The future of the church can appear pretty bleak based on some of the studies circulating these days: We’re losing people; we’re not connecting with the next generation; we’re struggling financially.
These reports can lead us to question whether it’s even possible for the church to survive.
I’m firmly convinced it will. Here are a few of the dimensions I see for the future of the church.
The church of the future will prevail.
I see the church not only surviving, but thriving in the future. Of course, Scripture tells us not even the gates of Hell will prevail against the church. We can also find assurance in the past.
You’ll have a hard time finding a local church that’s lasted 100 years, let alone 2,000. But history shows us that while individual congregations may fade, others will be born.
Even during the darkest seasons of the church—times when persecution was at peak levels and the very existence of the church was teetering—the church has pulled through. Sometimes it’s slow to adapt, and sometimes it’s forced to change. Sometimes change means a course correction, and sometimes it’s a radical shift. But ultimately the church prevails.
The church of the future will have an increasingly global perspective.
It’s tempting to confuse what we see in the U.S. with the state of the global church as a whole. But if we remove finances from the equation, the epicenter of the church isn’t in the U.S. Few pastors and church leaders realize that America’s largest church wouldn’t even land in the top 35 of the largest churches in the world.
We’re already only one keystroke away from church leaders worldwide. Yet we tend to restrict our focus to what’s going on near us, losing sight of the miracles, healing, restoration and transformation that are taking place in churches outside of the U.S.
Gaining a better sense of how God is at work in other countries will help the church of the future become more globally connected. As our awareness and connectedness increase, we’ll share information and knowledge more fluidly.
The church of the future will become more unified.
I believe the church will operate in a harsher climate in the future, but we’ll be better because of it.
Other belief systems and philosophies point to a different path to God (or many paths to God), and they are rising in popularity around the world. Our natural response within the Christian church will be to elevate Jesus.
Instead of arguing over doctrine and differences of opinion, we’ll go back to fighting the battle of the first century: Was Jesus really the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? Any hairsplitting will become petty in view of the scope of the battle that’s being waged.
As the church faces mounting opposition and persecution from different directions, it will start to look more like the church Jesus started. People in the early church were all in. They worked together, shared everything they had, and met wherever they could. The church of the future will look more like the church of the past as it becomes less institutionalized.
The church of tomorrow starts today.
How can we transition the church of today into the church of tomorrow? It starts with each of us. As leaders, we have the opportunity to decide how we will contribute.
The next time you and your team are discussing vision, you might want to talk through these questions together:
• What can we do to become more globally aware?
• How can we move toward unity with other churches?
• How can we position ourselves to adapt to future changes?
When I look at research and reports that point to the decline of the church, I think what they reveal is simply that the church as we know it today will need to be renewed. And that will be a good thing if we allow God to birth a new creation through us.
Bobby Gruenewald is pastor, innovation leader at Life.Church. Connect with him on Twitter: @BobbyGwald