In 1970, futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler wrote a book titled “Future Shock.” They defined future shock as “too much change in too short a period of time” that leaves people suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation.” Over the nearly 50 years since the book was published their words have proven to be all too true. All of the markers of communal stress are showing up regularly on our nightly news–terrorist attacks, gun violence, nuclear tensions, political divisiveness and more– all at a level for frequency and intensity perhaps never seen before.
The Church that Jesus is building is serving in the midst of all this societal turbulence. We are called to be in the world but not of the world. Being in it means we must wisely navigate the mind-boggling twists and turns that the cultural whirlwind sends our way.
Here are some attitude shifts that will increase the ability of the church or church organization you lead to thrive through the whiplash of the future.
- Prayer will shift from discipline to necessity. Prayer is often included in the list of “spiritual disciplines” along with practices like scripture reading/meditation, journaling, fasting, etc. Many believers treat the spiritual disciplines like a menu to choose from, which means that prayer may or may not be a regular part of their life. However, when we are faced with the overwhelming challenges of “this present darkness” prayer rapidly shifts from the category of an optional practice of spiritual discipline that we do if we remember to, to a necessary action vital for survival. People living in a cultural crisis don’t have to be reminded to pray. Churches made up of people who understand their times will be churches that pray or die.
- Denominations will become “denominetworks.” Denominations that insist on operating with a top-down, command and control, or with a hyper geographical approach will cease to exist. Those that flourish will facilitate the emergence of affinity or mission-based networks that are encouraged and served by the organizational systems and apparatus of the denomination.
- Urban culture and worldview will dominate. A Biblical way of seeing the world is no longer the foundation for our collective worldview. Increasingly, cultural creators live in city centers. The cultural norms and attitudes they create emanate out into the suburban and rural communities. The Church must discover fresh ways to engage in a cultural context where her message is assumed to be a quaint relic from the past.
- Megachurches will be multi-site. Leaders of the largest churches have discovered that having one large physical location becomes a drag on their missional effectiveness over time. The reason? It’s difficult to experience authentic community when it requires a two hour round trip commute. The solution is numerous smaller physical locations disbursed across a large geographic area. Becoming dispersed and smaller to reach more people will become the norm.
- The bifurcation of home and foreign missions will diminish. Historically, many well-meaning church organizations have conducted their missionary activities through separate lenses of home and foreign missions. The unintended byproduct has been a duplication of administrative staff and clunky missional deployment. Missionary principles apply whether they are applied across the street or across the ocean. Effective organizations will restructure their missions apparatus to minimize duplication of effort and maximize missional effectiveness.
- Model-based church planting will give way to principle-based church planting. A recent sociological study revealed that religious participation is declining most rapidly in the most economically challenged communities. The reason? The most popular church planting models de-incentivize planters from starting in poor communities because of the lack of return on investment. Principle-based church planting will lead us to find the funds and the ways to go to the hard places so that return on investment is no longer the primary determining factor of where to plant.
- Coaching will be a normal practice for leaders in every organizational sphere. The idea that only poor leaders need a coach is rapidly giving way to the idea that the best leaders may utilize multiple coaches.
- Funding will shift from one track to diversified. It’s already happened in the urban core of most cities. The idea that a local congregation will EVER be supported by tithes and offerings alone is not realistic. The tithes-and-offerings-only habit is being replaced by a diversified funding approach. Increasingly, denominations will create support systems that assist planters and pastors of existing churches to harvest revenue out of multiple revenue streams. Besides tithes and offerings, these other streams may include- donor funding, co-vocational staffing, partnerships with non-profits and partnerships with for profits.
- Discipleship will shift from post-conversion to broadband. In an increasingly secular society, the idea that disciple-making begins when a person is born again will become a distant memory. In its place will be a “broadband” approach to making disciples that not only is intentional after the conversion moment but has clear intentionality in partnering with the Holy Spirit in the process leading up to the conversion moment.
- Church organizations will shift from collaborating to complementing. Collaboration is a popular term that sounds very appropriate for Christian ministries. But the problem with good collaboration is that it requires each collaborative partner to compromise something that makes them great. The emerging standard of cooperation will be working in a complementary manner. When two or more missional organizations choose to complement each other, they are basically saying, “you be great at being who you are, we will be great at being who we are and where the two overlap we will be empowered to go further, faster together.”
- New ways of being the Church will be continually discovered. The velocity of cultural change demands that the Church find ways to adjust to ever emerging new realities. Old wineskins are becoming older more quickly than ever before. Effective organizations will become proficient at responding rapidly to cultural twists and turns. Hint: new church starts are the research and development wing of the Body of Christ.
- The prodigal culture will come home and local churches that thrive will manifest the heart of the Father. “You reap what you sow.” “The chickens come home to roost.” The over the past 30 years a generation that was raised on a foundation of Biblical truth has, like the prodigal son, while benefitting from the inheritance of growing up in the Father’s house, chosen to squander that inheritance by “leaving home” and attempting to make up its own foundations for doing life. At some point in the future, the prodigal culture will begin to reap the consequences of abandoning Biblical foundations and find itself waking up in a pig sty, longing to find it’s way back to the Father. Like the Father in the parable, the Church will need to be ready to welcome back the prodigal culture with open arms and a celebration. We can’t afford to manifest the spirit of the older brother.
The future is arriving faster than ever before. Organizations that adjust their attitudes appropriately will continue to experience missional effectiveness. Those who get stuck will quickly fade into the rearview mirror of history.
What future do you choose?