Friday, October 14, 2005

What Would Church Be Like in the Future?

According to a recent report by George Barna Research, there is a new movement occurring among believers. Barna names the members of this movement, Revolutionaries. These Revolutionaries are people who don't see church as a place, or simply a group that one belongs to. They view the Church as something that you are. And wherever you are, the Church exists.

They are also looking for a deeper relationship with God than simply church attendance, and worship Sundays. They want a daily walk with God that is robust and meaningful. They shape their worldviews by the mind of Christ rather than popular opinions or group-think. Although Barna predicts that Revolutionaries will begin to drop out of traditional local churches, it will not be for the usual reasons. His report states,

Using survey data and other cultural indicators he has been measuring for more than two decades, Barna estimates that the local church is presently the primary form of faith experience and expression for about two-thirds of the nation'’s adults. He projects that by 2025 the local church will lose roughly half of its current "“market share"” and that alternative forms of faith experience and expression will pick up the slack. Importantly, Barna's studies do not suggest that most people will drop out of a local church to simply ignore spirituality or be freed up from the demands of church life... A growing percentage of church dropouts will be those who leave a local church in order to intentionally increase their focus on faith and to relate to God through different means.

That growth is fueling alternative forms of organized spirituality, as well as individualized faith experience and expression. Examples of these new approaches include involvement in a house church, participation in marketplace ministries, use of the Internet to satisfy various faith-related needs or interests, and the development of unique and intense connections with other people who are deeply committed to their pursuit of God.

I have to say that I can relate with this phenomenon. In my heart I desire to experience deeper closeness to Jesus. I also realize that local Churches tend to stifle growth for one reason or another. The local Churches' interest is sometimes worldly. The reliance on programs and current educational models to initiate transformation is sometimes too great. The faith and worship experiences are often too tied to cultural concerns. And relationships often have to fit around the activities created by too broad a group of church-goers (genuine believers, severely immature believers, and the lukewarm Sunday attenders).

Many years ago, around the 1800's there was a similar movement called the Restoration movement. The rallying cry of Barton Stone was to move away from Christian sectarianism toward a unified experience of Christian faith. The central belief was that we all need to focus more on being "Christians only." In so doing, we will restore a New Testament form of Church, like in Acts. In fact in Barna's report, he mentions that this Revolution is essentially doing the same thing.

However, with every movement of men there are always elements of, well, sectarianism. In the Restoration Movement, the seeds of this sectarianism came with some of the teachings of Joseph Campbell. The idea that we can reason our differences on biblical essentials ("Speak where the Bible speaks. Silent where the Bible is silent.") became a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the Bible is a great source of objective data on what God did and said, what Jesus did and said, and what the apostles did and said. Also it is a good source of testimony to what has happened in the past that influences our faith in the present. But, as what usually happens, we interpret what the Bible doesn't say, which leads to the differences of opinion.

If you view differences such as these as a matter of preferences essential to the work of the Gospel, then disagreements that may arise are seen as part of the process of maturity and grace. But if you view even these types of differences as threatening to the work of the Gospel -- even distorting the Gospel -- then division is likely to be the only remedy.

So, I don't put much stock in movements of men, though I take them seriously. It exposes a desire deep inside ourselves, crying out for a Savior. However, I believe that no matter what happens, God will direct its happening to bring about the results He desires. The Gospel does not, nor never did, depend on us. It will not take good men, great men, or bad men to bring about what God desires. It will only take God, and those He chooses to use for His purposes.

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