Senior Pastor C3 Fulham and Regional Director C3 Europe
If we join a few dots it’s possible to trace changes that are on the way, if not already with us. These changes won’t be all-encompassing (changes seldom are) and in some cases, they may prove counterproductive. They appear to be nudging above the horizon like the morning sun – unstoppable, inevitable, and bringing light.
I submit the following for comment and reflection.
COMMUNITY isn’t just another way of describing the church. It has specific local implications. People are less likely, and less willing, to travel long distances and we would be hard-pressed to suggest that this is due to a lack of commitment to God’s church. In fact, it could prove to be the exact opposite.
People want a localised community of believers that connects them to each other, as well as the broader community around them.
Some churches will buck this trend for reasons of size, influence, pulpit dynamics, multiplicity of ministry, etc.
Globalisation, the great liberal and economic dream to contain prosperity and peace, is waning in popularity as people wish for a return to national identities. This terrifies many (in Europe) as they see a possible return to the days of fascism seen in Germany and Italy. However, globalisation simply doesn’t and can’t account for a real, reasonable and heartfelt connection by nationals to their own country. This comes out very clearly in sports. For better or for worse (we are yet to see) the UK abandoned its membership of the European Union, in part because the of the perceived loss of national sovereignty around laws, finances and borders, all of which create identity.
All this to say: people want identity as much as belonging.
Large churches will and should always exist, but two thousand years of Christian history has taught us that most will be considerably smaller, despite all the consulting, encouraging (and occasional chiding) that we do. This is not pessimism. It is realistic, without dishonouring Christ’s promise as the head of the church to build his church. It is a challenge to us: do we believe he will?
BUILDINGS are very expensive to build and maintain, and they are often empty for much of the week. Exceptions exist, but that is why we call them exceptions – they are exceptional, not normal. Some pastors are talking of renting buildings for Sunday and buying ministry centres – with multiple and consistent weekly use. There are always advantages of owning your own, as you aren’t at the whim, the mercy, of landlords, who can be everything from accommodating to not so. A building may also make us less flexible under times of duress – not something I am prophesying.
These in themselves are not defining arguments. I suspect the bigger issue is fiscal resourcing for smaller churches. Locking up their money in bricks and mortar is less appealing than mission and staff.
I’m a fan of owning but I am also a baby boomer to whom owning was and is sacrosanct. Others don’t necessarily feel this way. Whole nations don’t feel this way.
LEADERSHIP structures are changing or, at least, diversifying. A common trend seems to be the flattening of structures, whilst not diminishing the need for leadership.
Trends can be reactions, and in the case of leadership, the reaction is towards unilateral decision making. Some younger pastors and leaders are wanting to avoid the liabilities of top-down leadership structures seen in corporations. The collapse of so many high-profile leaders is a worrying trend, but to throw the baby out with the bath water wastes both water and child.
Some of this change is biblically-driven in the recognition of gifting or role as the means of governing God’s church. Paul was a strong leader (a great understatement) but he asked Titus and Timothy to set up leadership structures that were elder-based, and not so much individual-based. It looks to me like a case of both, not either/or.
The call for accountability and confession in younger leaders is a healthy reaction and should be welcomed.
In conclusion, these are far from the only trends, as Mark Kelsey affirmed at the Pastors Gathering in Sydney this year, in his excellent session on trends within the church.
In some ways these trends are oblique, but identifiable nonetheless.
To find out more about Ps Simon McIntyre and C3 Fulham, visit c3fulham.com.