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The Future of Church

I had an interesting discussion with a friend recently about the future of church. He had two questions:

  • "What will the church look like after Covid-19?"

  • "How do we attract the 30-something crowd?"

As I thought more about these questions and our discussion, I realized the answer to both questions might be remarkably similar.

Covid-19 has forced churches all over the world to change the way they function. Moving from in-person to online worship is only the most noticeable and dramatic change. A number of studies are finding that as churches "re-open" for in-person, corporate worship, a third or half of former attendees are no longer engaged. I don't mean they are choosing to participate online, I mean they've simply dropped out.

At the same time, the Barna Group estimates that only 10% of church attendees under the age of thirty are wholeheartedly committed to Christ. It strikes me that the desires of the under-30 crowd and the changes churches need to make to succeed post-Covid may be the same.

Ever since it became clear that churches would be unable to meet in-person for an extended period of time, I have believed that this is a blessing in disguise. It's an opportunity to rethink, redesign, and redeploy our congregations.

How do we start? By embracing 5 truths about church. In this, and the next four articles I'll unpack them one-by-one.

1. Church is not an event.

I remember very vividly the first time I truly realized that church is not an event. I was at a conference on organic/house churches and struggling to put some of the claims of the speaker into my pre-existing paradigm. All of a sudden it dawned on me: He's saying that the corporate worship event, whether it's on Sunday morning in a big building or Friday evening in someone's living room, isn't the main thing. What?? All of my experience and training had led to building ministries that either flowed from the corporate worship event, or pushed people toward it. To say that was not the central feature of church was crazy-talk!

Until I started examining Scripture.

So little is said about the weekly gathering of people for corporate worship that it almost seems to be a side note. Nowhere does the Bible tell us how often we should gather together, how long our gatherings should last, what activities to engage in, or what order they should be in. Instead, we have a few descriptions of what one or two churches were doing, mostly for the purposes of correcting abuses.

While I'm certainly not arguing that we should stop meeting with other believers, I believe our emphasis on the corporate worship event has led us to an unhealthy understanding of what church is all about. Like a body builder who only focuses on his upper body, we are dangerously out of balance and at risk of injury.

So, what IS church? Well, at its most basic it is a group of people. Most of us understand this at some level, but we don't really implement that knowledge in our actual practice. We see church as a series of events and programs that provide spiritual goods and services to meet our needs.

While it's true that many of the ways Jesus meets our needs is through his body, the Church, that's not primarily why the Church exists. More on this as we continue to look at the future of the church, but for now, let's rethink our idea that events should be our central priority.


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