What does this all have to do with the pandemic? I believe we are moving into a new time in the life of the church, in which we are being called to deepen and live out our faith. This is not only important at the church building, but at home and in our local communities.
At this time, it is too early to know what Christian churches in North America will look like over the next year and longer. I am no prophet, but I have been following trends, listening and contributing to many discussions about the future of the church. For what it is worth, here are my thoughts:
1) Decline will continue.
Before the pandemic started, we knew that mainline churches such as ours were struggling with questions of decline. The pandemic is probably not going to help this trend, but rather speed it up.
2) We will have fewer resources.
We will not be able to maintain our current level of programming, so we can either cut programming or re-imagine how we do church. While we will reduce projects in the short term, I believe that the work of re-imagining will become more and more important as time goes by.
3) Our model will change.
Currently, our model of church is focused on a weekly rhythm of gathering in a building and having a paid staff. This will not go away, but it will no longer be our only model. We will move to a mixed economy with different forms of church happening simultaneously.
4) Digital church is not going to go away.
Digital media have given us new avenues of worship, connection, and ministry. Online expressions of church will continue to have an important role, even as we come back to in-person church.
5) Christian faith will become more home-centered.
Not only will we go to the church building to worship, but we will also gather more intentionally around our dining room tables and in our living rooms with other Christians.
6) We will step outside the building.
Christians will see more clearly that their vocation is to be salt and light in the world. (Matthew 5: 13-16)
7) Our goals will change.
If we continue to live in uncertain times, more and more people outside the church will have spiritual questions and want to explore faith in God. Getting people into the church building won’t be our primary goal. All of us will need to be able to walk with people in their faith journeys.
8) Our future church is going to be ecumenical.
The mainline churches are going to start coming together. This will not be to form a new denomination, but in ways that allow church expressions and to maintain their unique gifts.
9) Discipleship will become more and more a priority.
Each person’s faith will have to rely much more on their own relationship with God and less on institutional support. People will take more responsibility for their growth in discipleship.
10) This will be a time of renewal for the church.
As the church has done time and time again, we will return to the basics of the good news of the transforming love of God in Jesus Christ. Our proclamation will be simpler as we refocus ourselves. The future is going to be an exciting time to be church. Yes, it is will stressful and sometimes painful. But God is building his Kingdom of love, peace and justice, and we get to be a part of it!
This is not exhaustive, of course. These are just a few of my thoughts on our future as a church. I would love to hear what you think about these theses or if you have your own. Let’s get this conversation about the future going. And as always: pray for our discernment. We are not alone. The Holy Trinity walks with us, before us, within us, around us…