The Future of the Church – Part 2
Let’s begin where I ended Part 1.
Here are a few reminders to ground us:
- God is good, faithful, just, and right on time.
- The church is the body of Christ and we are members of that body, each with different functions and gifts.
- Our mission is focused on disciple-making.
- The love of God we know in Jesus is hope incarnate.
In part one I explored two current realities and expanded on the reminders above. Today, let’s look at 5 trends. These trends might just prompt you to have conversations with friends, colleagues, and the next generations.
Before we explore these trends, I want to invite you to put on the hat of a “Reinvention Specialist.” The reason for that will become clear shorty.
Trend 1 – Declining participation
This is not a new trend. It’s an accelerating trend. In a survey of 15,000 churches across the United States, in 2020, the median worship attendance among US congregations was 65. In 2000, it was 137.
About 7 years ago, while serving at the General Board of Discipleship, I began to explore the pattern of baptisms and professions of faith. I was looking for a positive trend to celebrate. Instead, what I found was it is the exception, not the norm, for baptisms and profession of faith to happen in local United Methodist Churches.
In 2021, for the first time ever in the United States church membership dropped below 50%. Please hear me, membership is not the only number and probably not the best number to look at. But it is an indicator of an ongoing trend.
What does this mean? One thing I think it means is our current approach to church isn’t working. Dare I say, it has not been working my entire life. The church has been in decline for decades.
At the end of each trend, I’ll offer a question for you to consider. Here is your first question:
Are you willing to change your methods to amplify the mission? What does that look like?
Trend 2 – Reinvent Ministries at Least Every 3 years
That means anticipating, designing, and implementing change every 3 years. Please DO NOT read that as “It’s 2022, so in 2025 we need to start focusing on reinventing ourselves.”
No, you’re going to be reinventing all the time. And it doesn’t have to be exhausting if you’re anticipating, designing, and implementing change. It will necessitate building a system of leadership and processes to listen, pay attention, experiment, and assess effectiveness.
By the end of 2022, you will likely have a different church than you did in 2019. Because of all the changes in the past three years.
Why do I say every reinvent every 3 years?
- In the 1900s, organizations reinvented themselves every 75 years.
- By 1989, it went down to every 15 years.
- In 2020, that went down to 6 years. The pandemic accelerated this and it is anticipated we’re now at 3 years.
If you want to lead successful reinvention, you’re going to do it when the church is still growing, moving toward its prime.
Only 10% of organizations who try to reinvent themselves are successful on the downward slope. Yes, many of us find ourselves in congregations that are past our prime. But, if we are resurrection people, and we are, there is hope. You can be the 10%. Or, consider this: sometimes death needs to occur so the new life can emerge.
What this means is something is always going to be being reinvented. We’re not living in a time when you’re going to settle on the next method and keep at it for the remainder of your life. We’re living in a cycle of ongoing change that requires us to anticipate change, design change, and implement change at least every three years.
What’s Reinvention About?
Reinvention is about:
-Embracing change by reimagining and remaking something so that it manifests new and improved attributes, qualities, and results.
-A systematic approach to thriving in chaos that includes ongoing anticipation, design, and implementation of change via continuous sense-making, anticipatory and emergent learning, and synthesis of cross-boundary, cross-disciplinary, and cross-functional knowledge.
-A way to foster sustainability of a system by dynamically harmonizing continuity and change.
-An immune system designed to ensure systematic health for individuals and organizations
-A structured and deliberate effort to engage in healthy cycles of planned renewal, building on the past to ensure current and future viability.
Reinvention includes the following three elements:
What happens if you only do 1 &2?
You’re going to burn out.
What happens if you only do 1 & 3?
You’re going to live in chaos and craziness.
What happens if you only do 2 & 3? You’re going to be too late. You’ve designed for the wrong thing. Arrogance is what often keeps us here.
Question: What do you need to work on the most: Anticipating change? Designing Change? Or Implementing change?
Trend 3 – Location Independent Church and Localized Community Development
Location independence creates opportunities for you to worship and be a part of a church in Cincinnati while living in Columbus and not going anywhere.
The church has tried to exist on 1 hour of contact a week. This makes a one-hour experience the primary connection point. Often, this results in little integration of faith into daily life. Further, it means people exist in silos.
This trend, location independence, coupled with localized community development is about the integration of life. The trends are all pointing to a world that is interconnected. This isn’t new. But it is accelerating. What is important about this trend is creating spaces where people are known and participating in spaces where being known is already happening.
This doesn’t mean everyone is going to know everyone’s name. But it does mean everyone has an experience of being known. That “being known” likely will happen in a localized, integrated way, rather than a siloed approach to life.
What possibilities does this create?
Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking:
- It could mean your church on the westside may have people living in California with a home group doing life-on-life discipleship.
- Integrate Jesus into the daily fabric of life.
- Equip globally and nurture locally. It means relationships are central to everything we do. There’s something that has NOT changed!
- Move discipleship to our neighborhoods and homes.
Question: What does this trend make possible?
Trend 4: The Rise of Web3 and AR/VR
Here’s something that is already a reality: hybrid church is simply becoming church. There are people who connect online, there are people who connect in person. But, technology is also taking us to new places. Consider for a moment what augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) mean for the church? Will I be able to put on my VR headset and sit in church in Florida? What do cryptocurrency, web 3 mean for the church?
If you just completely zoned out because those letters and numbers mean nothing to you. It’s ok.
Go back to where we started. Are you willing to shift methods to amplify the mission?
The big question I see emerging with new technology is this: How do in-person and online portals share information and invite transformation? Said differently, what is informational and what is transformational? Where can technology help us share information and where do local relationships help us create transformational experiences?
Only time will tell how AR and VR change the landscape of our world. But if you know any teenagers, ask them. They’ll likely be willing to show you their VR goggles.
Trend 5: The Great Resignation and Well-Being
I touched on this in Trend 3. But, it bears its own trend. People are longing for an integrated, holistic, life that acknowledges their wellbeing. It’s estimated that at least 50% of working-age people will think about leaving their current workplace in 2022 at the cost of billions of dollars to organizations. The same statistic for clergy is hovering around 40%.
Why? One of the reasons is this: our well-being has plummeted. The two primary drivers of wellbeing are liking what you do every day (career) and having meaningful friendships in your life (social).
There are many reasons “the Great Resignation” began. One of the reasons is this: work became complex, at home, and we became disconnected from the people we love to spend time with the most.
If you want a quick check on your own well-being. Pause and explore these five questions:
- Career: Do you like what you do every day?
- Social: Do you have meaningful friendships in your life?
- Financial: Are you managing your money well?
- Community: Do you like where you live?
- Physical: Do you have the energy to get things done?
Before you ask, “where is spiritual wellbeing?”allow me to say this. Here is the danger and the possibility for the church. We pick one of these areas and say “that’s where faith/spirituality lives.” Instead, faith is the foundation of our wellbeing.. Our spiritual well-being grounds our career, social, financial, community, physical, wellbeing.
These things are not addressed in a one-day seminar. Or even a 2-hour workshop. They’re addressed when people do life together.
Imagine what begins to happen when disciple-making moves to homes and neighborhoods. You begin to see the emergence of an Acts 2 Church – Where people are caring for the well-being of others.
Question: Which aspect of well-being are you thriving in? Which aspect of well-being needs attention?
I’ve offered five trends for the future of the church. There are probably five more trends you could name, too. While none of us know how these emerging trends will play out, we do know that God is good. These trends invite us to be a part of the Great Reinvention and to consider again if our methods amplify our mission. I don’t know about you, but when I consider what God can do in and through people open to transformation, I see great possibilities for the future of the church and the people in our communities.
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