The hope for the Church in 2020 is no different than it has been throughout history. God has always raised up pastors and church leaders to proclaim the message of salvation to the lost and equip the saints for the work of the Church. How the saints carried out their ministry varied throughout history.
Based on the hymn of Edward Mote, written in the early 1800s, our hope for the Church in 2020 is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…his unchanging grace…his oath, and covenant and blood. Matthew 16:18 affirms that the Church’s message is so strong that even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. It never has and never will. Revelation 3:7-8 reminds us that God controls the entrance into all the doors of his kingdom.
Based on my analysis1, the Church in America in 2020 will be:
The Church will:
- have an open and inviting structure and style
- play an active and visible role in the community
- have an inclusive congregational makeup
- address the personal and spiritual needs of the congregation more assertively
- be more of an organization than an organism
Additionally, social, economic, and political trends will have a limiting influence on the pattern of growth and the focus of ministry of local congregations.
The Church will struggle and change over the next decade. Tolerance will be required; new learning will be demanded; firmness will be required on the basic tenets of the faith; and assertive communication skills will be needed for the advancement of the faith.
1. Seniors. Due to the steady growth of the senior population in our communities, the Church will be pressured to address the needs of this age group. A whole new career option will open up with “senior” pastors and lay leaders serving seniors. A cadre of senior pastors and the ordination of senior lay leaders will emerge. The gospel will be taken to nursing care facilities. Home visitation and daytime “meet-and-greet” services will be commonplace.
Special “need-based services” will be held, along with home churches and daytime mid-week services. Intergenerational services will become less common as worship services become more self-interest based. Churches will offer senior-friendly services. The church leadership will develop “senior advantage” services and programs, much like an “AARP style” of organization to aid seniors in meeting their spiritual, social, cognitive, and physical needs. If the seniors have their needs met, their financial backing of the church’s program will continue. If seniors have their voice heard, the music style may swing back to the hymns of Isaac Watts.
2. National Christians. With the shrinkage of available discretionary funds and the door closing to many countries, missions will be carried out by committed national Christians. Nationals already know the language, culture, and decision makers, and are not in need of a passport, visa, or language training. The model will be The Haggai Institute. The Church will focus on training nationals and providing them with tools (e.g., computers and other high tech methods) to “send forth the Word of God.” Short-term missions will be the norm.
3. Pastorate. The integrity of the pastorate continues to be one of our great hopes. We have long seen pastoral integrity played out in the press with the Church on the losing end. Pastoral housecleaning is needed. Pastoral moral departure will be addressed and focus placed on a pastor’s rehabilitation. Pastoral accrediting bodies will be more forthright in policing their own and proactively preventing such moral departure as we have seen of late in many of our sister denominations and churches.
4. Education. Pastors will see their need for systematic continuing education, but will resist a formal requirement of annual courses. Pastors are professionals just as are psychologists, accountants, and physicians. A systematic continuing education program is long overdue. We will see some pastoral credentialing body take the lead on this and start a required continuing education program of some specified amount of annual course work. Pastors will increasingly see their need to be updated on theological issues (i.e., preaching, interpersonal relationships, family theory, financial).
5. Gender. The church has been two-tiered, historically. Decisional leadership has been the domain of men, while women have had the domain of church life and program implementation. Recently, this dichotomy has shifted. Women are now sharing in the decision-making process by having board membership, for example. Women are increasingly being licensed and ordained for pastoral and chaplaincy responsibilities. Women are now having lead roles in worship and church body life as associate and senior pastoral staff.
The trend of recognizing the gifts, talents, and leadership abilities of women will exponentially increase over the next decade. Seminaries will increasingly include this vital issue in their course content. Online seminary and Christian education will be a major avenue for women to advance their leadership potential. Educated in theology and biblical studies, they will seek out a place to have an impactful voice within the American church and parachurch organizations and to have a community-wide influence.
6. Multiple locations. Multiple locations will typify the growing local church. The model will be some form of a “diversified mega local church.” A central polysynergetic church with multiple church plants spread out over one hundred miles in multiple communities will be the norm. The system will be viewed as “outreach” and will serve as the model for the church’s community impact and outreach.
7. Multicultural churches. Multicultural churches will be commonplace. No one culture will be the majority in America. International churches with mixed pastoral and congregational heritage will be increasingly common. There will be more integration of ethnic groups than is now the case. Diversified ethnic groups will be worshiping on a campus together as one church with integrated leadership. Ethnic and cultural sensitivity and integration training will be the focus of training seminars for church leaders and active congregations.
8. Church and state. The argument of the separation of Church and state will become an increasingly hot issue of debate. There will be strong voices that wish to silence the gospel message in the hopes that the Church will be “politically correct” in a primarily secular society. The apostate Church will grow before us. Others will work toward the Church becoming recognized and accepted as the “true Church” and having a strong, independent, godly influence in the community and in general society. As a result, the Church will come under increasing persecution by the media, the prevailing political system, and the assertive voice of other world religions.
9. Holistic gospel. We will come to see the work of the church and the gospel more clearly carried out by individual believers instead of an organized body. Believers will be increasingly active in social service. This belief will continue to revolve around the two unsettled social service theories of “giving a man a fish” or “teaching him how to fish.” The way we now do missions will be refocused on the social needs of a people and less on their need for God’s gift of eternal salvation. Therefore, in its efforts to serve the needy, the Church will have to guard against an anemic presentation of the gospel. It will be imperative that the gospel message is wrapped around any and all acts of humanitarian service. We should see a greater focus on the biblical message of God’s design for all of us to know our calling to a “fishing career” as the way for the believer to have a purpose-based ministry in his or her community and beyond.
The Church in 2020 will be polysynergetic, evangelical, community-oriented, missional, and inclusive. It will prevail and strengthen, but refocus, in the next decade. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. Challenges and threats will be abundant, but God’s word will not be proclaimed in vain.
1. As background research for this article, I consulted ten church leaders from small and large churches. I based much of my thinking on the input from these American churchmen and women. I also consulted the research George Barna summarized in his book, The State of the Church, 2002 (Issachar Resources, 2002). Barna envisioned nine challenges coming before the Church at that time in history.