the priority target group. We call individuals who are fixated on their wants and needs selfish and immature. Selfless and mature churches will have an impact because of their passion for people God cares about.  Growth and maturity are certainly an important foundational part of the discipling church, reaching people outside will not happen w/o growing, maturing believers who have needs and struggles that are being addressed, of course.  We just can’t get caught in the cycle of meeting that ever-growing list of selfish needs. The Church must get beyond those obstacles, with Christ help.  Instead, make decisions and choose preferences with the “people who are not here” as a priority.

8. A tailored experience, not a tailored message. 
The Christ-life is a life experience, not simply a message.  We don’t have to tailor the message to un-churched people, but churches that have an impact will tailor the experience of the message. The content is the same – the experience needs to change. Churches that decide they will hold the message sacred but tailor the experience to an ever shifting culture will be more effective.  Therefore, there should be a high value on experimentation. The more traditional we are, the less we will value experimentation. If we start to raise the value of experimentation and change, we will accelerate change and flexibility.  If our approach or method is not accomplishing our goal, then our approach needs to change. The churches that connect with their community will be the churches willing enough to try a variety of things, and who also have the courage to kill them as soon as they stop producing results.  It is important, if space is to be developed for ministry, we need to design space that is not locked into a single or even limited use.  We need to be able to change the experience as soon as it is not effective in delivering the message.

9. The importance of the church building is being renewed
The church is not a building, but a building is where the church meets. And buildings are the most expensive part of discipleship. In North America people go to buildings to do things — they go to the game in an arena, to the doctor at her office, to school in the classroom, and to the movie at the theater. Part of our culture is the expectation that things happen in buildings. This cultural expectation is true of the church — people go to church to be discipled, experience life inspiration and encouragement.  Not all churches have buildings, nor are they required.  However, buildings may be important pieces in God’s mission of building his kingdom again. Many building and design firms are becoming more intentional about creating space with the purpose of making disciples, where life inspiration may occur and encouragement is prevalent.  In the next ten years, this focus will continue to grow. Churches will begin to view their buildings as part of their disciple-life process.  Furthermore, the recent trend of video driven church venues may wane in the next 10 years. As video resources are more and more readily available on the Internet, people will be looking for a place to connect with people face to face.  In certain niches on-line church might become the church for some who simply have no other access to church.  But there is something about human relationship that requires presence. Because the church at its fullest will always gather, on-line church will supplement the journey.

10. Churches that love their model more than the mission will die
That said, many individual congregations and some entire denominations won’t make it. The difference will be between those who cling to the mission and those who cling to the model. 

11. Attendance will no longer drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance
Currently, many churches try to get people to attend, hoping it drives engagement.  In the future, that will flip. The engaged will attend, in large measure because only the engaged will remain.  If you really think about this…engagement driving attendance is exactly what has fueled the church at its best moments throughout history. It’s an exciting shift.  In the future church, attendance won’t drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance.

12. Gatherings will be smaller and larger at the same time
While many might think the mega-church is dead, it’s not. And while others think mega-churches are awful, there’s nothing inherently bad about them. Size is somewhat irrelevant to a church’s effectiveness.  There are bad mega-churches and bad small churches. And there are wonderfully effective mega-churches and wonderfully effective small churches.  We will likely see large churches get larger. Multi-site will continue to explode, as churches that are effective expand their mission. At the same time, churches will also establish smaller, more intimate gatherings as millennials and others seek tighter connections and groups. Paradoxically, future large churches will likely become large not because they necessarily gather thousands in one space, but because they gather thousands through dozens of smaller gatherings under some form of shared leadership. Some of those gatherings might be as simple as coffee shop and even home venues under a simple structure.  We will see the emergence of bigger churches and smaller churches at the same time as the gathered church continues to change.

Source references:  Andy Stanley, Leading Change. Carey Nieuwhof, Conexus Leadership. Rich Birch, Leadership Network. Thom Reiner, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Sam Rainer, Rainer Research;  Kent Williams, Ashley River Baptist Church

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