Some in Christian churches and churches of Christ are worried about the future of our movement.
Others aren’t thinking about our movement much at all—its past or its future.
But regardless of whether we’re fretting or forgetting about our future, it is still before us, and we ignore it at our peril.
“The future doesn’t care if you believe in it,” says marketing guru and entrepreneur Seth Godin. Godin tells his audiences they can invent their own future. Part of that process involves looking carefully at what’s happening now. Some trends to consider:
Denominationalism is dead. Mainline churches are declining, and many growing Evangelical churches are not affiliated with any organized denomination.
This parallels a lack of institutional loyalty in our culture at large and has permeated the thinking of many in our churches. They are rejecting anything that smacks of sectarianism, whether they see it among Baptists or at the North American Christian Convention.
At a conference of emerging Christian church leaders this winter, more than one said, “We want to be a movement of restoration more than ‘the Restoration Movement.’”
Association is free. This means many Christian churches and their leaders are working closely with folks outside our group. This is true not only among local congregations but in many of our institutions as well. Two examples:
• Four of the colleges listed in our annual Christian college summary (March 13) report 20 percent or less of their student body is from Restoration Movement churches. For five more the figure is below half.
• Many would say the best conference sponsored by Christian church folks is Exponential. Previously the National New Church Conference, with annual attendance of about 300, the event now welcomes 5,000. The platform and the registration list are filled with the names of Evangelicals with no connection to Christian churches. The conference ignores questions of denominational influence while one Christian church guy makes it happen.
The question is changing from “What do you believe?” to “What are you doing?” This doesn’t mean today’s church leaders no longer believe anything. Most of them hold firmly to the deity of Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, and the efficacy of baptism. But correct doctrine isn’t their first discussion; crucial to them is correct practice: How are we living out the gospel and offering God’s hope to our world? Is ours a good church for the community as well as in the community?
Whether or not we feel comfortable with trends like these, we can’t pretend they’re not with us. Our decision—our opportunity—is to respond to such changes and make a brighter future for the Lord’s work in our world.