Recently, America has been captivated by the “farm to table” movement in restaurants and grocery shopping. According to this movement, the closer your vegetables are grown to the place where they’re eaten, the better the taste will be. There will be no processing, canning or artificial anything added to destroy the natural taste of the vegetable pulled right from the ground. The farmers’ names are proudly added to the packages, and we’re encouraged to “know our local farmers.” By buying local, we diminish our carbon footprint on the world because our groceries are shipped off to fancy factories and then, trucked over to our local grocery store.
People are turning away from chain restaurants, big box stores and processed foods. People are joining “Slow food movements.” They’re having parties where you put your phone in a basket when you enter the home to encourage real conversations and real human contact. People are walking away from social media feeling betrayed by the loneliness that resulted from having 5,000 friends like you on FaceBook, but not knowing who they would call in an emergency.
They’re looking for community. After all of these years, it seems like the theme song of the old television show “Cheers” was right. “Everybody wants to go where everybody knows your name.”
We’re finding out the same thing in church. People are looking for a place where they can know people and people can know them. They want to go to church with people they see everyday during the course of their everyday routines. Parents want to see the same parents they see when they take the children to school, or go to the parks to watch their children play soccer and baseball. They want to see familiar faces. They want to see people whom they’re doing life with.
While mega-church campuses have been the main expression of the evangelical experience in recent years, I’m not convinced this will be the future of evangelicals in North America. There are several factors that lead me to this conclusion.
First, the boomers, one of the most successful generations in the history of the world, are one of the generous generations in the history of the world and they’re passing off the scene. Boomers were able to get good jobs and make good payments. That’s why we came up with the three year building campaign. Boomers could give a lot of money, they just had to give it over time.
Gen-Xers and Millennials have come into a tougher job market. They enter this job market carrying a lot of student debt. They don’t trust institutions and don’t give well to big bucket budgets. Now, don’t get me wrong. They will give, but they give best when they can see a direct impact of their giving. If you’re feeding hungry children in the projects or digging wells in Africa, this generation will be very generous. They won’t support buildings unless there’s a definite ministry connection. (Again, think a building to house a place to feed inner city kids). Building projects for churches will become smaller, multi-functional and community centered seating no more than 800 people.
Third, communities no longer automatically agree to support a church’s zoning requests. Traffic impacts, tax implications and people who disagree with a church’s stance on a particular issue will be some of the reasons church building projects are declined. We’ll have to use existing facilities and rework current church buildings in order to reach our cities.
Lastly, people are looking for basic answers to real life problems. As the family has broken down in our nation, the church is called to recreate the family unit. Pastors will become life coaches and teachers who intimately know their congregations and are involved in their lives at deeper and deeper levels. Gone are the days of the pulpit orators who deliver eloquent Biblical discourses but are considered too busy and too important to do lives with their congregations. Future pastors will do a lot more spontaneous teaching and preaching, studying to be ready whenever the moment of evangelism presents itself.
Several years ago, our church did a study of church governance. We were surprised in what we found. The New Testament says very little about how a church should be structured. There was a lot written about who should be leaders and vague phrases like “it seemed good to everyone,” but other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot about how to set up a New Testament church. Each congregation seemed to be free to design itself to best support its mission and ministry to the community.
The church is always morphing to meet the challenge of culture and respond to the ever changing need of mission and ministry. We’ve gone from homes to caves, to grand cathedrals, and back again. The form never mattered. The function always did.
There is a tidal wave of change coming to the local church in North America. We’ve seen it all before. We’ll see change again. Through it all, the church will be fine as long as we never forget the method is never sacred. The message always is.