“Not what you think,” might be the first answer to this question. What you see now or see as dominant now might not be what dominates the kingdom landscape in next seven years. What we celebrate most, the most visible, or what appears to be the latest trend might not be the best predictor of the future.
We may need to look at trends in “church-anity” more by categories than appearances. (Actually, we always have to do this if we wish to have accuracy!) We may need to measure leadership dynamics more than institutional dynamics as well.
The previous decade or so, since the aftermath of cultural shifting events like 911 and community-based political activism moved the center points, has produced radical shifts in perception and practice but these shifts may be short-lived experiments as quickly abandoned as they were embraced. Change occurs rapidly and our previous metrics for measurement may no longer keep up adequately for us to predict next steps for these trends.
I’m not certain adequate spiritual analysis has occurred alongside the cultural and institutional analysis. Some dynamics like doctrine and ethics have become largely inconsequential to the “practice of faith” among evangelicals and Biblicists. Whether or not a person agrees with a doctrinal statement has very little to do with their associations and relationships since nearly all “beliefs” are basically up for grabs, mostly because few people have any foundation for their beliefs in Truth. Whether or not a person has a “I don’t smoke and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls that do” framework of appropriate behavior for believers has little to do with the living the life or functioning in the kingdom, mainly because the baby was thrown out with the bathwater when this spiritual generation realized that much of what motivated their spiritual ancestors was not directly based upon Scripture. They just decided none of was.
I’m not certain adequate spiritual analysis has occurred, quickly enough, to grasp the shifts from solid theology with respect to redemption, atonement, and Ecclesia in general. Anecdotally, I could tell you about people who claim christianism as their faith who make statements that are so obviously and fundamentally aBiblical and contrary to Scripture that I wonder upon what they do base their “faith.” The concept of “believe whatever you wish” seems adequate for many people associated with church-anity, and seeker-freindly environments make their aberrations of belief acceptable to them and others.
I am certain that this situation will not persist. Something has to give! Something radical and fundamental is going to change and the change is going to be like continental plates colliding under the landscape of the kingdom. I believe the shift will be for the good, and the greatest days of the Ecclesia are coming, in America and the nations.
Getting the Design and Definitions Right
At some point, this spiritual generation is going to need anchors for its drifting belief systems. The markers they now use to locate their beliefs are mobile at present, but a desire for firm locators will arise. The stable, set points will become new gathering points and this spiritual generation will move toward these new markers will very little thought about what they leave abandon to get there. As easily as they left tradition, they will relocate around these new markers.
The design and definition vocabulary will be shifted but the originals will be rediscovered in fresh and exciting new ways that will reset the foundations. It will be a wild ride for eight seconds! Then, something much more personal in the sense of relationships and simple in the sense of decision-making and problem-solving (leadership dynamics) will take shape.
The traditional American model is already gone. To catch a glimpse of the new model, Americans need to look at other originations. And, the sense of adventure and pioneering that will accompany this shift will be euphoric! Passion will again be a motivating factor that will reveal a “all in” sense of commitment and consecration. Sacrifice will not be a cuss word anymore.
At the same time, a very strong desire for authenticity will be exhibited in both leadership and assignment. Leadership will be in demand. Assignment will demand a “love not your life even unto death” passion. A “for real” generation is maturing, and the role of spiritual fathers will be valued.
The greatest mark of this generation will be a restoration of the design and definition of Ecclesia, what Jesus meant by what He said, how He envisioned what He is building functioning, and the leadership dynamics of Ecclesia experienced.
Models from other cultures will be examined and an international sense of mission will be restored, a sense of kingdom that is extra-cultural so that nothing must be Americanized in order for it to be valid. At the same time, this generation will have a tendency to create an imbalance about achievement that arises from the near-worship of technology, instantaneous results, and dynamics technologies create that have no history by which to be tested for inherent danger, silliness, and distraction. Leadership will be needed to focus authentic faith upon authentic mission with a strong emphasis upon authentic personal and relational behavior.
Revival movements will arise that look like the movements of schooling fish or herding buffalo, moving without apparent predetermined direction but continuing to arrive at fertile feeding locations and responding in mass to threats. These revival movements will clump in response to strong spiritual experiences including miracles, signs, and wonders, as well as a new breed of communicators or evangels that preach the Gospel to the Ecclesia as well as the public.
The Death of Previously Powerful Perceptions
The shift will further marginalize tradition and church as politics in ways that will seem irreverent to what is passing away. This dissolution of existing institutions may happen so fast that a sense of emptiness emerges for some, a sense of drifting occurs for others, and all who have mostly perceptions as their ground work of spiritual reality will feel disoriented.
A refreshing wind will blow over the kingdom landscape, however, because the new breed really loves authenticity. Many leaders left abandoned by the shift will find a place and position from which to reset and restart, and a new generation of transformed existing leaders will arise who enjoy the freedoms of this new wave. Only those who insist upon everybody “coming back home” will feel like the end has come. Most believers will have hope for the present and future in the midst of an extremely anti-christian culture. Some of the precursors that produce the post-christian atmosphere will become the style points of the new Ecclesia.
What is now a strong emphasis upon “community” will evolve into a new emphasis upon “kingdom” in a way that is likely not even recognized in the rapidly shifting movements. The shifts won’t be traceable as they have been in previous generations, and efforts to trace them will only become possible long after they have shifted again and again.
Values over personalities. Summit participants acknowledged that celebrity pastors–national and local–will continue to draw crowds on the strength of their personalities. But ultimately the churches of the future will be known more for their values than their human purveyors.
Outward focus. The majority of today’s churches direct almost all their attention, programs, personnel, facilities and budget toward the insiders, the members. But the thriving churches of tomorrow will balance their ministry with a deliberate focus toward those on the outside, many of whom will never become Sunday pew sitters.
Millennial reshape. After hearing data and personal accounts about the unique traits of the Millennial generation, summit participants concluded these young people (ages 18-29) are game-changers for the church. Unlike previous generations, Millennials will not succumb to the church’s longstanding traditions and ways of defining and doing church. They will not merely return to church-as-we-know-it once they start having children, as other generations have done. They will significantly reshape the church’s practices and attitudes according to their values.