You don’t always have to be a prophet to predict the future (though it helps). Jesus said that we could look at the times in which we are living and forecast the future. (Matt. 16:2&3). How can we do this? Well I believe it is really a combination of things. We must first become a student of history and human nature, then examine the current culture to get a handle on the ebbs and flows that exist in the lives of people. As we do this we see trends emerge with apparent and predictable motions and movements. Marketing executives make a lot of money forecasting these trends for companies who produce goods and services designed to be sold to the culture. I believe we can also study emerging technology, particularly the technology that alters the way people live their lives.
All of these factors tell us where the culture is moving, where it is located. Location, location, location! We hear this all the time as it relates to marketing. But location when it comes to reaching and connecting with the culture is not always a geographical term. People move in their thinking long before they move physically.
While from a Christian Ministry perspective, we all know the message of the Gospel doesn’t change, it hasn’t for 2,000 years, yet we must move that message with the culture or we won’t be close enough to be heard.
With that said, let me tell you the important trends that I believe are going to impact the church in the coming days:
1. Mobile technology is changing everything. My office is now wherever I am. Receiving, processing and assimilating information is more personal and requires less effort on my part than it ever has. This is producing a decentralization of the culture. Medical, educational and banking institutions now know that they must go with me to where I live, move at the pace that I move, and be content with the time I allot for them or they will get left behind. The church should take note! Innovate…
2. We are emerging through the consumer era into what futurists call the prosumer era. Here people want to both consume and produce. They want to make a difference. Social justice and making a contribution to society are common values in the emerging culture. Seize the opportunity and leverage it to expand your volunteer base. The web has made us all authors, commentators and film producers. Bend that trend in the direction of inspiring Christians to become influencers, the Salt and Light of the World.
3. Build your structures and programs for change. The old “built to last” value has been replaced with a “built to change/adapt” model. This is the language the culture speaks. People want to see it in the organizations they serve. This requires a leadership philosophy change. The way we cast vision and assign roles must become more flexible and less permanent. Departments and programs must be evaluated based on functionality with an expectation for change.
4. Relevance is King! Think, what is its purpose and how does it function? Quickly define experiences and contextualize them on the fly. Make your theology interactive through testimonies, multi-media and hands-on opportunities. Connect people to the message ASAP.
5. Think networks. Networks are all over your church. Networks are the next generation of cells. Where the cell group was the vehicle of the past, networks are the vehicle of the future. Teach people to use their existing networks to share information and opportunities to connect the church with others. Small groups often fail because we ask people to create new groups instead of utilizing their existing network to accomplish the same objective.
6. The Christian world has changed from push to pull. Before we pushed people to embrace our views often through religious control mechanisms. But now we must pull them in with influence and a values system that engages and inspires them.
We don’t have to pray about what God’s will is for the culture. It is not His will that any should perish, but that all should come to eternal life. But we have to be where they are, speaking a language they understand through a medium they can relate to. If we do that, we can lead the way into the future!