Tag: denominations

The future of churches: A network of niches

In the on-going debate “will digital replace books?” the conclusion of many media watchers is an unequivocal Yes and No. Amazon’s Kindle has really become a game-changer, delivering books within seconds of purchase via Sprint’s wireless network.  Problems do exist, as Jeff Jarvis points out, because if you do not have good Sprint coverage in your area, books take hours to download, not seconds.  In other words, it’s not perfect.

So, will digital replace books? Yes, ebooks will replace printed books for many, maybe even most.  But, printed books will still survive in print-on-demand processes that print each copy as ordered.  Books will also survive in niche groups like “Save the Real Books” (which I just made up, but you get the idea).  After all, there are groups for vintage cars, vintage wine, vintage clothing, vintage furniture, so why not vintage book printing?  Digital won’t eliminate printed books, but digital will be another means to acquire and read books.  In other words, rather than one model (printed books), we’ll have a network of niche models from which to choose, including print, digital, audio, digital audio (the new Kindle can read your book to you), digital mobile, and so on.

Which brings us to churches, again.

Using the ebook versus printed book model, what does that say about churches?  I have been saying that we’re counting the wrong things in church (attendance) when we should be counting community engagement.  I’ve also said that church attendance will decrease (this is not an original thought), and we’re moving rapidly toward a post-Christendom era like Europe.

That said, I don’t think all existing churches will die.  For instance, the megachurches spawned by baby boomers will not go away.  I think their influence will diminish and some will go downsize.  But churches will always exist, some will always have buildings and property, and most will always be trying to attract people to them.

But, what I think will happen is new forms of church will emerge from the next generation of church leaders.  These forms are not even thought of yet.  Example: A few years ago who would have thought of LifeChurch.tv with an internet campus, and a bunch of satellite sites?

Lyle Schaller came close in the 1980s when he advocated that small churches use video sermons from outstanding preachers, but Schaller did not imagine that video sermons would be simulcast to remote satellite locations where a live band would lead worshippers in person, cutting to the remote video of Craig Groeschel (or Andy Stanley) in time for the message.

To get back to our question, Will churches of today disappear? Yes and no.

We can be certain of this — we live in an age of discontinuous change and unexpected consequences.  Nobody knows exactly what church will look like in the future because we’re not there yet.  But I have  a feeling it will be multiple models, not one predominant model like we had from WWII until about 1985. That’s about the time the church growth movement popularized church planting by anybody, not just denominations.  That shift resulted in hundreds of new churches, led by entrepreneurial church planters who created different models. That is what I think will happen, again, but this time the new models will be even more innovative than those of the last 25 years.

We’ll still have bricks-and-mortar churches, but also house churches, coffee shop churches, outdoor churches, churches that meet once a month, churches that meet online, churches that consists of groups which interact frequently, and churches that we can’t even imagine yet.  We will also see ‘single market’ churches that focus on the homeless or the physically handicapped or the poor or any niche group you can think of.

In other words, the same thing that is happening in the broader culture will happen in churches, too — more options, more models, a network of niches, rather than a predominant church form.

I am also certain that whatever emerges, church will not ever be the same again. By extension, neither will denominations, cross-cultural missions programs, or Christian education programs be the same again.  These will all change radically, because the current models are unsustainable in today’s culture.

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

Church wants to be free

free1.jpg An interesting article by Kevin Kelly got me thinking about church. Church, I believe, wants to be free. Not free, like “Free Willy.” I’m not talking about an imprisoned behemoth that wants to leap the channel net into freedom, although that might be another post in the future. I’m talking about free as in “no cost” free. Economically free. Free as in “no charge.”

A good example of the new free is music. The internet has completely revolutionized how we (“we”= kids) gain access to music. Mostly for free. Radiohead made news by giving away their latest album for free when it was first released. We are getting used to free, and we like it. Church related items aren’t exempt from this move to free. Several years ago I subscribed to an online sermon illustration service and a sermon preparation magazine. Two years ago I cancelled both subscriptions. Why? Because now comparable material is available for free on the internet.

With the move to free, here’s what I would like to see in the church world:

  • More peer-to-peer sharing. Kids revolutionized music distribution through file-sharing and downloads. Okay, much of it was illegal, but now that’s been cleaned up and artists are actually joining the free music revolution. Some musicians give away their music via downloads. Pastors and church leaders ought to create networks for sharing information, sermons, programs, music, art, ideas, and concepts. Why do we wait for denominations or mega-churches to sponsor seminars? Why don’t we get together as church leaders and craft our own seminars, where we are the content creators?
  • Less consumer-culture. The church world is just as captive as the rest of society to the consumer culture. We have come to believe that the best ideas are the ones we buy. That is simply not true. The best ideas are the ones that fit our context and can be done for little or no money. The iMonk has a great post on the religious- industrial complex.
  • More done for love, and not for money. Kevin Kelly also contends that the internet runs on love — millions of people work for free to put up good material on the internet just because they love creating and contributing. How have we let popular culture steal the principle by which the kingdom of God should operate? If someone has a better outreach program, shouldn’t they give it away? If someone knows a better way to present the gospel to others, shouldn’t they make that available for free? If we really believe what we say about the Christian life, shouldn’t all of us who call ourselves Christian work passionately to make sure that all the best ideas, programs, concepts, and methodologies are free?
  • Less slick and more real. We don’t need the Madison Avenue look — slick and expensive — to communicate in today’s world. We need authenticity. We need real. Plus, we’re amateurs when it comes to slick advertising anyway. What do we have that’s real? Community, love, help, care, relationships, people, and God. Beats Madison Avenue every time.
  • Smaller budgets and more creativity. We have bought the myth that small churches have small budgets and, therefore, can’t do much. But, creativity and collaboration rise to the top when funds are limited.
  • Smaller churches. Small churches have an economy of scale that large churches do not. And, that’s why small churches outnumber big ones, and survive longer than large churches.

So, that’s my riff on free church. That’s also why I blog, to create a forum where we can help each other for free. What do you think? How can we start the free church revolution? Or am I the only person who believes church wants to be free? I’d like your thoughts. — Chuck

5 Ways Church Models Can Be Helpful

a_church_model.jpg A “church model.” Not the kind I’m talking about.

Mea culpa. That’s Latin for “I pulled the trigger on my mouth before it cleared my holster, and I shot myself in the foot.” Or something like that. Now that I have calmed down over the McChurch post at Out of Ur, let me do some backpedaling. I now understand —

  1. Eddie Johnson described his church using the analogy of a franchise to point out the very positive aspects of the North Point strategic partnerships.
  2. The franchise description was Eddie’s, not Andy’s, according to Eddie himself.
  3. Eddie is a really nice guy who responds with grace and good humor. Unlike some folks who have called him the ‘anti-christ.’ (And I thought I was over the top!)

Which brings me to a reasoned discussion of the whole business of “church models.” Eddie’s right — we all use church models to describe the approach we are taking in our particular ministry situation. Reference to church models has become a kind of ecclesial short-hand, helping others know who we are and what we do. Church models include purpose-driven (Saddleback), seeker (Willow Creek), video (North Point, Life Church), externally-focused, servant evangelistic, missional, emerging, denominational, and so on.

With that in mind, here are 5 ways church models can be helpful:

  1. Identity. Denominations served the purpose of identifying a church in the 20th century. In the 21st century, affiliations are more in vogue. Many churches advertise that they are Purpose-driven, or seeker-friendly, or video-oriented to identify themselves to their communities.
  2. Processes. Eddie calls this systems, but however you say it, it’s how you do things. Churches that affiliate with a particular model do things consistent with that model. The use of proven methodologies helps jump start many church planting or church revitalization efforts.
  3. Focus. As Eddie said, they don’t offer the church program buffet. They know what they do, and they don’t get distracted by other “good”– but off-message — opportunities.
  4. Support. Most church models originated because someone had done it at least once. I like the Celtic Christian abbey model, and that was done over 1,000 years ago. Others are more current and provide literature, promotional materials, training events, and programs with support on-line or on the phone.
  5. Metrics. Church models usually have measurements that are important to that model such as baptisms, new members, attendance, or participation in small groups. Many have benchmarks that incorporate several measures of mission success. Each model is looking either for growth, development, progress, maturity (Willow’s study), or some other attribute that is measurable.

Church models are helpful in all the ways I’ve mentioned and more. But, church models are just that — models. Our daughter and her husband own a franchise restaurant, and the reality and the model can be vastly different. Models provide a good framework for us to shape ministry around, but I have to constantly remind myself that “God gives the increase.” However you measure it. What do you think?