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What I See Coming for the American Church

September 24, 2016

We all know that our world not only has changed and is changing but we are beginning to realize that our world is change. You see, change is no longer the obstacle around which the fish swims, it is the water itself. Many years ago, a wise mentor named Dr. Roderick McLean taught me to read futurists, analyze the world around me, anticipate trends and have a church prepared to be effective once the future arrives. It is the difference between a young soccer player chasing the ball around and a more experienced player learning to anticipate where the ball is going to be. I began to read authors from both business and theology like Faith Popcorn and Leonard Sweet and in time, I began to apply my own sensibilities to anticipate what is about to happen and to follow what is happening to a logical extreme. The skill set has served me well through three decades in ministry. My mantra has been simple, “Don’t play catch up. Pay attention. Anticipate. Get out in front.”

Here is what I see coming as we march toward 2020:

1. Trend: People will actively seek community

Implications: Churches must grow larger by getting smaller and giving people places to connect
Getting Ready: More worship times, more small groups, more support groups, more accountability groups on more days in more places
End Game: Church shifts from a place to be to a place to belong

2. Trend: People will actively seek a sense of purpose

Implications: Churches must engage in community, regional and world transformation from a theological context
Getting Ready: Unite “doing good things” (which most churches do well) with evangelism (which most churches don’t do well)
End Game: Embody loving God and loving neighbor

3. Trend: Denominations will disintegrate

Implications: Churches must form identity from a clear sense of mission rather than affiliation
Getting Ready: Clarify your mission statement, form ties with other congregations of similar size, network outside denomination, realize the death could be painful and potentially distracting
End Game: Effective congregations in relentless pursuit of the Great Commission

4. Trend: Lines between clergy and laity become blurred

Implications: Churches and groups will be increasingly led by bi-vocational pastors (ordained or not ordained) as faith groups grow smaller and less defined
Getting Ready: Develop and prepare the laity for opportunities and challenges previously reserved for clergy and staff
End Game: Everyone in ministry

5. Trend: Authenticity trumps quality

Implications: Focus on connecting with people rather than technical worship mega-excellence
Getting Ready: Think original art (even if it is not quite as good) more than pop imitation (even if it is better quality)
End Game: Fully engaged worship

6. Trend: Think organic

Implications: The new macro consists of aggregate micro; home grown ministry and ministers replace “professional” imports
Getting Ready: Experiment, observe, write; let die what is dying, fund what is growing
End Game: Allow the “market” to decide mediums while staying true to the mission

7. Trend: Serious Christian disciples

Implications: As Christianity becomes more counter-cultural, lay disciples will emerge in increasing numbers willing to make a commitment of time, training and resources previously reserved for clergy
Getting Ready: Shift orientation from volunteers to bi-vocational ministers
End Game: Called, engaged and effective laity

My greatest temptation concerning these trends is to put value judgments on them but this must resisted. The question is not, “Are things going to change?” The question is, “Is my church prepared to connect people to Jesus Christ?” These anticipated trends will guide my ministry strategy for the next handful of years at Christ Church.

Am I absolutely sure about these trends? Don’t be absurd, of course not.

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997

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