The next couple of decades will bring a tsunami of change to the American church. They will ensure the success of church multipliers while leaving others maintaining tightening budgets and shrinking memberships. Note: This post is adapted from the FREE ebook, Mega/Multi/Multiply
As baby boomers pass from the scene, finances will tighten making it more difficult for churches to own large campuses or manage expensive programs. A left-leaning political climate will pass laws rendering it more difficult for us to do business as usual. We’ve already seen local zoning laws impede the development of properties, future changes in tax laws and the codification of “politically correct” speech will affect the way we present our message. In short, change is upon us whether we prepare for it or not. Prepare we must! The good news is that the Jesus-driven church is up to the task.
We can change in three important ways that will ensure that we remain salt in the earth.
1. A Lower Profile
The church of the future will adopt a lower profile in two ways.
First, the cost of church as we’ve known it will require a less expensive and more relational approach to meetings. Consumer- oriented Christianity will become more difficult. This is actually a good thing as it appeals to Millennials and “Generation Z” which is already in its teen years. Church planting among Millennials requires more face-to-face contact than it did for Boomers.
The second reason for a lower profile is the antipathy of the larger culture toward Christ-followers. We will be forced to make disciples outside the church as an invitation to attend services is met with rising hostility. Such attitudes will demand that we build friendships before sharing faith or inviting someone to attend a church meeting. Our world will look more like that experienced by first-century Christ followers or believers in nations where Christianity has long been a minority faith. Any longing for a sense of Christendom will be only a false hope.
2. Boutique vs Franchise
We’ll move from a franchise model to planting boutique churches reaching into the various strata of our culture. Think of denominations and networks as branded franchises. They are effective in maintaining order and uniformity of expectation. But they lack the freedom to adapt to different cultures.
Most of my immediate neighbors are second generation immigrants from Asia or the Middle East. A church for them would be a cultural step away from our middle-class network models. Asking them to join us works for the assimilated few, but who will reach their cousins? A boutique church tailored toward their root culture can do the job. Leaders resolving to redirect toward church multiplication will need to think about the difference between a network and a movement. This is a difference between a well-oiled franchise and a messy movement of unique boutique churches.
3. Immediate Sustainability
Call me a pipe dreamer (because only pipe dreams open new territory). If churches could reposition themselves as entry platforms for church multiplication the possibilities are endless. Current church planting models (other than my own) call for $300-500K per church, often resulting in a congregation of fewer than 100 people. Meanwhile, vast potential awaits at the intersection of A. Single-salary, B. Freelance pastors and C. Microchurch movements (for microchurch, think house church that might meet outside of a house). Microchurches are immediately sustainable. The combination of a locally discipled pastor, no rent, and a salary from outside the church combine for sustainability. They also cost the parent church very little.
Microchurches eliminate the three primary drivers behind our current “high cost per baptism”: formal theological education; buildings; and staff salaries. Take these out of the equation, and church multiplication is a no-brainer. All that’s necessary is leadership with a full understanding of the New Testament to set off a disciple-making chain that results in every church member becoming a potential church planter. Most will never plant a church, but this paradigm lifts every member of Christ’s body to a higher level of productivity.
The future looks different than the church we know today, but it is very bright if we adapt to it. We’re approaching an era where we will naturally function much like the church at its glorious inception and less like it did when church and state dominated the West. Our future will be a roller coaster, and those are fun!