Time famine and future church

I often find myself wondering what church will look like in the future. I’m a member of a large (ish) downtown church that is evangelical in theology while being a member of a mainline denomination. We have a large campus: sanctuary, worship center, educational building, annex for youth and college ministries, etc.

We have a fairly large budget, including a significant budget for mission giving (which we, as campus missionaries, benefit from). We have a lot of staff on the payroll, both ordained pastors and program staff. Traditionally, our ministry in Winston-Salem has been centered on programs.

I find myself wondering about the future of program-centered ministry. Programs take two things that I think are going to be in short supply as we look to the future: time and moneyThe late Michael Spencer wrote about the “coming evangelical collapse” referring to a diminished future for evangelicalism as Christianity moves to the margin of society. This may well mean fewer resources for ministries and churches. Combine this with our culture’s embrace of a manic and consumerist way of life–measuring costs and benefits for every social engagement, invitation, meeting–we are going to be facing a stiff headwind in the next 5-10 years.

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I’m not here to say that this model of church is wrong–I’m saying it’s not enough. The church has to have a hybrid culture, part missional and part attractional. I like to say that the church has to be centripetal and centrifugal–it has to go out and to bring in. The church is ever gathering in worship and scattering on the mission of God in the world.

In light of this churches should to do several things:

  • Think before you build. The church is a relational matrix, not a building or an institutional structure. If you must build, please build in a way that advances the biblical notion of church as called-out, sent people. Remember too, every building decision locks you into a model of ministry. One day you might need to change that model but find it difficult because of your mortgage payment.
  • Think about tomorrow: plant a church. If you have to, call it a second campus. Give it a campus pastor and rent a location for it. It can organizationally be part of your church….just plant a church. We need more Gospel witness in our society and larger churches need to think about how their resources can be deployed to advance the mission of God in new and innovative ways.
  • Be wary of consumerism. Listen to the ways you describe your programs and ministries. Are you using consumerist language. Think about who you’re reaching with those programs. If people are coming from other churches because they like your programs, do you think that God is particularly pleased by that? Consumerism is the air we breathe and, perhaps more than the Gospel itself, it forms the ways in which we unconsciously think and act. Be wary of producing religious services for consumption by other religious people.

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