Predicting the Future of Christianity
There is constant speculation and anxiety in our culture about the future of American Christianity and the role of the church in the coming years. What will the faith look like ten, twenty, or fifty years from now? Why will some churches be forced to close their doors while others in the same zip codes thrive and grow? Nobody holds a crystal ball but all ministers and Christian leaders should think about these questions because the decisions we make now play a big role in shaping and molding the future. These decisions will also determine whether we are able to reach our children and grandchildren with the values of Christianity. Here are twelve predictions about the future:
1) Denominational loyalty will continue to wane. There will be ongoing movement between Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, non-denominational etc. Christians will be more concerned about being a part of a community where they can connect and grow spiritually than simply maintaining family loyalties to a particular denomination or congregation.
2) The words of Jesus will matter much more than creeds, doctrine, theologies, and hierarchies. Since the faith is built on Christ and his teachings, his words will matter most. Christians need to know and reflect upon what he said and did.
3) Churches will need to offer different styles of worship and music. Healthy churches will recognize that not everybody worships the same way. Worship wars accomplish nothing. If your church is limited to one style or approach to worship, you are limiting your reach.
4) Mission and service must be a priority and getting people involved in “hands-on” mission will make all the difference. Writing checks is important but being hands-on is transforming. The CEO who travels to Guatemala, Africa, or Appalachia will be changed and find incredible joy and purpose.
5) Small groups will continue to be the key to effective discipleship, relationships, and spiritual formation. New leaders must be recruited and trained. This is where genuine connections are made and life is lived.
6) Bold, visionary, and courageous leadership will be essential. The churches that do well will have both pastors and lay leaders who are always looking to the future, pushing the envelope and are willing to try new things. The seven last words of the church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
7) Hospitality and authenticity will be essential. Warm and welcoming churches that are authentic, energetic, and genuine will do well. Nobody wants to be ignored when they come to church.
8) The church must be a place where genuine healing takes place. Judgment makes this difficult. There is a lot of pain and brokenness and people need a place to heal and be honest. Recovery ministries, twelve-step programs, divorce care, counseling, and spiritual growth all matter.
9) Church communities must work to become welcome alternatives to the polarization, division, and incivility that is defining our culture. This does not mean everybody agrees on politics or social issues, but we must work harder to listen and respect differences. If this does not happen, churches will simply mirror our polarized culture.
10) A consumer approach to Christianity (What can you do for me?) needs to be replaced with a servant form of Christianity (How can I serve?). One is self-centered, the other is selfless.
11) Websites, podcasts, and blogs will be a way of getting people in the door but cannot replace authentic community. Technology is important but has limits. Many people are now lonelier than ever.
12) Experiencing God (heart) will be much more important than knowledge about God (head).
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