The church landscape in this country is changing.
Ecclesiology lies along a continuum. At one end churches are traditional, structured and liturgical; at the other end they are simple, organic, and missional. Most lie somewhere in between. But a shift is occurring. Many churches are taking steps towards the organic, missional end of the spectrum. The Lord may not lead them to move completely to that end of the continuum, but the changes they are making appear more organic than traditional.
What is most important is that wherever we are along the continuum, our focus in on the King and his Kingdom.
What are the reasons for the shift?
- As the nation slides towards a post-Christian status, church is no longer at the center of social life. People no longer think about going to church on a Sunday. Across the board, denominations, missions groups and churches recognize that an attractional form of church is no longer effective for the future. Many are exploring the concept of missional communities or simple/organic churches.
- The current economic crisis is affecting many churches. Just in the last month or so, we have been working with a church locally that can no longer afford to keep their building. They are therefore looking at a more organic network of smaller churches.
- A subtle, but increasing hostility towards Christianity is affecting some churches. For example, in New York, recent legislation means that more than 60 churches are no longer allowed to use schools or similar buildings to meet in.
- As churches follow the Holy Spirit, some of them are hearing the Lord leading them this way.
The definition of insanity is to keep doing what we've always done and assume we'll get different results. If the church continues the way she has been for the last several decades, we'll find ourselves in a post-Christian society.
Is God using this shift along the continuum to prepare us for what lies ahead?
Subscribe to Get Simply Church Updates
Join our mailing list to get occasional updates from me!
10 replies on “The future of the church in the West”
“Is God using this shift along the continuum to prepare us for what lies ahead?”
I think this has been happening (with very small beginnings) for 40 years. There was a house church and christian community movement back then, which influenced me enough to resign my (normally lifelong) position as an elder in the Presbyterian Church – although it was not always missional, but often introverted. This was also the time of the charismatic movement in denominations. I remember saying to my wife back then that I thought we were at the beginning of a revolution that would one day be seen as being as big as the Reformation. It hasn’t always been obvious in the decades since, but revolution has been bubbling away, and the simple church movement is clearly a part of that. So (I believe) is the so-called emerging church.
“Ecclesiology lies along a continuum. At one end churches are traditional, structured and liturgical; at the other end they are simple, organic, and missional.”
I wonder whether there are not several continuums (continua??). Isn’t it possible to be missional while still structured, just more difficult? In fact some missional activities may require larger groupings. The denominational church we are currently part of has a large and evangelistic youth ministry that works on an attractional model because teenagers like to flock together where there are many friends and many of the opposite sex. Running counselling and social service ministries may require large organisation – the Salvation Army is the obvious example (in Australia at least) and they are structured, though a little less liturgical.
I learnt from Mike Frost the “missional” is the key. Simple and organic often has some advantages, though occasionally some disadvantages. But you would know about this more than I would.
I disagree with the dichotomy you’ve created. Traditional doesn’t necessarily mean non-missional, and simple doesn’t necessarily mean missional.
“Is God using this shift along the continuum to prepare us for what lies ahead?”
I believe he is. Jesus said “I will build my church”, and he does it in a way that no human can. Many of us have tried for decades to bring about some “revolution” in institutional Christianity, with precious little results (Oftentimes with devastating results!) But now we are seeing a new consciousness amongst Christians that is indeed revolutionary, and it is not the result of our preaching, writing or feverish efforts (although God has certainly used this). The spread of the early church took place as a result of persecution, not a missions conference, and I think the same is happening now. We are being forced to embrace certain logical conclusions of our faith that we had the luxury to ignore in the past.
I think He’s doing more than that. He’s using the shift (mercifully gradual) to force us into a form more compatible with survival in the future for His body. He’s so good — He doesn’t want any of us to go wandering, and the top-heavy traditional church will have a tough time (already is) in the economic and political climate we’re looking toward in a few years. It’s so good of Him to so gently re-form our models in such a way as to ease us into this change.
Perhaps those of us already learning organic/simple church will be sufficiently experienced by the day of need to be able to assist our brothers and sisters now in legacy church to adjust and move into a more fluid style of being the body together.
“If the church continues the way she has been for the last several decades, we’ll find ourselves in a post-Christian society.”
I believe we are already in a post-Christian society. Perhaps not in Dallas and Oklahoma (for example), but in most of the rest of the country. And, I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.
Those who lament this are really, in my opinion, lamenting the decline of Christendom, not Christianity. Christendom is the mixture of Christianity with political power and social prestige. That’s never been good for true Christianity. It leads to a worldly and corrupt church. The process you have described is really, again in my opinion, Jesus winnowing his Church. We were designed to be lights in the darkness. We were designed to be prophetic voices calling in the wilderness. We have become accustomed to a society where people have Christian moral values even when they don’t necessarily have Christ. And, we end up trying to get them to behave (often through legislation) rather than to know Christ so their lives can be transformed.
Personally, I think we need to go back to what we were designed to be, people who are distinct in a beautiful way; rather than people who sometimes are no better and sometimes worse than the members of the society around them. Yet feel it is our role to be the moral arbiters of society.
Many things have changed over the last 30 years as sin has grown and inflitrated the church and people now accept some things that would be unacceptable then.
We let the gennie out of the bottle and there is no way the gennie is going back in. The church and the nation might not survive the shock of having to give up all their sinful ways.
Thank you everyone for your insights.
Jason and UnkleE, I agree with you. I should have defined “missional” more clearly. I was thinking of missional communities which are what larger churches tend to call the effectively simple/organic churches they send out to reach into the world around them. Mea culpa. I should have stated that more clearly. Any size church can be missional.
Cindy, the comments in your final paragraph are very interesting. I’m aware of 3 groups, including House2House, that up until now have worked primarily within the simple/organic model, that the Lord is leading to shift their emphasis towards helping legacy churches move along the continuum. We each did this independently, and then discovered each other. Who knows what the Lord is up to!
These things have been building for over the past 150 years. People forget that Satan has a plan to turn the church upside down so we will become like the church in Laodicea and be lukewarm. Morals are collapsing, honor and integrity are almost gone and we have become a nation of cowards who no longer trust in the Lord as we one did.
Steve, sadly your summary is accurate. It will take a move of God to reverse this trend. May he have mercy on us!