Matt can tell you that I love to be right. Earlier this year I offered some predictions about the future of the church, and as I continue to read and get to know various leaders and churches and watch the landscape of our land, I’ve developed some more.
Of course, none of us really know what the future holds, for the church or for anything else, but here are my thoughts on what the American church will look like by the time I’m an old lady. It may take thirty years, but we’ll see if I’m right.
–As Barna and the Pew Research Center and others have reminded us, cultural Christianity is going away. People will no longer identify as Christians simply because they’re not Jewish, Muslim, or Catholic. They will say they’re Christians only if they have some level of commitment to the faith.
–One reason is that it will become more challenging to be a Christian in this country. This won’t be crazy persecution—please talk to someone in India or Pakistan for some perspective on what it really means to suffer for your faith—but because Christianity will be increasingly counter-cultural, the culture will make it more difficult.
—The church and ministers will lose tax exemptions and allowances. This increase in taxation will severely strain the smaller and mid-size churches, which are most churches in this country.
–All of the above means some churches will close, and others will gradually grow smaller. This will take generations but there will gradually be fewer megachurches and fewer churches overall.
—Microsites—small groups of believers who gather in homes and other locations—will become more and more common. House churches are nothing new, either for the capital-C Church or for our culture, but the pace with which megachurches-become-multi-sites-become-multi-multi-microsites will accelerate. Savvy megachurches can start preparing for this now by encouraging the trend, providing print/DVD/online resources that tether new sites to the mother church and its teaching.
–As a result of several of these trends, there will be far fewer pastors and many of the remaining ones will be volunteers with the microsites or, at the most, bivocational. Some might switch from their current role to become pastors over tens or hundreds of microsites.
–This might be necessary because there will be a concern about “right” doctrine and practice when believers are worshiping, studying, and communing independently. Some of these microsites will organize into new movements, either around geographical or theological positions, and these movements will replace some of our current denominational and megachurch networks.
—Some of our seminaries and Bible colleges will close because of less demand for pastors and church staff members. Enterprising ones might start thinking now about creating new programs for house church leaders and bivo pastors.
–This will be more prevalent among some denominations than others. For instance, I don’t think these trends will happen as much in the Pentecostal churches which are driven by emotional large-group worship experiences and pastors with very strong, charismatic personalities. These trends will also require individual Christians to do more of the intellectual heavy lifting (studying scripture for themselves, teaching each other and being taught) instead of passively listening.
These are my thoughts. What are your predictions for the future of the church in America?