The House Church Blog has some interesting excerpts from the upcoming book by George Barna entitled Revolution. Of particular note is the quote:
“Whereas “Christian community” has generally been limited to the relationships facilitated within a congregation, the Revolution is bursting open the walls of the worldwide Church to birth a truly international network of relationships…”
I agree and disagree with this statement.
Ithink that Barna is on the right track in predicting that church is shifting into something more relationally rooted, often occuring outside of the church walls. People may still attend churches, but don’t expect them to jump through all of the membership hoops. Belonging to a church will be redefined.
My own observations and experiences point to a high level of dissatisfaction among many Christians, and I believe that as alternative forms of gathering and having fellowship emerge over time, more and more will avail themselves of the opportunities in their contexts. As decentralized and scale free netoworks become common, I think that many Christians will find that their sense of guilt for not attending a traditional church service regularly will fade away.
And yet, in all of this, I do not see a revolution brewing. Barna comments:
“The U.S. will see a reduction in the number of churches, as presently configured (i.e. congregational-formatted ministries). Church service attendance will drop… Donations to churches will drop… Churches’ already limited political and cultural influence will diminish even further at the same time that Christians will exert greater influence through more disparate mechanisms. Fewer church programs will be sustained in favor of more communal experiences among Christians…”
This is quite the apocalyptic scenario for the eyes of some. Barna speaks as if the old structure will be toppled over and relationships and decentralized networks will be the fare of the day. Of course he expects older churches to still be around, but I think that the old and the new will have something in common (and maybe he hits on this in the rest of the book, so I’ll give him the benefit of a doubt): both will operate on the margins of society.
While emerging structures are certainly pregnant with incredible potential to influence our society, the signs of the times point toward Eastern religion, new age spirituality, and pop spirituality as the top distribution centers for the divine. Emerging churches at this point in time seem to operate under the cultural radar, doing things that fall outside of stereotypical Christianity. The secular culture will probably have a really hard time figuring out what the heck these people are up to. Why would this group help with a community event? Why do they care for the poor in our town? Why do they support the arts? How can they be Christians and not meet in a church?
In other words, the emerging church is not the heir to the traditional church. This is not a revolution in the sense of toppling over of one authority structure and the institution of another. I think it is more a case of evolution. Surely the emerging church will be the fittest in today’s context, but the traditional church will live on, preach the Gospel, and have some sort of effective, albeit limited, ministry. Many churches may dissolve, but traditional Christianity is ingrained into enough people that it will be a major presence in our culture for years to come, even if it isn’t heard from too much. If we expect the networked, user-friendly emerging churches to be influential in the same way as the dominant church of today, we will be sorely disappointed. Our American society is chipping away at the hold of Christendom on our institutions and national life and the task of the emerging church will be to seek God’s leading in bring God’s Kingdom to a society that is moving far away from God.