Radical change lies ahead on the church landscape in America. We must prepare now for future ministry.
a. We are living in the last generation to see full time, paid, professional clergy (with benefits). While there will continue to be full time, paid clergy, they will be working for mega-churches and will be the elite and the lucky.
b. We are living in the last generation to be able to afford the traditional church building. As congregations shrink in size they will have to sell their buildings. New church plants will not be able to afford to purchase land and pay for new buildings. New churches will rent space or will buy multi-use space which can serve as either a way to draw in the world (retail, restaurant, clinics, play, etc) or provide income (church as land lord). In some cases, it may be possible to rehab empty churches but the difficulty remains in how to pay for maintenance and utilities.
c. Seminary education is about to radically change. Thanks to the internet, traditional campuses and class room experiences will increasingly become a thing of the past. Since clergy won’t be full time, prospective candidates will not be able to afford the costs of traditional seminary education. Undergrad + seminary program can = $100k.
d. Traditional benefits enjoyed by churches may end in the near future. Since we have allowed a generation to grow up which doesn’t see the church as beneficial to society, we may lose our property tax exemption and other exemptions (such as exemption from traditional employment laws, sales tax, income tax, etc.).
e. When looking for a church, people’s first experience, first impression, and a major determining factor in their decision about whether or not to visit that church, will be their experience of that church on line. Personal invitation to church will remain a chief factor in choosing a church, but the internet experience will become more and more critical.
While not replacing face to face relationships, people will continue to form online communities and seek ways of networking those communities and integrating them into their daily life.
f. In 20 years, there will be more unchurched people than there are now. 78% of Polk County (Iowa) residences say they have no church home. That trend will continue. There will also be fewer churches.
g. Every Christian must now understand themselves as a missionary. Every church must be a missionary sending and equipping center. Every pastor is already a missionary, regardless of whether or they realize that yet or not.
h. The model of church as a dues paying club must end. The attitude that has to go is this: “We pay our dues, we expect service for our dues, if you don’t do what we want with our dues, we will leave.” The model of a church as a corporation must also end. Members are not share holders. This adjustment will affect the way we teach about financial stewardship. The corporate model of leadership is no longer feasible either, because we are now entering a time in history when faith, not votes, needs to be our guide. (eldership) (spiritual gifts)
i. This is an era where vision will determine the future of the church. Those who have God given visions will survive. Those without will close.
j. The population is graying, the church in America will be hit by a catastrophic demographic change in the next 20 years as many of our current members will be dead. The boomer generation will transfer much of the remaining wealth away from the church, using it for their retirements, health care, and end of life issues. Their estates will be smaller and will less frequently include churches in their final bequests. The boomer generation is also slow to empower the next generation to lead. k. In the city of Des Moines there is currently a surplus of underutilized young leadership both inside and outside the church. l. Further, for reasons stated previously, many church buildings will become vacant in the next 2 decades. It may be possible to acquire them at no cost and plant new congregations with new leaders with the express purpose of reaching the neighborhoods surrounding the churches.
m. We live in times of unprecedented change: health care, the stock market, new enemies, uncertainty, talk of climate change and catastrophe, etc. The Good News has the best market it’s had in years. Our Savior can deliver real hope and real change. The only thing keeping us from revival now is that churches tend to be inward focused with their resources while talking about being outward focused.
The church of the future will by necessity be leaner, more efficient, have a different profile (look much different) and will be more focused on mission.