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Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going
By: Bill Easum

Religious Product News is celebrating 10 years of service to God's churches…quite an accomplishment in a time when many long-standing magazines have either folded or have abandoned print for the Internet. Congratulations.

So, I thought it fitting to take a look back over those 10 years to see what has happened to the churches this magazine serves and what those changes might mean for the next 10 years.

Looking Back Over the Last Ten Years
Over the past decade, three distinct types of churches have emerged from the changes brought about in the 1960s. (In case you don't remember, the 60s brought us rock and roll, the flower children, and many more changes that laid the foundation for what we see today in every area of life). See where your church fits in.

1. The Rapidly Declining Mainline Camp
Mainline Denominations began declining in the mid-60s. At first, the decline was slow and hardly noticeable. For the next few decades, the church still had some voice in the community and claimed the majority of Protestants and the population. But, by the end of the century, it was clear that mainline churches were no longer a dominate force in anything. Their decline now is fast and furious.

Today, all of these denominations are consolidating their wealth in order to survive. "Survive" is the primary word in mainline circles. Of course, not all would agree with my conclusion, but actions speak louder than words. There isn't one mainline denomination that is expanding. They are all shrinking and will continue to do so for three reasons. 

One, the world has fundamentally changed and most of them refuse to change. Two, the liberal mainline theology has lost its passion for change. And three, two forms of church governance dominate the mainline camp - congregational and representative democracy and, in many ways, their infrastructure resembles that of corporate America. In a fast-changing world, neither of these forms of governance works in churches.

2. The Rapidly Increasing Evangelical Camp
On the other hand, those churches both in and outside of mainline groups whose primary passion is the transformation of individuals and society are beginning to show signs of progress. Most of these churches consider themselves to be conservative and evangelical. They exist not to survive, but to change the world. 

One of the best positive signs of this group's growth is that for the first time in several decades 2012 saw the number of new church starts outnumber the churches that were closed. Add to this the vast majority of growing churches today came into existence in the past 25 years or less and we see a new form of church emerging that isn't liberal or denominational (even if it belongs to a denomination).

This group is based on an Apostolic form of governance where the pastor and staff make the day-to-day decisions and are held accountable by a small board, allowing the church to move swiftly and take advantage of our fast-changing times.

3. The Still to Be Determined Missional Camp
Over the past decade, a major new emphasis has been given to the need for non-institutionally based churches, such as  house churches and missional churches that meet in homes, cafes, or wherever. This group focuses most of its time energy and money on the surrounding community in the hope of showing them Christ.

Since this is a fairly recent phenomenon, it is impossible to determine its impact on the future, but in many ways, it is already shaping the actions of most thriving institutional churches by causing them to think more of what they can do for the community rather than what the community can do for them.

These last two camps are poised to rewrite the Western Protestant landscape. So, let's take a peek at what the next years might look like.

What This Means for the Next 10 Years
• A new breed of spiritual leader is and will emerge. This leadership will be apostolic and missional instead of pastoral and institutional. Its goal will be transformation rather than care giving. Congregational and representative forms of governance will continue to wane.

• The focus will be more on advancing the Kingdom than on growing a church. Ways to impact the city, nation, and world will be as important as growing the local church. Church leaders will measure effectiveness by how they affect the community more than how many people are in worship.

• The day of institutionalizing the church within its four walls will give way to a missionary mindset among the thriving congregations. The focus will be rabidly outward.  This will be true for both institutional and non-institutional churches.

• Raising up leaders who can lead other leaders will become the focus of discipleship rather than convincing people to serve on committees or participate in church programs. The committee structure will all but disappear.

• Adults, rather than children and youth, will become the primary target of evangelism. We are already seeing parents refusing to have their infants baptized because grandma wants it done. And the average young adult is no longer found in churches and when they are more and more of thriving churches don't perform infant baptism.

• Redemption of the person will be the primary thrust of worship and what one does after leaving worship (social justice) will be a major measure of the effectiveness of the church's ministry. Evangelism and social justice will go hand-in-hand in the thriving churches. So a new effectiveness scorecard is emerging.

• Reproduction of churches and the development of workplace ministries will be the primary mission. More new churches will be planted in the U.S. over the next 20 years than in all of the past generations.

• The average thriving church will have more than one location because the 20th century importance put on place has been replaced by an emphasis on relationships so that it doesn't matter as much where the church meets. We are already seeing the phenomenal rise of churches that have more than one location.

• Mainline denominations will continue their mergers and consolidations of funds for the purpose of survival rather than growth.

Of course, no one can predict the future.  All one can do is extrapolate what might happen from what is currently happening. But, if the present course of Western Protestantism is any indication of what might happen the next 10 years, then I'd hang my reputation on the above predictions.

Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.

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