What’s next for the Church?

by Daniel Overdorf 

What’s next for the church?  What will the coming years look like?  The short answer…I don’t know.  Only God does.  But here are a few things I feel in my gut – not an exhaustive list, but a few matters to consider.
 
 A THRIVING CHURCH IN THE NEXT GENERATION WILL BE:
 
1. Global.  Can you imagine if the Apostle Paul had access to air travel?  The internet?  Skype?  Thriving churches in the next generation will recognize their opportunity to participate in God’s expansion of His kingdom down every dusty road, in every metropolis, in every village.  As the world grows smaller, our opportunities for global impact grow larger.    
 
2. Diverse.  A year ago, I participated in the Metro Christian Convention in New York City.  I was one of only a few Caucasians in the room.  Around me, worshipping, stood brothers and sisters from every ethnic background imaginable.  I thought to myself, “This is what heaven will be like.”  Then I prayed, “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  
 
3. Missional.  Rather than waiting for our communities to “come to church,” thriving churches in the next generation will actively engage people – actual people, not just stereotypes and labels – relationally and compassionately functioning as salt and light in their cities and neighborhoods.   
 
4.  Authentic.  Recent revelations about the abuse of power among Christian leaders have damaged our credibility and our mission.  Further, they have reemphasized the need for openness, honesty, transparency, and accountability in the church.
 
IN THE NEXT GENERATION WE WILL WRESTLE WITH:
 
1. Technology.  How does a church leverage technology but not bow to it?  As we move beyond websites to livestreaming and social media (and who knows what’s to come), how can technology advance the kingdom?  What about “online church?”  
 
2. Multi-Site Churches.  This recent phenomenon is mushrooming, and multitudes are coming to Christ through multi-site churches.  In some ways, they’re more consistent with the New Testament model than our typical approach.  Will the trend continue?  Will multi-site campuses be released from the mother ship?  What will this look like in thirty years?   
 
3. What Does it Mean to be “Non-Sectarian?”  Speaking from the perspective of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, how will we interact with others who are also laying aside (or at least deemphasizing) denominational ties, and who share our core beliefs, but who do not share our heritage or doctrinal distinctives?  How will we live out our ideal of non-sectarianism in this new environment?
 
4. The Relationships Between/Among:

  • The Church and the Government. How will the church and government relate?  How can the church influence the culture without become intertwined with it?  Speaking of the American church, how will we handle a loss of privilege and influence in our government?  
  • Christian Higher Education and Government.  As regulations from the government and accrediting bodies evolve around issues such as sexual identity and practice, discrimination, financial aid, and tax policies, institutions of Christian higher education may have difficult decisions to make, with significant financial implications, regarding their hiring, admissions, and discipline policies.
  • The Church and Christian Higher Education.  Because of the previous two points, the church and institutions of Christian higher education may have to rely on one another more than ever before.  Some current efforts are strengthening the bond between the two, such as residencies, teaching church programs, and semesters in ministry.  We will need to strengthen such efforts in the coming years to survive – thrive, even – in the next generation.  

What’s next for the church? I don’t know for sure, but I think it may involve matters such as these.  I do know for sure that it’s God church, He is sovereign, and His Church will thrive.  What we fear, He uses as opportunities for purification and growth.  In the next generation, the church will continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus as the hope of the world.

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