What will the Church of the future look like? In the face of continuous change this question is becoming evermore prominent to those churches that do not wish to have their backs to the future. In an insightful article by Carey Nieuwhof in ‘ChristianWeek’, Carey writes of a ‘seismic shift’ taking place today that is parallel to the conversion of the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity in the fourth century, or the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century.
The latter had a direct influence on the Reformation of the Christian Church in Europe which it is commonly agreed, began on 31st October 1517 when the German monk and theologian, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. The theses were a response to the then practice of selling ‘indulgences’ to absolve sins. Luther propounded two central beliefs in his theses: that the Bible is central to Christian religious authority and that human beings may reach salvation by their faith alone and not by their deeds. It is arguable that Luther would easily have disappeared into history and the Reformation never have begun without the invention of printing to quickly disseminate his ideas.
Although the original Reformation is now consigned to history the Christian Church could be on the cusp of a ‘digital’ Reformation 2.0. This is not due to any malpractices within the Church but simply because of the revolutionary development of information technology since the arrival of the internet. Carey does not himself make this claim but some of what he says in his article ’10 predictions about the future Church and shifting attendance patterns’ does imply this. For example Carey’s second prediction says this:
“…many individual congregations and some entire denominations won’t make it. The difference will be between those who cling to the mission and those who cling to the model. When the car was invented, it quickly took over from the horse and buggy. Horse and buggy manufacturers were relegated to boutique status and many went under, but human transportation actually exploded. Suddenly average people could travel at a level they never could before. The mission is travel. The model is a buggy, or car, or motorcycle, or jet. Look at the changes in the publishing, music and even photography industry in the last few years. See a trend? The mission is reading. It’s music. It’s photography. The model always shifts….moving from things like 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs to MP3s and now streaming audio and video. Companies that show innovation around the mission (Apple, Samsung) will always beat companies that remain devoted to the method (Kodak). Churches need to stay focused on the mission (leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus) and be exceptionally innovative in our model.”
Anyone who is familiar with the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible will know how much the model of the apostles’ faith had to change in order to engage with the missionary journey they were led to undertake through God’s Holy Spirit. If they never had changed the model, the journey would never have begun and Christianity would probably have disappeared as a sect of Judaism within the first few centuries, if not decades, of the death of Jesus.
Today, as the internet matures and becomes part of our ‘normal’ experience it is becoming increasingly evident that a seismic shift is happening within our human cultures, particularly in relation to communication.
- What are the implications for the Christian ‘kerygma’, or proclamation of the Gospel?
- What are the models that need to change, or be ‘reformed’, within the Christian Church in order for the kerygma to resonate with today’s generation?
- Dare the Christian Church change or reform them for a generation that have been taught within our education systems to expect to interact with the information they are provided?
- Dare we not?