What do you see for the future of the Church?
This is probably not a pressing question in your world, but it is in mine. I am asked this question regarding The Church (universal) and regarding “our church” (specific congregations) several times each week. Here is my partial answer:
- Churches who have become private clubs, personal chapels, or participants in a “what do we do to survive?” culture will close as soon as they run out of money. They are filled with lovely human beings who unintentionally have made decisions that set them on the road to closure for decades.
- Churches who exist for the sake of sharing the message of Jesus, who don’t focus on “getting new members” and who will do whatever the Spirit tells them to do in order to serve others will thrive.
There will be large congregations with both resources and the faith to try and fail at new ventures. And all those ventures will be about making disciples (not branding or good public relations.)
There will be medium congregations who connect with other medium-sized congregations to transform their corner of the world in the name of Jesus. Partnering together, they’ll be able to do what the cathedral-ish churches can do. They won’t be concerned if they are working with the Methodists or the Lutherans or the Catholics – or the Muslims. They will be concerned about sharing the life-changing news of resurrection with their towns and cities.
There will be small congregations who know and love their communities to the point that they serve according to what breaks God’s heart in their particular context. And they will be vital to the life of their neighborhoods and towns.
We are going to see lots and lots of church closings in all denominations and in all non-denominations in the next five years. And this will be an opportunity to resurrect into something new. What will be new?
- Congregations who meet – as a whole body – once a month or once a quarter. During the in-between time, they will be worshiping and learning and serving together in small gatherings of people who meet during the week. (Weekend church will not be the norm for new Christians.)
- Congregations who meet in unchurchy places. So many people are turned off by church buildings. While some traditional church buildings will continue to be tools for ministry, other folks will be more comfortable in secular spaces. (Church people: note how few of your couples are getting married in the church building these days.)
There are more new things that will happen, but this is a start. I have enormous hope for the future Church of Jesus Christ. But many of our congregations will die out. It’s okay. Notice how congregations in Thessaloniki and Philippi are not celebrating their 2000th anniversaries.
I can understand people who want their churches to survive long enough to bury them one day. But imagine people – instead – saying that the Most Important Thing about their church is that they are following Jesus with joy into unknown territory.
There are many congregations who are indeed following Jesus with joy into unknown territory. I pray there will be more.
Image of Dura-Europos Church in Syria. It is possibly – according to this – the oldest church in the world. Here’s the problem: when people refer to the “10 Oldest Churches in the World” they are talking about church buildings, not actual churches. Most of the world still believes that the church is a building and that’s why so many of them are closing.