Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 7
It is easier to write about the past than to predict the future. Evangelicalism is quite broad today, perhaps so broad as to question the veracity of its use as a technical term. Regardless of whether evangelicalism remains the technical term to describe conservative Protestants, I shall try to look at some potential future (and semi-present) trends.
Networks of churches will be more common: Groups of churches, organized either locally/geographically and/or doctrinally, will be more common. Organizations like Acts29 will be a more attractive option for new churches planted over against denominations.
Multi-site: the multi-site movement is where one church has multiple campuses and the main pastor’s sermon is broadcast/simulcast to the other sites. I think we will see a movement here towards multi-sites that are geographically distant from the original site – this leads to…
Branding: I can envision some multi-site groups with a nationally (or internationally) recognizable pastor seeking to do multi-site in other cities across the country. Instead of one self-identifying with being, “Southern Baptist,” one might identify with going to “Superstar Pastor, Chicago” or “Superstar Pastor, Memphis.”
Church Planting: The church planting movement will continue to grow. As liberal churches continue to bleed, there will continue to be a need for church planting.
Denominational decline and growth: Denominations that fail to adhere to orthodox beliefs will decline heavily. I am sure some denominations will go unorthodox on a variety of theological issues. I can imagine social theological issues like abortion, homosexuality, and bioethics being some gateways to denominational error. Denominations that adhere to orthodox faith and seek balance of reaching their city and the world will grow.
Liturgy: There will be a growth in people who want more of God’s transcendence in the service in reaction over against the more entertainment and pop oriented worship.
Consumerism, Megachurch, and Smaller Local Churches: Consumerism has failed the church – ie. the church with the great ______ program(s). It makes for lousy discipleship and many people thinking they are legitimate believers when they are not. I think that there will be a decline in the megachurch movement. Megachurches will not go away because there will always be those drawn to a more anonymous worship experience and consumerism will always infiltrate evangelicalism on some level. However, I think people many (not all) will trend away from the megachurch, preferring real community. I think this will be in reaction to the great irony of globalization – as the world gets smaller and closer, it becomes more fractured and less communal. This will be a driving factor for many to leave the anonymous megachurch and go to a place where they can know and have friendship with real people.
Missional Church Movement: Time will tell if the missional church movement overemphasizes the local mission, an equal and opposite reaction to the imbalance of evangelicalism towards defining mission as unreached or international only. My guess is that the missional church will seek some balance and develop a positive identity that does not require a defunct evangelism as a host in order to survive (ie. post-modernity needing modernity).
Open Source and Kingdom Mentality: The redeeming principles of the open source movement that began in computer science will be applied and used well to resource the global body of Christ. Ministries like Third Millenium Ministries who collaborate across denominational lines and give away all their content for free will be more common (see also Desiring God Ministries). This will happen as technology is utilized to make edifying data more and more available instaneously – combined with visionary kingdom minded people seek to ensure that the worldwide church is well resourced.
Neo-Calvinism (I am not sure how to define it, but try some of these links- 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5): Neo-calvinism will continue to grow… whether as a reaction against something else (megachurch, anti-intellectualism, Dispensationalism, irrelevance, or unmissionality) or positively as an embracing of something substantive.
I fear that the internet era of podcasts and videocasts, people’s expectations of their unknown and unsung local pastors could become unrealistic. This fuels my concern over the already existing issue of celebrity and may lead to the aforementioned highly problematic branding. I wonder if the great contribution of the non-denominational world will ultimately be de facto denominations that have all their weaknesses without all their strengths.
How things will play out will depend on the actions/reactions of evangelicalism to multiculturalism, mobility, globality, pluralism, re-urbanization, technology, capitalism, democritization, and dualism. This concludes our look at the past, present, and future of evangelicalism as I see it.