In the past 10 years, I have witnessed remarkable changes in the local church and the coming decade will usher in even more transformations. While the ancient sacraments will remain, everything else is up for debate. How we worship, when we gather, what is said, who is leading and where the gatherings happen will all undergo scrutiny and debate.
I have five predictions for the next decade of local church in America.
1. The places where we gather will become smaller
Every social and cultural trend is leaning toward the smaller, more intimate gatherings and away from the stadium worship experience. Mega churches that purposely create numerous worship settings that promote intimacy and community will see the most significant growth. There will always be a group of church people who will come to the big building for their own anonymity, but if we want to see significant growth among skeptics and seekers, we must create less threatening venues for them to explore the issues of faith.
2. The church will be launched into real mission
The local church is hungry to embrace the mission of the New Testament and this will only increase in the next decade. This next generation is tired of the hype of events and is eager to give their lives to something that requires sacrifice and results in biblical justice. They want to get their hands in the dirt of humanity and see real change in the communities where they live. They will come to the church building for some of the attractional events, but will get disillusioned quickly if these events do not result in real opportunities to serve their world.
3. The church will return to its ancient roots
If it's new, it's probably not truth. If its truth, it's probably not new. I believe the ancient, yet simple recipe of local church will return. We will gather often, read the Scriptures, worship intently, pray fervently, be led by servants, live authentically and honor the sacraments. For sure, we will continue to be creative and inventive, but not at the expense of the ancient structure which has transcended all generations for more than 2,000 years.
4. The church will talk more about really important issues
The two issues church leaders are most embarrassed to discuss are biblical stewardship of money and sexuality. Because of the few in ministry who claim money is the core message of the Gospel, the rest of us tend to ignore it out of fear of being seen as greedy. However, Jesus talked more about money and possessions than prayer or heaven, because it was an issue that was wrecking the people he loved. We should too. Church leaders will also begin to talk more openly about healthy biblical sexuality because our culture is desperate to know the truth. It will not be popular with some, but our love for people will far outweigh the criticism that is sure to be heaped upon us.
5. The church will return to wonder and awe
The churches that embrace the miraculous nature of God will see the most growth and have the most influence in the coming decade. Good preaching, trendy stage sets and clever videos will not be enough in the next 10 years because people want to see God intervene more and more in the affairs of the earth with miracles and healings. Sound theology must prevail and we must not return to our sloppy charismatic tendencies, but we must also embrace the mysterious and risky nature of God and not be afraid of wonder and awe. While the Holy Spirit may be unpredictable, the results are always predictable -- people will find God, people will be healed and people will discover real freedom.