Friday, May 27, 2016

What does the future hold for the local church?

We hear much talk about the state of the local church today, and much of it is negative. As some look at declining attendance and giving statistics they wonder if the church will continue to exist much longer. I think it would be a big mistake to count the church out. After all, Jesus Christ said the forces of hell would not prevail against the church. The church does have a pretty solid foundation!

There's no doubt that the church is going through some difficult times right now, but I see these times as more of a transition than anything else. What we don't know is what the church will look like on the other side of this transition. This uncertainty is what scares some people.

One of my favorite images of today's church is that of a trapeze artist. The trapeze artist must go from the swing he is on to the one that is swinging towards him. To go from the safety of the swing he holds onto to the other swing he must let go of the one. For a brief moment he is suspended in mid-air waiting for the other swing to reach him. During that time of suspension he is most vulnerable because if the other swing is not timed correctly he will fall to the ground. I see today's church as being in that in-between time.

Much of what's worked for the church in the past no longer works, but many still want to hold on to it because it's safe and reliable. Before we can experience something new in the church we have to be willing to let go of the one we are clinging to. That in-between time is scary for church leaders just as it is for trapeze artists. It's so hard to let go of the known for something that we don't know in hopes that it will be better.

As the church goes through this time of transition there will be many changes. I'm convinced the church will look much different twenty years from now than it does today. Despite not having a crystal ball I will venture some changes I believe are likely to occur.

  • More churches will be led by bivocational pastors and/or bivocational teams. Some of this will be driven by economics but not all of it.
  • Seminary training will not be a requirement for a growing number of churches. Growing numbers of seminary students will earn their degrees online. Persons going into pastoral ministry will often pursue degrees other than the traditional MDiv. They will want more practical MA degrees offering courses that will speak more to the needs of pastors. Look for the MDiv to be the degree of choice for those planning to earn a PhD.
  • Mid-size churches will face a lot of pressure to compete with much larger churches in the programs and ministries they offer. Some will be able to meet those expectations and will grow. Others will not and will begin to lose people to the larger churches.
  • There is already a lesser commitment to the denomination in which people were raised. Expect to see this continue and even increase. A growing number of people simply won't care about the name of the church as much as what ministries the church offers.
  • Lay people will be much more involved in ministry that they are today. This is be partially due to their churches calling bivocational ministers but mostly due to more people realizing they have been gifted and called to do ministry.
  • Churches will become more creative in raising funds. This will become critical in the next few years as the Builder generation continues to decline. Churches that are effective in teaching sound stewardship will see more of their people supporting the church financially. Growing numbers will begin offering online giving if they want the Millennial generation to support their church financially.
  • Expect to see more home churches. Zoning restrictions in some communities, the cost of new construction, and a desire to plant new churches rather than erect great buildings will cause many to decide to meet in homes. Some denominations will be forced to determine how they will recognize these churches.
  • Speaking of denominations, they will also have to make some major changes as their churches go through their transitions. The same is true of seminaries. While there's not space in this post to address these changes, they will be significant. I'm not sure all denominations and seminaries will survive this transition.

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