In his 1931 work “A Brave New World”, Aldous Huxley envisioned a world that has had more than a few prophetic impacts for us today. From agriculture, population growth, the new iteration of the nuclear family and more. Huxley does more than accidentally hit close to the target in displaying an ability to see tomorrow based on today with deep intuition. Learn a little more (here).
Envisioning the future is an intuitive art that sees tomorrow based on today and yesterday. What happened (yesterday)? What’s happening (today)? What is likely to happen (tomorrow)?
We can do this in nearly all sectors of reality, including church planting and the Kingdom, so here are my 5 “Huxleyisms” for the church in 50 years…
1- The devolution of the Mega-church
Let me start by saying that the Mega-church will never vanish from the religious landscape, and that’s a really good thing. Larger churches tend to ebb and flow throughout history and end up in some iteration of ebb (decrease). There are very few examples of mega churches from 50 to 100 years past that are still at the same or greater levels of membership or attendance today. So, it’s pretty safe to assume that trend holds true in another 50 years, but what I think we’ll see is a faster and intentional devolution into church planting. First, the church planting wave will engulf the mega-church’s future vision. Second, as the mega-church plants new churches, at a furious pace, where they would have once layered that growth into their current structures, their own patterns of identity will begin to be shaped by their vision to plant churches. We will even see more and more mega-churches re-imagining their commuter members into local church starts. This DNA will spread into the new churches, and the mega-church may never reemerge the same.
2- Comfortably Homogeneous
The “multi-cultural” church is an impossibility. Can we just go ahead and get that out of the way? Anyone who is still talking about “multi-cultural” church in 50 years, or even 10 years from now, has very little understanding about culture’s form and function. Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. To have all these elements functioning in rhythm in a local church without the predominance toward one is next to impossible. It’s time we start talking about “Multi-ethnicity” if we’re going to talk about it at all. Even the idea of “multi-ethnic” churches can run across the grain of “local” church realities rooted firmly in geographic and immigrative patterns. People immigrate into familiarity, with their people within their culture. From there, they cluster out, retaining smaller elements of familiarity while cautiously enculturating, and this continuum can stretch out over decades and decades. Even with groups who have immigrated years and years ago, you still see this pattern. Couple this with finding our ethnic comfortability and voice with each other, and I think we’ll see the emergence of comfortably homogeneous churches. The age of “colorblindness” as a path to harmony is past, it is in seeing our ethnic diversity that will lead to value that’s rarely been seen in the history of the church before. I’ve heard it said that Sunday is the most segregated day or hour of the week. Really? Maybe those folks could stand to drive around their metros a little more because Sunday is simply the culmination of our linear cultural patterns. This is not to suggest that multi-ethnic churches are a wrong path. We will and should continue to see the flourishing of multi-ethnic churches as geography and cultural patterns demand it, but we will see much more comfortability and value in how God has designed and patterned us to flourish as humans within our culture grooves.
3- International missions turns national
Coupled with our valuing the diversity around us we’ll begin to see a lot less Anglos heading out to mission fields that are ethnically altogether different from them. In the next 50 years, we’re going to see mission that already exist across the globe being handed over to the nationals in a rapid succession. We are also going to see that coupled with a North American focus on training up leaders living right here in North America from all over the globe and supporting them to return home to plant churches in their home countries. We’re going to see a greater impact and a faster pace in global mission in the next 50 to 100 years than we’ve seen in the past 1000, but it’s going to get a lot trickier to measure. We love to measure things, so this may end-up becoming a bigger obstacle than some are comfortable with. We are already seeing international training centers turn their sites inward toward North America to equip the growing diversity within the church. This is going to continue and will be coupled with a desire for many to go back to their people to plant churches outside of North America. In this new iteration of global missions we’ll see our zeal for the nations not out-pace our theology, and that is not only a change from the past but a very good change from the past.
4- Everyone’s affiliated
Everyone’s going to be on a team, and in most cases these teams are going to play fairly well together. The liberal denominations and teams will continue to die at an even faster pace. This will fracture them to the point of eventual insignificance. The non-denominational churches will be greatly impacted by the devolution of the mega-church, and the majority of churches will find good fits comfortably within denominational and network tribes. While some of this is already happening, in 50 years, to be unaffiliated or non-denominational will be unheard of. The devolution of the mega-church will give rise to the church planting networks, and church planting networks will increasingly value denominational affiliation leading to very few standalone networks. Most bi-products of this realty will be a wonderful and growing unity, but we’ll also see and feel the renewed tension of past arguments and disagreements re-emerging. To the extent that we can lovingly and patiently understand each other and why these tensions will be on the rise will determine the lid of impact each denomination or network will have.
5- The re-orientation of the para-church
Para-churches will need to re-invent their trajectory and impact. Those that don’t re-envision a strategy toward church planting or supporting church planting as a stated mission are going to find increasing struggles for a thriving existence. In the new iteration of church planting with a deep affinity base, you’re going to see areas that were once very para-church driven begin to be deeply impacted. The primary areas of impact are going to be the para-church ministries whose identity is in the collegiate world and the world of social justice. As social justice is being re-imagined as biblical justice, we’ll see the church and church plants beginning to take the reins in these fields and no longer outsourcing the majority of their energy into these agencies and areas of collegiate and social influence. With the increase activity of church planting will come a high-pitched conversation about ecclesiology that will begin to intently focus on the structural awareness of biblical authority that will in turn have an enormous impact on the future of para-church organizations.
Learn a little more about para church structures (here).
If I’m leading as if these are realities in the next 50 years. How do add tangibility to what I’m doing right now?
1- For the Mega church, spend a lot of energy paying off your debt now to make you more nimble toward church planting, while simultaneously developing a vision for planting right now.
2- Ethnicity cannot be valued without seeing ethnicity. “Colorblind” mentality is unhelpful and must give way to “Color-sightedness”. Stop being shamed and ashamed of how God has created the world in its diverse people and parts.
3- Embrace and plan for the changing face of missions within your vision and structures now or eventually become increasingly irrelevant an ineffective.
4- Know we can do more together, and embrace this reality with humility and patience. Find affiliations and lean into them knowing they’re imperfections and limitations, while understanding all are stronger together.
5- Para church organizations are already feeling the tension of their changing role. Embrace what God is doing and work to plug into the new iteration of church planting, biblical justice, and kingdom growth as you find your place within God’s authority of the local church.
BY JOSHUA WHETSTINE – NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD CITY MISSIONARY FOR MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL.