The Shifting Church, Part 1
Maybe you are not familiar with the term “futuring.” No worries, neither is my spell check. Researcher Stephen Millett writes, “Futuring is a systematic process of thinking about the future in order to frame reasonable expectations, to identify emerging opportunities and threats to the company or organization, and to anticipate actions that will promote desired outcomes.”
Futuring is an aspect of strategic planning that identifies market conditions and trends to help businesses consider what customers may be attracted to in the future. Some might confuse this with creating a vision. In fact, visioning is the opposite of futuring. Futuring is like a pair of binoculars we use to assess what is on the horizon. Visioning is donning a pair of bifocals to see what is within you in order to develop an intentional response to the perceived future. Both are necessary for a well-rounded, strategic approach to business…and Christianity for that matter.
These disciplines have become essential in my work as a church planter. I try very hard to consider the needs of the community as well as continually observe what is happening all around Christendom. I am committed to not to start a church without first addressing what kind of church—and even if a ‘church’—is needed.
I hope that by pulling back the curtain on the work of church planting, I might inspire existing churches and leaders that are also on the cusp of addressing current cultural shifts and hoping to connect with a lost audience in their area. I plan to share my thoughts in three parts, since we have quite a lot to consider.
Where We Are
First, let’s start with where we are now. It should come as no surprise to you that the Church is dying. According to the Barna Group, there are now half as many “Practicing Christians” as there were ten years ago.
Yes, you read that right.
Fifty percent of those surveyed in 2009 “identified as Christian, agreed strongly that faith is very important in their lives and attended church within the past month.” By 2019, this number was twenty-five percent. Wow. That sentence deserves a long pause to fully take it in. (Let me point out that these statistics DO NOT reflect fallout from the coronavirus crisis. That number very well may be even lower now.)
It doesn’t take an analyst to conclude that what we have been doing in churches seems to be connecting less and less with our audience. Something drastic may be in order.
There is hope. People do seem interested in tangible, fresh approaches that connect with their innate desires. Authors Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch (The Shaping of Things to Come) have found that “the advent of postmodernism has raised within the West many expectations for an experiential, activist form of religious, mystical experience.” I’ve seen this to be true. People are hungry and looking for authentic, meaningful connection to one another and the divine. They long for something to inspire them, something to move them beyond their current scenarios and perspectives. They are looking for this, but often they haven’t found it in the Church. Why is that?
Here are a few pointed questions:
I want to be the kind of leader who is willing to work through these complicated questions, to keep an eye on the horizon and try to develop tangible solutions to answer that call. I hope others are doing the same in their own ways and in their own areas. This work requires that leaders are brave. And it always helps to know that we are among good company.