Will Your Church be a Thing in 40 Years?

This year, my church is celebrating a 40-year anniversary.

It’s been 40 years since we moved into our first building.

For the record, it was a house…but it still counts.

It’s fun to think about where we’ve been and it’s encouraging to remember all that God has done in and through our church in the last 40 years.

A legacy is great.

A history of fruitfulness is fantastic.

And yet, I’m thinking about the future.

What will the next 40 years hold for our church?

Will there be an 80-year celebration?

Will we even be in existence in 40 years?

What about your church?

Will your church be a thriving community of Jesus followers or a vacant building?

Will your church be a thing in 40 years?

Something I’ve noticed is that our church today is very different than our church 40 years ago. A few characteristics of 40 years ago…

  • Hymnals
  • Piano and organ
  • Sunday night services
  • “Sunday best” clothing
  • KJV
  • Paper bulletin
  • Children’s Church
  • Sunday School
  • Wooden attendance board

A few characteristics of our church today…

  • Lyrics on a screen with artistic backgrounds
  • Drums, electric guitars, synth, click-tracks and Ableton
  • Three identical services
  • Casual dress
  • NIV
  • Livestream
  • Small Groups
  • Digital bulletin
  • Announcements, interviews and basically everything on video
  • Text and online giving
  • Sporadic attendance
  • Multi-site

It’s like an entirely different expression of church! Think about the shock a person would experience if they time-traveled from 1979 to 2019! Sure, many of the changes are technology related but not all.

All this leads me to two important questions for us to wrestle with:

  1. What is core? What can never change?
  2. What must change if we are to be successful in the future and how do we discover the new strategies?

What is Core?

As churches, we have a core identity and core practices that come from the New Testament and if we get off-track from these, we cease to be a church in the biblical sense of the word.

In addition, each of our churches has a personal calling that shouldn’t change either.

Who has God called you to be as a church in your specific setting?

Your church in Austin, Texas should look different than my church in Grand Rapids, Michigan because of history, demographics, culture, leadership, gifting, passion, etc.

The real question is, do you know who you are and who you are supposed to be as a church?

Have you identified your core identity and core purpose, not just biblically but based on your specific calling as a community of Jesus followers in your setting?

This is an important question to ensure that you never lose your core identity in an attempt to be relevant.

Your core identity is not something you create, it’s something you discover about yourselves.

And if you’re unsure of what that is, I recommend putting together what Jim Collins calls a “Mars Group.” It’s like this:

If your church was asked to re-create the best attributes and characteristics on Mars (Lean into your inner sci-fi nerd!), and you can only send 5-7 people on the spaceship, who would you send? You’d only send those who embody your values and culture. That’s your “Mars Group”.

Now, take that group of people and give them the task of defining the 3-5 core values of your organization. You can use three questions to guide the conversation (again, from Jim Collins).

  • If you retired tomorrow, what core values would continue to guide your life?
  • What would you tell your kids are your personal core values that you desperately hope they embody as working adults?
  • If you were launching a new initiative (church or otherwise) what core values would you build into the new venture?

Wrestling through these questions with the right group of people will help uncover what should never change in your church.

These will be the values that will guide your church in 40 years.

What Must Change?

Now, about what can and should change.

Effective church ministry today is SO different from 40 years ago and we would be crazy to think that effective churches 40 years from now will look the same as today.

We have to be honest.

It will look WAY different.

How do we discover and embrace the new and innovative ministry practices of the future?

In all honesty, I’m not 100% sure, but I do have some ideas.

First, we have to understand that the leaders in your church who lead and operate the current ministry strategies are very unlikely to create the new innovative strategies of the future.

Why? Because these people are in the box and very likely don’t think outside the box.

This is not a bad thing, but it is a reality to grapple with.

For example, your worship pastor, who fought to shift the worship culture in your church to fit their vision, and who built staff and volunteer teams around the current strategy for worship, is very unlikely to scrap everything for a hip-hop approach.

I’m just saying.

What I’m trying to say is that the innovative ideas you need will likely come from people who are not tied to the current system.

They are outside the box and therefore free to dream about what ministry looks like outside the box.

So, who are you listening to, who isn’t part of your system?

Who isn’t in the box?

This is very likely where the ideas will come from.

Secondly, there is a way of innovating and experimenting that could have disastrous consequences in your church and there is a way of innovating and experimenting that is safe.

There is something about your church that is working really well.

It attracts and keeps people and helps them grow in their faith. It’s what you’re really good at. Don’t mess with that. Don’t experiment there…at least not yet.

If you think that hip-hop worship is the future of your church but you currently have a contemporary worship vibe, don’t change your worship style this weekend, or this year.

An experiment like that could sink your entire church.

The people who love what you do will be up in arms!

If you think that hip-hop worship is the future of your church, experiment with that idea on the margins, in a way that doesn’t impact your core ministry practices.

Why?

Because if you fail on the margins, it barely hurts.

If you fail in your core ministry area, there could be disastrous consequences.

The idea is to experiment on the margins, learn, adapt and improve.

Apple didn’t immediately replace iTunes when they launched the iPhone.

They launched what they believed was the future without abandoning their core money makers.

They did that when they were sure they had it right.

Betting the farm rarely turns out well.

It’s better to experiment on the margins.

In order for your church to be effective 40 years from now, it must change.

How do you know what to change?

You have to listen to the right voices and you must experiment on the margins, in ways that don’t risk sinking the ship.

Wrap Up

A 40-year anniversary…What will the next 40 years hold for our church?

Will there be an 80-year celebration?

Will we even be in existence in 40 years?

What about your church? Will you hold on to what’s core?

Will you discover the strategies that will make you effective in the future?

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