From Carey Nieuwhoff comes these insights:
1. The potential to gain is still greater than the potential to lose.
Every time there is a change in history, there’s potential to gain and potential to lose.
I believe the potential to gain is greater than the potential to lose. Why?
As despairing or as cynical as some might be (sometimes understandably) over the church’s future, we have to remind ourselves that the church was Jesus’ idea, not ours.
It will survive our missteps and whatever cultural trends happen around us. We certainly don’t always get things right, but Christ has an incredible history of pulling together Christians in every generation to share his love for a broken world.
As a result, the reports of the church’s death are greatly exaggerated.
2. Churches that love their model more than the mission will die.
That said, many individual congregations and some entire denominations won’t make it. The difference will be between those who cling to the mission and those who cling to the model.
When the car was invented, it quick took over for the horse and buggy. Horse and buggy manufacturers were relegated to boutique status and many went under, but human transportation actually exploded. Suddenly, average people could travel at a level they never could before.
The mission is travel. The model is a buggy, or car, or motorcycle, or jet.
Look at the changes in the publishing, music and even photography industry in the last few years.
See a trend? The mission is reading. It’s music. It’s photography. The model always shifts … moving from things like 8-tracks, cassettes and CDs, to MP3s, and now streaming audio and video.
Sometimes you sense you’re in the midst of truly radical change, the kind that happens only every few centuries.
Companies that show innovation around the mission (Apple, Samsung) will always beat companies that remain devoted to the method (Kodak).
Churches need to stay focused on the mission (leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus) and be exceptionally innovative in our model.
3. The gathered church is here to stay.
Read the comments on this blog or any other church leader blog and you would think that some Christians believe the best thing to do is to give up on Christian gatherings of any kind.
This is naive.
While some will leave, it does not change the fact that the church has always gathered because the church is inherently communal. Additionally, what we can do gathered together far surpasses what we can do alone. Which is why there will always be an organized church of some form.
So while our gatherings might shift and look different than they do today, Christians will always gather together to do more than we ever could on our own.
4. Consumer Christianity will die and a more selfless discipleship will emerge.
Consumer Christianity asks, What can I get from God? It asks, What’s in it for me?
That leads us to evaluate our church, our faith, our experience and each other according to our preferences and whims. In many respects, even many critics of the church who have left have done so under the pull of consumer Christianity because ‘nothing’ meets their needs.
All of this is antithetical to the Gospel, which calls us to die to ourselves—to lose ourselves for the sake of Christ.
As the church reformats and repents, a more authentic, more selfless church will emerge. Sure, we will still have to make decisions about music, gathering times and even some distinctions about what we believe, but the tone will be different. When you’re no longer focused on yourself and your viewpoint, a new tone emerges.
5. Sundays will become more about what we give than what we get.
The death of consumer Christianity will change our gatherings.
Our gatherings will become less about us and more about Jesus and the world he loves. Rather than a gathering of the already-convinced, the churches that remain will be decidedly outsider-focused. And word will be supplemented with deeds.
In the future church, being right will be less important than doing right. Sure, that involves social justice and meeting physical needs, but it also involves treating people with kindness and compassion in everyday life and attending to their spiritual well-being.
This is the kind of outward focus that drove the rapid expansion of the first-century church.
That’s why I’m very excited to be part of a group of churches that has, at its heart, the desire to create churches unchurched people love to attend. While the expression of what that looks like may change, the intent will not.