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The Future of Church (part 3)

Up to 50% of church goers have dropped out since the pandemic began. (Barna Group) Meanwhile 78% of US adults say that religion is losing its influence. (Pew Research)

Churches in America can no longer go about business as usual. Our context has changed and we need to urgently re-evaluate how we think about who we are and what we do.

This is the third in a five-part series of articles on the future of Church. To read parts one and two, click here and here. In this series we’re thinking together about the future of church and examining two questions in particular:

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

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

I believe the answer to both questions might be remarkably similar. By embracing five truths about church, we can take advantage of the current challenges to rethink, redesign, and redeploy our congregations to bear more fruit. We looked at the first two truths in the first two posts. Here’s truth number three.

3. Relationships are everything.

Church leaders live between two paradoxical pressures. On the one hand, congregation members want a personal touch from their leaders. They want to personally know, and be known. On the other hand, they want their leaders to run excellent programs (which they erroneously believe are ministries) which require a large amount of time be spent in administration, coordination, and project management.

Imagine a company insisting that its top sales person spend 75% of their time designing the booth and brochures for the next industry convention. They wouldn’t close many sales. In the same way, we are sucking the ministry life out of our churches by insisting that those who should be equipping us for ministry are, instead, spending most of their time on other activities.

This is a case in which church leaders need to (ahem) lead and not simply try to give the congregation what they want. It’s astounding how much “church work” has nothing to do with relationships. And yet, I wonder if the apostle Paul would have approved.

Read the long list of people he greets at the end of his letter to the Romans and imagine what kind of ministry he practiced that built those relationships. Or listen to how he thought of the believers in Thessalonica, “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God's Good News but our own lives, too.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NLT) Or notice how he addresses the Philippians, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:7–8 (ESV)

Let me say it clearly. Excellence in administration, coordination, and program management is a poor substitute for deep, healthy relationships. We must insist that our church leaders prioritize studying Scripture, prayer, and relational equipping ministry to the exclusion of almost everything else.

In a Covid-impacted world, people are starving for relationships. The "under-30 crowd" already prioritize authentic relationships above almost anything else. Re-focusing our lives and ministries on personal relationships is biblical, effective, and necessary.


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