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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Future of the Local Church is Now!

By Gary Rhodes

Introduction

We read and hear about it all the time in the business world; "effective organizations must anticipate future trends to be successful in a competitive market." Global, economical and technological influences, just to name a few, will impact organizations and require leaders to strategically forecast what business will look like in five to ten years. Business leaders who recognize this will position themselves over their competitors, as the before mentioned factors affect various markets. As science fiction novelist, William Gibson states, "The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet."

That recognition of the imminent effects of tomorrow is not just a requirement for those on Wall Street; church leaders must embrace the future in order to fulfill the gospel mission to tell others about Christ. (Acts 1:8) That effort can be monumental; nevertheless church leaders must be purposeful in identifying key trends. In order to do so, leaders must first recognize the functioning systems within the church and how future trends will impact those systems. Nelson Searcy, Senior Pastor of the Journey Church in New York and founder of Church Leader Insights, identifies vital systems needed to effectively become a growing church. Once leaders are aware and able to maintain these systems, they can then recognize the cultural impact biblical naivety, denominational irrelevancy, congregational apathy, family diversity and gender equality will have on the church of tomorrow.

Biblical Authority - Says Who?

"This Ain't Your Grandma's Church" was the title of a 2006 message series at Believers Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. The emphasis was not that the elderly are not welcome, but that church today is not like it was thirty plus years ago. In the past, church outreach efforts were done with a presupposition that people had some semblance of what Christ, the Bible and Church meant. That just isn't the case today. The unchurched, in most communities across the United States have not been predisposed to church jargon or tradition.

With that, it would stand to reason that denominational affiliation is meaningless to them. Church leaders need to understand that those outside the church do not possess a high regard for God's Word or an understanding of denominational nuances. As a thirty-six year old, 1st generation follower of Christ - attending a non-denominational church - I believe these trends will continue as generations of families are further removed from exposure to the message of Christ.

Completely grasping these future tendencies, leaders must look at their key systems and decide what adjustments are necessary to compensate. Two particular areas a biblically and denominationally uneducated community can impact church efforts would be in the weekend service and outreach. How are your weekend services structured and delivered? What Christianize terminology needs to be deciphered for new-comers? How do you ask someone if they are saved, when they have no clue what being saved means; or what they need to be saved from? This trend is perpetrated by traditional seminary teaching; start with the Bible, expand on the text and then derive application for the audience.

How well is that working for you now? If the sole mission of your church is to educate your audience toward biblical knowledge and denominational adherence, then that approach can be successful. Is that your biblical mandate? Many seeker-friendly churches have been accused of catering to the culture and watering down the Gospel. In some cases, that criticism is warranted, but lessons can be learned from that strategy. To effectively impact communities, church leaders must approach the unchurched on terms and conditions they understand. People want to know you genuinely care about them, not that you want to convince them of a particular dogma. Finding common ground with people will give you the inside track on introducing biblical integrity as genuine relationships are developed.

I Could Care Less

Go to your favorite internet search engine and type in "PTA" or "Voter Turnout" and note the results. A majority of those hits will be related to either low attendance/turnout or strategies to increase numbers. There appears to be a systemic problem throughout society; in one word - apathy. Whether it's in the political arena, schools or the church; people do not care to get too involved. Life is busy, work is demanding and people just do not have the time to care. "Someone else can handle it; I don't have time." Unfortunately, societal ills spill over into the attitudes of many church-goers. Getting people to care enough to get connected into ministry and relationships is one of the biggest challenges churches face.

This trend of societal apathy will continue and church leaders must evaluate how that will impact the Great Commission. People want to make a difference but institutions, including the church, have failed to make a compelling case that people can and that the cause is worthy of their effort. Understanding this, church leaders must recognize how it can impact the functioning systems.

An effective assimilation system must take into account that people, in general, are not committed and genuine efforts to connect with those people on a personal level are essential to breaking down the walls of indifference. Leaders of systems, such as community groups and ministry involvement, will need to respond to the impact of a care-less society. People need to be presented with real life-change opportunities so they can begin that spiritual journey of realizing genuine relationships and difference-making responsibility. If church leaders can not effectively demonstrate and communicate the significant impact of caring for others, commitment levels will remain low and the spiritual maturity of church-goers will remain at the child-like phase of "not knowing what is right." (Hebrews 5:13)

All in the Family - No More

The days of Archie Bunker, where men dominated inferior females, is a dying trend. Family diversity and equality for women are mainstays in our culture. The family and societal boundaries of previous generations will continue to become more obscure as we move into the 21st Century. Dual-income households, single-parents, stay-at-home dads and gender equality are major trends that will continue to affect the church. Leaders must be willing to embrace these challenges to the traditional family and traditional church practices to effectively reach those who do not know Christ. The response to societal trends and pressures is key to managing the systems in place to reach the unchurched.

Recognizing societal pressures and the challenges in reaching others for Christ does not have to translate into compromising biblical standards. Cultural relevancy does not mean biblical relativity. The onus, however, is on the leadership of the church. These leaders must answer the tough questions such as: What scriptural teachings are fundamental to God's Word? Where liberties (Romans 14) are permitted? What traditions are cultural? What biblical instructions transcend culture? The leaders inability, or dare I say cowardice, to stand up to traditionalism and be in front of the culture on these issues will result in major outreach setbacks.

Attempts to lead the church of tomorrow with a mindset entrenched in unsubstantiated church tradition will produce failure. These trends have an influence on church strategy and ministry involvement, making it essential to fully understand family commitment levels and properly explain the roles women are permitted to serve. The people in your community will walk into your church doors with some established belief system in place, heavily developed by the culture. It is imperative that church leaders are ready to respond to these challenges in order to have the greatest impact.

Conclusion

Societal trends mandate a church respond to our culture in relevant ways so that Christ can be presented. These trends directly affect how we do church in fulfilling the Great Commission. Leaders must embrace the influences of a culture that does not have knowledge of biblical truths or denominational intricacies. Apathetic attitudes, family dynamics and gender equality are other cultural trends that churches must be willing to confront and strategically manage for maximum effectiveness in spreading the gospel of Christ. Doing so, may mean the death of some highly regarded, yet biblically weak church traditions; but it can lead to a church in the forefront of reaching the lost of this world for many years to come.

Gary Rhodes is the Connections Pastor at Believers Church in Chesapeake, VA, responsible for overseeing two of Nelson Searcy's Eight System Church Growth areas; Assimilation and Ministry Involvement. At Believers, he also serves as an elder, Small Group Leader and one of the teaching pastors. Gary received his Masters of Arts in Religion from Liberty University and is currently pursuing his doctorate in Strategic Leadership at Regent University.

Gary and his wife Karen have 4 beautiful children. To find out more about Gary and the ministry at Believers Church follow the link at http://www.believerschurch.org

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