What does it take to make a church popular these days in Boston? There are experts galore who claim they have all the answers, that they know what makes the church tick. They also say they have a handle on where the faith is going in the future.
But they're only human, just like the rest of us. They're not Jesus, nor do they have a direct line to God. Often, they use the scientific or statistical methods pioneered in business to try to explain the church. That's a little like a bricklayer saying he (or she) knows how to perform surgery. The church is an organic, living thing – not a machine or man-made system that's easily predicted or manipulated. God created it – and the Spirit is the one who sustains it (regardless of what we foolish human beings think).
So, with that said, how can any of us faithfully attempt to prepare for the future? How do we respond to what's happening in Christianity in the year 2013?
Some of the trends that have been reported include the existence of a growing but aging Baby Boom segment that resists being called “seniors,” and thus won't be reachable or responsive to traditional “senior” ministry approaches.
Another trend that many congregations worry about is the insidious influence of our modern society. In one so-called expert's words, churches have been “absorbing” the standards of individualistic and materialistic western culture.
For example, if one walks through the streets of downtown Boston these days, one can't help but notice the hundreds of thousands of college students who flock to this area to attend the numbers of colleges and universities here. And the second thing that jumps out at the casual observer is how many of these young adults are tanned, tattooed, and “trendy” in the way they dress or pursue extracurricular activities.
How does a traditional congregation reach a population like that?
Before we jump to easy answers like tanning booths and tattoo parlors in fellowship hall, perhaps it would be helpful to get back to the basics. What does the faith offer, which other activities or interests do not?
One of the trends being reported is the desire of many seekers to have “deeper” teaching. In other words, satisfying a need for less superficial Bible lessons and more deep-diving into faith issues that many conventional churches have been reluctant to touch with a ten-foot pole.
How many of these can your church rightfully claim to address in a meaningful and relational way?
- The role of faith in the workplace
- Politics and religion
- Interfaith, interdenominational worship (and the trend towards incorporating other religions' beliefs into Christianity)
- Sexual and transgender issues
- Healthcare, healing, and physical fitness
- Cross-generational (seniors/families/young adults) relations
- The intersection of the arts and media in faith practices
- Computers and the digital world
- Caring for the increasing numbers of needy in our midst and around the world
If your congregation chooses to stick its head in the sand and not even acknowledge how many of these trends actually have a serious impact on the church, then it's no wonder that attendance, member involvement, and local ministry is on the decline. It's time to wake up and look at what's happening around us, in the world of 2013.
We don't have to be trendy—but at the very least, we can start thinking about how to bring our faith into the streets and into the modern, digital age.