I am involved in my church’s search for a new rector and have been for almost two years. It has been a time to think about the future of my church and the “church”. Conversations have provided many opportunities to discuss the “church” of the future. What it looks like, both locally and globally.
A member of the search committee sent an article “10 predictions about the future Church and shifting attendance patterns”, which contained two items salient to my current church, but are also elements important to the future of the “church”.
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.
When the car was invented, it quick took over from the horse and buggy. Horse and buggy manufacturers were relegated to boutique status and many went under, but human transportation actually exploded. Suddenly average people could travel at a level they never could before.
The mission is travel. The model is a buggy, or car, or motorcycle, or jet.
Look at the changes in the publishing, music and even photography industry in the last few years.
See a trend? The mission is reading. It’s music. It’s photography. The model always shifts….moving from things like 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs to MP3s and now streaming audio and video.
Companies that show innovation around the mission (Apple, Samsung) will always beat companies that remain devoted to the method (Kodak).
Churches need to stay focused on the mission (leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus) and be exceptionally innovative in our model.
Simplified ministries will complement people’s lives, not compete with people’s lives
For years, the assumption has been that the more a church grew, the more activity it would offer.
The challenge, of course, is that church can easily end up burning people out. In some cases, people end up with no life except church life. Some churches offer so many programs for families that families don’t even have a chance to be families.
The church at its best has always equipped people to live out their faith in the world. But you have to be in the world to influence the world.
Churches that focus their energies on the few things the church can uniquely do best will emerge as the most effective churches moving forward. Simplified churches will complement people’s witness, not compete with people’s witness.
Since joining my church three years ago, I have become involved in the Kairos prison ministry. Also, I am a member of the search committee, a lay reader and eucharistic minister, sound system operator, narrator of Christmas pageant and Good Friday dramatic readings and, participant in Christian formation. Involved and busy.
It is no longer enough for a church to be comfortable in what we have always done, staying within the walls of our buildings. The church must adapt to existing in their communities, not apart from them, engaging the real issues of the community. Newport News, has a large amount of wealth disparity, particularly along racial lines. Jesus’ called for us to love our neighbors as ourselves. A congregation of well-off white people, who do not roll up their sleeves and tackle the work of community social justice does not measure up.
Achieving balance between engagement in the community, and the demands of life is critical, though. As someone who has become very involved in my church and mission, but who has a job, family and other interests, adding more responsibilities and obligation makes me hesitant to commit to more. Life is busy, and attending church and performing works of ministry shouldn’t feel like an obligation. As a busy, young professional, with kids, simplified ministries are critical to keep people like me engaged. Not competing with life is necessary to continue to attract people to a ministry. I am leading the fall Kairos ministry weekend and I am learning the burden of ministry leadership is significant. Several weekends worth of commitments makes participating in such a ministry difficult for some and unappealing to others. Incorporation and attraction of new members into the ministry is difficult if the burden placed on them as participants or leaders is too high.
The future church will not look the same as it has. The church must evolve to understand that good people don’t go to church because that is what good people do anymore. To remain full of vitality, the church must meet the churched and unchurched where they are. The church of the future must find ways to engage both groups to draw each closer to Christ, even if they are busy.