What church will be like in 50 years (part 2 of 2)

What church will be like in 50 years (part 2 of 2) August 14, 2013

In my previous post I made some bold predictions about the future of the church in North America. Among them:

  • The midsize church-on-the-corner that’s been the bedrock of Christianity since the 1700s will cease to exist by 2063.
  • We will see an explosion of satellite campuses and microchurches that do not generate their own teaching content. Instead, these congregations will be taught remotely.
  • Most churches will not be led by full time preachers. Will there be sermons? Yes. Will they be delivered by a guy in the room, standing in front of us? In most cases, no. Instead, they will be delivered by a teacher on a screen.
  • A small number of megachurches with outstanding communicators will come to dominate the religious landscape, and these preachers will provide much of the video-based teaching that churches consume.
  • Denominations as we know them will disappear. Instead, believers will congregate around a handful of well known, talented Bible teachers and disciple makers.
These changes may sound horrifying to you, but in 50 years they will be the norm. And they will bring many advantages:
  1. Consistency. In 2063 when a couple is transferred from Kansas City to Milwaukee they won’t have to leave their church behind. They’ll simply find Pastor Joe Smith’s satellite in Milwaukee. The congregation around them will be different, but everything else will be the familiar. Same thing when you’re traveling – you can meet in “your church” and hear “your pastor” whether you’re in Seattle or Savannah.
  2. Efficiency. One great communicator will be able to reach many more people. Imagine if Charles Spurgeon or D. L. Moody could have preached in 1000 cities at a time. Gifted pastors will be able to expand their reach and establish new congregations at a fraction of the cost of building brick-and-mortar locations.
  3. More money for mission. Churches currently spend an obscene amount on staff and buildings. Satellite and microchurches are cheap – which will free up funds for mission and service to others.
  4. Specialization. Today’s preachers face the impossible task of teaching new, growing and mature believers with one sermon. But in 2062 some preachers will specialize. I can even see the day when entire congregations are targeted groups of believers based on maturity or calling. Imagine it – an entry level church targeted at new believers – a secondary church targeted at maturing saints, etc.

So, what will these innovations mean for the church?

  1. We’ll need a lot fewer preachers. As the number of pulpits shrinks, the need for thousands of men to stand up and preach will decrease.
  2. Even as the demand for preachers plummets, the need for “campus pastors” is going to explode. The Bible calls these men “overseers,” and they are described in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. These men will function more as chaplains; caring for people’s needs, organizing small groups and keeping their flocks healthy. They’ll answer people’s questions and point them to Jesus.
  3. Freed from the 10 to 20 hours a week of study and sermon preparation, pastors and overseers will be able to spend more time caring for folks.
  4. Small group ministry will become even more important than it is today, as the worship service itself becomes more impersonal.
  5. Microchurches and satellite campuses will cooperate to offer expensive and complex programs like youth and children’s ministries in various cities. There will be much less duplication as these bodies of believers learn to cooperate instead of competing.
So how will these changes inpact men? For the most part, positively. For the following reasons:
  1. Churches will be less “preacher driven.” Since each local body will lack a paid professional leader, laymen will have to step up and take responsibility, much as they did in the early church (and as the Mormons do today).
  2. Satellite campuses may use rented space, which need set up and tear down. Men have traditionally spearheaded these efforts.
  3. There will be less discontent with the quality of the preaching.
  4. Men will get more personal attention from their campus pastor or group leader. And since he doesn’t have to prepare a weekly sermon, he’ll have more time to disciple his men.

Higher education is in the early stages of a revolution. Universities around the world are moving away from the sage-on-the-stage lecture model of teaching. They’re beginning to use online lessons from highly effective teachers in their basic classes. Students watch these videos away from class, and then bring their questions to class, interacting with a real flesh-and-blood teacher. Freed from lesson planning, professors are able to give their students the individualized attention they need.

A similar change is coming to the church. Fifty years from now Christians will receive excellent teaching from a teacher/preacher who is far away, and they will receive excellent leadership and care from an overseer, or campus pastor, who is near. Right now we expect our pastors to do it all, and very few men can carry this load. No wonder 90 percent of the pastors who graduate from seminary drop out of the ministry before they retire.

Christianity’s gift to the world is not our sermons and musical performances. We are not in the teaching and entertainment business. We are in the life transformation business. And our gift to the world is love. The proliferation of overseers is going to expand our ability to love people and help them transform their lives. The church of the future (and its leaders) will be in a much better position to love people and point them to Jesus because of the changes that are taking place today.

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