This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Friday, September 19, 2014

18 Characteristics of the Future Church.

Here is what I am seeing.  Most of these are already happening in small or large ways.  Almost all of them are welcome advances beyond our current situation.

1.                      The “one-size-fits-all” approach is over.  Every church will shape its mission to fit its own context.  There will still be thriving  “traditional” congregations, but fewer of them; at the same time we will see an expanding diversity of churches, worshiping communities, missional outposts, and gatherings of disciples, with different structures, criteria for ministry, purposes, and leadership.

2.                      The diversity in ministry-styles will broaden far beyond the old, conventional model – at least one full-time, in-residence pastor per congregation – and include more part-time, non-professional, non-residential, and unpaid leadership.  There will be more shared and collaborative leadership as well, and more leaders serving multiple gatherings.  Different oversight models will evolve, eg. one trained professional overseeing multiple gatherings served by theology students, lay preachers, part-time pastors, etc.

3.                      The traditional “roll of active members” will become decreasingly relevant; gatherings will have fluid forms of participation and involvement.  Some may adopt covenants of shared spiritual practices as criteria for identifying members.  This will necessitate a change in (among other things) the way churches support themselves financially, moving from pledging to a variety of fund-raising strategies.  These may include fees for services, dues arrangements, rental income, and production of goods for sale.  Many denominations/networks will have to change the way they collect assessments to support the hierarchy/bureaucracy.

4.                      The old denominations will remain… but continue to shrink (eventually hitting something like “terminal velocity,” I suppose).  Within and outside of these denominations, disciples and gatherings will form new networks for mission and support, across denominational lines.  New semi/post-denominational alliances will form.  Connectionalism will become more voluntary and temporary.  Regional denominational bodies will grow weaker and have to compete with less formal networks.

5.                      Coercive strategies for forcing compliance and loyalty (by, say, claiming control over property or pastors) on the part of regional or national denominational bodies will collapse.  Voluntary arrangements based on mutual benefits will emerge.

6.                      The church will become more democratic and less controlled by specialists like clergy or even elected representative elders.  At the same time, churches will have to take more care to establish meaningful criteria for membership and participation.

7.                      The “neighborhood church” will decline as the primary local ecclesiastical model; there will be more gatherings that draw from a wide area based on missional emphases, worship styles, and particular programs an opportunities.

8.                      Suburbia will recede as the center of church life, and be regarded more accurately as the moral and spiritual wasteland it is.  The church will seek to evangelize suburbia by recognizing it as basically an “un-churched” zone requiring: a) witnessing to the diversity of Christ’s body, and b) strategies to redistribute wealth out of suburbia to places of need.

9.                      The church will get poorer.  This is because the 99% will continue to get poorer, until something dramatic is done to address the inequalities of wealth in our country and the world.  Sucking up to the 1% is always an option, but it is usually toxic to the church’s identity.

10.                  Fewer gatherings will own property, choosing to rent, lease, meet in free spaces, like homes or public places.  Disciples will realize that resources sunk into buildings are robbed from mission.  Those that do own property will see it as a source of income while meeting missional needs in their community.

11.                  Seminaries will shift from being graduate schools to serving the needs of the church.  Field education will expand in importance and prominence.  More students will be commuters and part-timers.  Regional councils will place less emphasis on academic degrees from accredited institutions, and more on actual expertise and skill in ministry.  Hence, ministry experience will become an important criterion for seminary teachers.

12.                  Those doing ministry at every level will find support in various ad hoc groups and networks.  These will cross denominational lines; some may even be interfaith.  Such connections will also be used for credentialing and discipline.

13.                  Worship will explode into a nearly infinite variety of expressions, from drumming circles to family dinners.  It will generally be more sensory, somatic, emotional, and less cerebral.  The use of organs will decline dramatically.

14.                  Doctrine will become “open source” and focus on spiritual practices.  Disciples and gatherings will be informed by theologies from across the spectrum, not just those historically associated with a particular sect, or even historical Christianity.  Some will remain consistent.  But most churches will weave together strands of theology, ecclesiology, and spirituality from the entire Christian tradition, and beyond.  And it will all be about effective practices of liberation and reconciliation, both inwardly in terms of the individual soul, and outwardly in terms of social justice and peace.  

15.                  We will decreasingly use the term “Christian” and seek words to describe ourselves that have less baggage from Christendom.  We will be “followers,” “disciples,” “friends,” etc., of Jesus, Yeshua, Christ, the Word, Wisdom, the Messiah, the Way, etc.

16.                  We will pay exponentially more attention to the Holy Spirit than was ever the case before.

17.                  Scripture will remain central in importance.  At the same time it will be interpreted less literally and historically, and more mythically, symbolically, figuratively, spiritually, and metaphorically.  We will be more concerned to discern the living truth in Scripture, and less interested in facts or historicity.

18.                  It will be highly unusual to see a national flag in a place where followers of Jesus Christ gather for worship.  Disciples will realize that there is no good theological reason for such a thing, and plenty of very bad reasons.