BY DAN KIMBALL
Ten years ago the church wrestled with the fact that even in megachurches, 18- to 30-year-olds were missing. We were all concerned with how this new generation would learn about Jesus, which brought a sense of urgency to the discussions.
With a passion for evangelism and seeing that generation know and follow Jesus, some churches began experimenting with forms of ministry in a mission-oriented way. Without changing core doctrines of theology, we experimented with using art in worship gatherings and music that would better connect with the next generation. We added candles, couches and coffee. But more than just aesthetics and surface thinking were changing. We rethought mission on a theological level. We also realized that the Gospel involves more than just saying a prayer that gets you to heaven. We were learning that we need not only a passion for decisions being made for Jesus, but also an equal passion for making disciples of Jesus.
Fast-Forward to Today
Jump ahead 10 years. Many American churches today have some sort of coffeehouse; some are as top-notch as a Starbucks. Almost every church uses forms of music and communication that connect with 20-somethings as well as older generations. The crosses removed from many “seeker” churches are center stage again. Senior pastors generally call themselves “lead pastors” to avoid terminology that sounds overly power hungry or CEO-like, something that repelled new generations. We have learned the difference between “going to church” and “being the church” and have made significant philosophical shifts in what we do as a result.
All in all, these kinds of changes have become the norm. As time goes on, different terminology is embraced and different practices develop. But the Gospel mission of Jesus continues.
Reflect on Lessons Learned
What have the experiences of the last 10 years taught us about fulfilling the Gospel mission?
Churches that focused on emerging generations and remained faithful theologically are still going strong. I recently looked at a book from about 10 years ago that listed all the emerging types of churches that were seen as cutting-edge. The ones that remained faithful to the historical Christian doctrines of faith are still going. Most of the ones that didn’t or drifted away from historical orthodoxy either aren’t in existence anymore or are have plateaued. Time tests what is merely a trend or what is true to mission.
Churches whose passion was evangelism continue to thrive.Churches driven to change because of an evangelistic focus are still moving. Those inwardly focused churches driven primarily by a desire to maintain the attendance of disillusioned Christians have experienced little growth.
The church must still be passionate about seeing new generations know Jesus. The population is growing faster than the church is. Because of that, younger generations are more confused about the church and Christianity than ever. The good news is that many churches are focused on doing whatever it takes to help a new generation know and follow Jesus.New leaders have sprung up, new ways of being the church have emerged, and new challenges have arisen. All of those things are secondary and change through time, but the underlying passion of evangelism remains constant. I’m thankful to Outreach magazine and leaders who have not compromised or become caught up in trends of the last 10 years, but have stood the test of time, still thriving and still focused on the sacred mission entrusted to us: making new disciples.