When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they...
The Christian church. More than 2,000 years old.
The blueprints for gathering together to worship have seen a lot of change, even from the earliest days, though founded upon one gospel.
It’s not surprising that shifts in church tradition have paralleled cultural change, and never has culture been on such a fast track as now. In just over 100 years, our world has gone from the invention of the automobile to more internet-connected mobile devices than there are people.
Prior to our present era, change was less frequent. Each successive generation often followed in the footsteps of the previous; in fact, many cultures gave surnames to their children not only referring back to the father’s name, but even to his occupation (which would be carried on by his son).
Today, however, society is scattered. Mobile. Staying in jobs for two or three years at a time. And carefully guarding loyalties, or not offering them at all. For many in vocational ministry, these cultural tendencies have caused intense frustration. Time-honored church activities are shuttered due to lack of volunteers. Sunday morning sports practice and games pull families away from worship services. Small and medium-sized churches feel like they’re missing an entire generation (20- and 30-somethings).
What will today’s rapid pace yield for the church in 100 years? Or will it have an effect at all?
Here are my predictions—or expectations.
The church will be bigger.
The megachurch movement of the 1990s may seem like a fad to some, and some of its incarnations may certainly have fallen in that category. But I expect that in 100 years, just as it is already happening today, church gatherings where Christians assemble on weekends will be much larger, and the small to medium sized churches may all but disappear. Churches will be regional and the trend of multi-campus congregations will likely grow and become more mainstream.
Why? Because pooling the resources of several tiny congregations barely scraping by into one larger congregation is better stewardship, more motivating to attendees and members, and offers much greater opportunities for discipleship and outreach.
Early Christians in the New Testament era gathered smaller “congregations” into large sabbath worship gatherings at the temple and were addressed as one church in each of the cities where they were present. I see current trends moving us more toward this healthy back-to-basics manifestation of the church because while it may require significant overhead for the large location, it is the overhead of one well-resourced worship and ministry center filled with a thriving congregation, rather than innumerable antiquated buildings that require the majority of an annual budget merely to maintain, let alone produce beneficial ministry.
The church will be smaller.
This centralization of the church will not leave the world filled with megachurches only attended weekly. In fact, the very trend that makes the church bigger necessarily makes it smaller: congregations will recognize that for healthy Christian life, small groups are not just a great idea, but practically a requirement. A big church format can offer great teaching, training, and mobilization, while small groups offer accountability, encouragement, and ways to live out the Christian life in community. Certainly this is happening today—and I expect it will grow to become a defining expression of the faith rather than just something that some churches do.
Small gatherings, in fact, defined the New Testament church experience, as believers met in homes throughout the week, living the Christian life in small community, and then gathering with the larger congregation weekly.
The church will be wider.
While the global expansion of the church has been explosive over the past century, local western congregations have remained generally siloed. Some neighborhoods still have a church on every corner, but many of those churches never interact with one another, viewing each other as a competitor rather than as family. This narrow (dare I say capitalist) view of the church began to erode in the nondenominational movement, but in 100 years we can only hope that perspectives will widen fully to the global mission of the church.
The church will be deeper.
In the early years of the church, most people who called themselves Christians were wholly committed and willing to give their lives for their faith. Over the centuries, and as entire cultures changed, more and more people were “Christians” in a cultural sense (familiar with and even practicing Christian traditions, and having a “Christian heritage”), without having a life-or-death commitment to Jesus and his church.
Western culture, however, has shifted over the past several decades, such that many no longer have even a casual familiarity with Christian traditions (beyond Christmas and Easter) or general Bible knowledge. Not everyone can recite John 3:16 anymore. Not everyone knows the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art.” In some ways, this is something to mourn over, but at the same time this widening gap between Christianity and culture requires a greater commitment from Christians to stand firm in the midst of an environment increasingly hostile to their faith. And how does one stand firm? By sending down deep roots—believing Jesus and living life directly based on those unwavering beliefs. There is every reason to expect this trend to continue, and the result will be a global church more deeply committed, deeply invested, and deeply mature in faith and mission.
Imagine that these predictions come true. When would you rather be a Christian, and why: (1) the 1st Century, (2) 19th-early 20th Centuries, (3) today, or (4) 100 years from today?