It is nearly impossible to make accurate predictions looking ahead for churches of Christ. I don’t believe everything I am about to say will happen as I describe it, I do hope that in dreaming and discussing these things that some principles will be highlighted along the way that I believe will be a big part of the future of church culture, practice and doctrine in the years to come. Let us know what you think…which of these do you think get pretty close, which miss the mark entirely and what would you add?
1 – The power of story will result in renewed interests and openness: A renewed and intensified interest in story will bring a new generation into a deeper connection with the history of the church post first century. As we realize more and more that there wasn’t a vacuum in history between 70AD and the 1800s there will be a greater interest in the broader history and movement of the Christian faith and how we tie/tap into that. More and more churches of Christ will embrace things like the liturgical calendar. That same drive will also put us more in touch with New Testament narrative (the Gospels & Acts). It will also result in a shift in emphasis where Paul is brought in as a supplement or support to the Gospels rather than the other way around (which has traditionally been the case).
2 – A greater de-centering of authority in already autonomous churches. In a world where everyone has a voice and authority structures are interrogated with regularity there will be a flattening of the authority hierarchies that will spread our responsibilities and purposes over more people rather than isolating it among the privileged few. This will impact everything from gender roles to decision making and doctrine (see #8 below). Without an overarching denominational structure Churches of Christ can and should be more nimble to make needed adjustments looking ahead. The question is, will we as a whole?
3 – Re-thinking “church”: A generation is already rising up with more interest in Jesus than the church. The question is, how will that affect our expressions and definitions of “church” over the next 30 years? How much of our view of church is due to tradition, boxing up biblical expressions into orderly and controllable shells of what God intended and how much of our view is actually based on what we see in the New Testament? How do we take who they were and what they did and apply that to our context so that we aren’t robotically imitating someone else, while still respecting and following the teachings we do have. The focal point and access point will shift moving away from a church-centered (ecclesio-centered) approach to Trinity-centered (theocentric, Christocentric and Pneumacentric) and what flows out of that will be church rather than making church the primary access point to the Trinity.
4 – Universities and churches will compete against para-church ministries for “talent”: More and more, young ministers are faced with choosing between traditional routes to and through ministry vs non-traditional routes. Para-church/non-profit ministries are becoming more and more popular as they require less investment to participate in and get you into ministry much more quickly than most universities can manage. These organizations are flexible and efficient and that is often more attractive to young people than investing 4-8 years into education to begin ministry. In other words, it is more attractive to young people to dive right into a group that is already set on meeting a particular need or transforming lives than to jump into an established church that is calcified and inoculated against such things where one of the primary goals would be the hard (decades long) work of culture change in the local church that has no promise of ever happening.
5 – A move to simplicity & efficiency: Churches are going to have to simplify everything from ministries to giving/budget in order to better justify what they are doing in a world that is in a competition for dollars and minutes. People don’t want to see 80% of their giving go to overhead.
6 – Increase of “lay lead” churches: I believe a time is coming when some congregations are going to decide they can take up the ministry of the church with less staff and overhead and more grassroots involvement. With that move to para-church equipping (#4) comes a move toward simple (#5), lay-lead churches. This will be a jettisoning of multi-layer/complicated ministry models and a move toward less age-graded/segregated approaches to more wholistic and intergenerational approaches (think small groups and intergenerational classes and ministries). The more you segregate ministries by age the more hired staff it requires. This is a shift from “ministered to” to “minister with.”
7 – Intergenerational ministry: We will finally see the benefit of getting the generations back together and not be afraid to throw away obsolete ministry structures of the past. This will be driven by a few factors: the demonstrated effectiveness of those who are already doing this well, its simplicity, and the shift from more staff to less and leveraging those new resources toward ministry outside the church.
8 – A healthier hermeneutic will be embraced: CENI is good in some instances but it has its limitations. It also ignores #1 – that genre matters and not everything in scripture was intended as legal code. Christians have more bible study resources available to them on the phone in their pocket that past generations had available to them in print. We need to leverage our resources to embrace a healthier hermeneutic that is fair with the text (think historical-critical approach).
9 – People will move from “church shopping” to “small group shopping”: As views on what church is (#3) change people will be more open to the non-traditional route…that means small groups as independent congregations may become more popular and draw more people than traditional expressions of church.
10 – What is your #10?