Where will you be in 10 years? in 20 years? If you’re involved in a church, it may look quite different from what you’re accustomed to today.
The church in America is currently shuddering under unprecedented societal change. Some churches are shuttering—closing their doors, rather than adapting to the swirling changes around us. But some are breaking through and finding fresh ways to share the ageless message of Christ with a still-spiritually-open culture.
Some of the innovation we see today was actually predicted over 10 years ago. At that time a think tank of ministry leaders from across the country met to envision the future. They accurately foresaw some changes we now see emerging.
For example, whereas the modern church looks and feels much like a theatrical presentation, the think tankers saw a church that would begin to look and feel more like a neighborhood place to gather around food and drink.
That model is sprouting up in divergent locations across the country—and outside the country.
Morning Star Church in Middleville, Michigan, worships in a former auto parts store that now looks like a homey little restaurant. “We have a DNA of worshipping around tables,” says pastor Bill Wynsma. The church’s website describes the vibe: “Remember those signs in some churches that say, ‘No Food or Drink in the Sanctuary’? Well, we welcome you to enjoy coffee, tea and other morning beverages along with a selection of snacks.”
And, more than 150 churches across the country and Canada have joined the growing network of Lifetree Cafes. I’m blessed to work with this new ministry that’s designed to reach into the community with a conversation-based experience. Members of the community gather around small tables and enjoy snacks and drinks while they delve into host-led explorations of life issues—with a spiritual twist. Some Lifetree locations are inside church facilities. Others are offered in local coffee shops and community centers.
Whitsunday Baptist Church in Queensland, Australia, offers a beachfront café experience every Tuesday night. Soul Church Café provides “coffee, dessert, and a chat about some of the more important things in life.” The ministry offers “conversation, friendship, and a little bit of what you are looking for.”
In Communist China, where churches are highly restricted, Christian restaurateurs opened the Upper Room Rainbow Café in Beijing. Biblically themed décor surrounds the tables where patrons munch on cleverly named entrees. (On a recent visit, I tried the “Five Loaves and Two Fish.” Tasty!) Curious Chinese residents gather here for Bible studies, Christian music and even sermons. “We consider it a dinner show,” says the savvy owner, who stays legal and in good favor with the government.
So, why are these food-and-drink venues working? If we say faith is a relationship, it makes sense that our expressions of faith look relational. Sitting around a table, eating, and talking with friends about matters of faith is a relational model that Jesus used very fruitfully. And the conversational aspect allows people to interact with the message, something that resonates well with today’s interactive citizens.
As we watch this trend build throughout today’s church, where will it lead tomorrow? What will the church look like in 10 or 20 years? It’s an important question. The better we can anticipate the coming changes, the better prepared we’ll be to take the unchanging message to the changing world.
We’re organizing a new think tank to analyze developing trends and explore how they’ll drive change for the church in the future. This special gathering will include generations authority Neil Howe, and church researcher Scott Thumma. The Future of the Church Summit is October 22-24, 2012, in Loveland, Colorado. It’s an invitation-only event for church leaders, thinkers and influencers. If you know someone who should receive an invitation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a healthy thing to read the signs and adjust: “You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow; red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’ You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times!” –Jesus
What do you see coming?
Ed Stetzer would be a fine contributor
I recommend Joseph Bunce, of the Baptist Convention of NM.
It’s great you’re thinking 10 or 20 years into the future. What would it take to think longer term, like 100 years or more? Christianity has been a constant, stabilizing force in our culture for a very long time and today’s church could become a leader in long term sustainability both culturally and materially by, among other things, creating church architecture that lasts well into the next century.
1. The future of the church is in the youth. The youth will rise up to lead. They will be strong and do exploits. Investing in the youth, not with frivolous programs, but giving them the meat of the word from a young age. The youth will lead the church in boldness and breaking traditional walls.
2. The future of the church is in its leading and not following societal changes. In the near future, the church will be the source of major decision making. People will come to prophetic hearers to know what to do. The government will be less able to meet the needs and the church will be the source. There will actually be cities of refuge where there will be an abundant supply because those who are following the leading of the Spirit will be in the flow of provision and God will use them to direct the churches.
3. The future of the church lies in the music. There will be universality in music. Certainly not reflective of universalism, but in the fact that music in the church will be broadened to include more than just a sliver of style that appeals to a certain segment of society. Psalmists will begin to hear the melodies of heaven. These heavenly sounds will emanate from the heavens and will be broadcast into the earth by those who are tuned into God sounds. It will be a new sound and will appeal to all because God knows how to minister spirit to spirit. Heaven sounds appeal to all and these new sounds will shortly penetrate the darkness. People will come into churches because of the sound. The sound will draw them. I see people once again broadcasting music outward from the church like the old church bells and music from the steeples of the church would sound throughout the town in the past. Again, churches will broadcast the sound outwardly during the week.
4. Church services will not be limited to one morning service or one night service. God says that churches will become more like 24 facilities where people can be ministered to continually as well as needs met and the power of God available. Church houses now that sit empty all during the week will no longer do so. I see more Christian schools in churches. I also see churches collaborating and cooperating more for community outreach centers, where people from different churches work together. They may worship in their separate churches, but they will be more coordinated community effort during the week.
5. Much more will be accomplished outside the walls of the church than inside. There is a new development in the realm of the spirit. Do you know that the table has been set? There is much activity in heaven designed to prepare for the arrival of the guests. The world will cry for justice. Those churches that are only involved in their own inwardly focused activities will lose the respect of the world. Those who are outside of the church bringing justice to unjust situations will earn the respect of those outside of the church. Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who involve themselves in the work of unity, of peace, of community, of love, of breaking down walls, of togetherness and oneness, those who put themselves to the task of unifying and peacemaking and comforting and ministering, those who are an extension of the arm of the Lord in strengthening the ties that bind, they will see an anointing of power. What is the development in the heavenlies? Come outside of the walls of the church. Let the world see the love. Let the world feel the heartbeat of God. Demonstrate My power and goodness in the marketplace, in the city streets, in the open air. Do you want to see Me move? Take My hands and heart and feet outside of the walls of the church. Have I not told you that I would gather unlikely people in impromptu gatherings with no one at the helm? Seeds planted in the area of praise gathering, unity, and community, will yield much fruit in the near future. There will not be a long time of waiting for the harvest of powerful demonstration of signs in the heaven and wonders among the people. These connections will be important in the near future when the resources of one will be given to meet the needs of others. There will be an openness and sharing and self-less giving and service to meet the needs of others. Why? Because great will be the change. Those things that are now considered predictable and unchanging will change. Let generosity, service, love, peace, and unity be dispersed like seeds planted. These seeds will develop into the planting of the Lord….a great harvest of souls that no man can number. Hear the voice of the Lord. Hear the Word of the Lord. Obey the prompting of the Lord. Step out of the comfort of the four walls and move into the streets. Go into the highways and byways and compel them to come in for the time is short. There will be people sitting at the heavenly banquet table who will be there as a results of obedience to this word and prompting.
6. Church government will be different. Much of what is currently accepted as God’s method of church government will change. For example, those that are hearing in the spirit…this can include all age groups; people will be surprised at the receptivity and wisdom given to children and teens. God will speak to them because they do not have religious preconceived ideas and they have not personal agendas. Pastors who are not in tuned with the spirit need to be open to listening to those who are hearing and to be able to discern what God is saying. Just as instant messaging and quick, broad communication comes from today’s technology, those moving with the spirit of God need to be able to hear and move quickly…to be mobile and available; to make quick adjustments and to be responsive. The days of long committee meetings where people are trying to make decisions based on human reasoning and human trend analysis will find themselves way off track because the river will already be flowing in a different direction before they can schedule a meeting and come to a group consensus.
7. Pastors will need to make time for the power of God, for the supernatural aspects of God’s character will be demonstrated in the church. Again, if He is not welcome within the church, He will move in the city streets, in the schools, in the neighborhood home group meetings or home churches. God will begin the supernatural signs with the children and adults will not be able to deny the evidence and the change that they see in their children. Signs, wonders, miracles, and mighty deeds are coming. These signs will even be in nature, so if the church does not have answers and cannot receive the people who are hungry and looking for God with supernatural evidence, people will seek other sources for the explanation of such things. Any church that has a form of godliness, but denies the power will become antiquated for people will no longer accept form and fashion over the raw reality of the power of God.
8. As far as church curriculum, God says encouraging the people, adults and children, to meditate, think about, ponder scripture for themselves will give them deep roots and produce much fruit. Teach the people, even the children, how to really study the Bible so that they can dig out deep treasures for themselves. Where children today need small bite-sized truths with much activity and play, children in the near future will have so tasted of the reality of God, that they will demand depth and demonstration. In the past, children’s workers could be only slightly knowledgeable of the Word. As long as they were willing, they could quickly peruse the lesson and pull it off. Adults with no depth, no power of God, and no prophetic ear will be surpassed by the children who may actually take over the service or lesson by prophesying, teaching, laying hands on the sick, or telling about the vision or dream that God gave them.
9. Mobile, mobile, mobile. Equipping the body, not just the leaders, to go out into the highways and bi-ways will be necessary. Giving the adults and children tools to have impromptu gatherings with mini-sermons and scriptures for salvation and healing is important. Impromptu gatherings are coming. Sometimes a mother will lead, sometimes a teenager or child, sometimes the custodian of the church will find himself teaching and praying for the sick in his community, or a family on vacation baptizing people in the ocean who they just met but were part of a move of God that was unplanned. Mobile sound amplification will be needed.
10. Grace; the works-based, performance-based, condemnation-ridden message of the past will give way to the powerful message of God’s grace and forgiveness. The truth gospel message, that is almost too good to be true will be reverberate in the earth. Masses will accept Jesus when they hear the true gospel of the kingdom.
11. Lastly, technology. So much ministry and information will go forth with the use of technology. Although, there will be a window of time where the electronic netting will be shut down, tech-savvy, spirit-led people will lead the way and will be able to quickly connect with unchurched people. People will know of these impromptu meetings both by the spirit of the Lord and quick technology-based communication. There will be an increase of persecution and unlikely, unbelievable prejudice against Christianity. But, there is no stopping the mobile, dispersed, Spirit-led army of God. God has His people. A great army will rise up from all over the globe that are under the radar at this time, but are powerful and equipped. This will surprise and confound the enemy when the end-time ingathering begins.
De Ann your words have the wisdom of God, the power of the spirit and tha passion of Jesus. You are a mighty woman of God for this time and hopefully for this panel. Where are you located because if you are heeded I know where revival will be manifested.
Gosh, if nobody has anything interesting to say, I don’t care what they serve or where they serve it or what sort of music accompanies it. And a church “more busy?” From where I sit, part of the problem is that the church hasn’t taken into account every other place people spend their time. They are working more, their kids are busier and (shocking!) lots of their friends just aren’t churchgoers. They can do volunteer work outside the church, their kids can make music elswhere — church is not the center of the world anymore.
I would recommend Andy Stanley for conference
We are a rural church in Canada, that 2 years ago began to “feel” that not only should we start to get rid of our pews that seat 500 people but replace them with round tables, couches, and start to organize them in a circle, bring in baby toys, tables of colouring for the children, food, drink… . This decision was never about being ‘trendy’ — we are rural! But an overwhelming sense that the Holy Spirit was leading and driving this feeling. And we did it; just for starters the sense of community instantly changed. There have been many things that we have had to challenge in ourselves, things we didn’t even realize existed like “how do I sing standing around a table,” “should we stand” “can worship with a cup of coffee in my hand,” “what about the carpet!” “Can I worship with out looking at someones back?” We had to model over and over again that it was alright… There is so much I could say… So much more to “why” we did it. There was and still is the sense of “getting ready” for what God will one day do… So it was interesting that I just happened to come across this site.
Liz, you all are BOLD! Someone in your Church has seen that institutional or traditional church is what is “trendy”. Its not how Jesus taught his disciples, its not how they shared the Lord. What you are doing is how Jesus himself shared the Good News.
Check this Church out
Latest update with the People church — Rural Ontario — we moved to team based preaching compared to a “single teaching pastor” 4 years ago and we would never go back.. Then 9 months ago we moved to predominately discussion based preaching. It’s an interesting challenge to speak from the middle of a circle, some of us like to ‘lap’ the circle faster than others. And it has been interesting to watch people learn to contribute through discussion when they have been so used to just listening… Lots of teething pains but now it just makes sense.
Worship groups are off the stage, enough of singing praises to the worship team, we are incorporating them into the circle of people- in this way the music comes from within the midst of the congregation not just at the congregation…… it’s a freaky journey especially for the singer/musicians. Everyone equal, voice singing across form each other and out to each other.
Children: each level in putting into the generation below, eg. the 4 and 5 years old teach the baby’s and toddlers through puppet shows that they create. We’ve asked non believing volunteers from our community to help us with the children’s time. And they just love it,
I have read many missional books and articles saying it doesn’t matter what you do on a Sunday (or whenever a church meets corporately). From practical experience, co-leading this journey, I totally disagree. The church as a whole is in a huge stage of global transition; there are innovators out there, many of us are like little tug boats, we look like we are irrelevant, we are not looking for the lights or christian fame we are tug boats made for one purpose to move the huge ships that can not and should not move by themselves. The type of ships that end wars, save nations. The church will move into God’s purposes but the huge ships, whether they refer to actual churches or just christian mindsets won’t move by themselves because they can’t. They need the tug boats to move them into position.
What we do on a Sunday is a training ground; changing the environment changes our mindsets and hearts and helps the 90% of non innovators experience change. Hearts have to be softened, people have to be shown and experience so that their minds can be open to the things God is wanting to do. Our consumer experience of church has put us into a coma, one which we need help waking up from. What we do or don’t do when we gather corporately is crucial for such a time as this.