The Near and Future Church
When I was about 19 years of age, I went to a youth conference on the future of the church. This was an important topic for me. I had accepted the call to ministry, been licensed to preach by our district and was headed toward seminary and ordination. The speaker was a nationally known church leader and writer, Dr. Jamison Jones. His footprint on the world church has been significant. One of his sons is now a bishop. Another is the Dean of Duke Divinity School and his grandson is a missionary and a future pastor. Dr. Jones' prophesies about the church shaped an entire generation including myself. He predicted that the church would shrink to about 25% of the culture and I can see that occurring. Our attendance figures may hover around 40% but real followers is closer to his 25%. He told us that small groups would dominate church life and be the place where real growth in faith occurs. He was right on. He predicted that the youth would lead the way calling for a church centered in action and radical living. That is so true. Today's youth choose a church that is authentic, engages the culture and makes a difference. And they serve with their hands and feet. Just like my church's youth group - we have 54 on a mission trip this week serving among the very poor in the Bahamas.
Dr. Jones predicted that for awhile megachurches would thrive and people would flock to stadium-like worship services. Then they would flock back to more intimate worship settings. We are seeing this everywhere. Growing churches in the next century will offer multiple services that are more intimate in size, that cater to particular styles and offer both ancient and contemporary forms of Biblical worship: gathering with other believers, singing that is simple and powerful, teaching the word, testimonies, litanies of what we commonly believe and taking an offering for the poor and the ministries of the church.
Dr. Jones also predicted that churches would unashamedly state the expectations of being a follower, a member of the body of Christ. This would include daily prayer, weekly worship, small group study and fellowship, a place of service based on one's spiritual gifts and tithing as the minimum, New Testament standard for all the baptised. And he said that churches that practiced these things would see steady growth and deep commitment. It would not be popular yet it would attract those who were serious and wanted real faith.
Oh, I love it when the faithful prophets are proven true!