The Post-Church Letters: Voices from 2020

These scenarios tell us that immigrants, women and emerging generations will shape the church in greater measure by 2020.
By Jay Gary
You’ve heard the post-church hype for years: “It’s the end of the church as we know it. Twenty million will leave the church by 2020. Donations will shrink, and everybody will leave the pastorate to become executive coaches … blah, blah, blah.”

Together we could spawn a Twitter feed with all the ways that the church, or even America, might meet her demise over the next decade. These include default on debt, dirty bombs, peak oil, obesity, end of English, super Flu, one-party rule, food supply, nanotech goo, Israel-Arab war, military coup, cell phone cancer, you name it.

These are nothing more than end-of-the-age fears. To be sure, we will face our fair measure of setbacks. Like years past, tomorrow we will also face giants in the Promised Land, whether they are economic, social or technological. But as we start 2010, perhaps it’s time to think forward to 2020. Let’s give some thought to how we might navigate the decade and face the badlands between now and then.

Here are three letters from imaginary pastors, written as if it was 2020. They offer a retrospective look on what might be our prospects. They are not projections, nor prophecies. But they can help us appreciate the terrain before us, and realize that we may need to create a larger canvas with more people.

If I were to have scripted a fourth voice demographically, it would be the post-evangelical, the emergent church fast-forwarded by a decade. But I don’t see them as a congregational force, demographically speaking.

There are other lesser voices out there, within evangelicalism now, that may fall outside it later, but I think it is a safe bet for the three I included. Each is rising in power now demographically and generationally. It might not be that way in 20 years, but now they are.

The Multichurch Letter

I’m Rev. Luis Sanchez, senior pastor of Rivercrest Church in Phoenix, AZ. For me, and millions of immigrants, the most significant development of 2011 to 2020 was the emergence of the multichurch. Today, 30 percent of all megachurches are led by Hispanics and Asian pastors. By 2030, that number could rise to 51 percent. As ethnic evangelicals, we reversed flatline growth of megachurches and created culturally relevant multichurches to serve both fast-growing immigrant communities and aging Anglos.

A decade ago experts wrote about the “coming Evangelical collapse” and the demise of the megachurch. The decline was only within a spectrum of suburban white Christianity. What the postmodern and worship wars overlooked in 2010 was the rise of what Soong-Chan Rah called the “next evangelicalism.” The shift from mega to multi was first noticed as mid-40s Hispanics came into leadership in historic megachurches in big cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago or Ft. Lauderdale. Our movement exploded as second generation Hispanics and Asians, such as myself, discovered we could combine highly efficient methods and relational ministry for our own communities.

Thanks to the multichurch, the growing edge of American Christianity in 2020 is young and largely ethnic, whether Hispanic, African American or Asian American. This demographic shift is clearly evident in the workplace. Since 2010 the minority portion of the working age population has increased from 28 percent to 37 percent, while the white portion declined from 72 percent to 63 percent. Just as Anglo-families of the 1990s created megachurches, the ethnic families of the 2010s formed multichurches for spiritual formation, youth ministry and eldercare.

The multichurch enabled evangelicals to finally reconcile the personal gospel of Billy Graham with the public activism of Martin Luther King Jr. While we still face a host of new challenges to righteousness, from same-sex marriage to genetic enhancement, long gone are the heady days of faith-based influence on politics. Today we must work humbly with Mormons and Catholics to advance smart family issues.

The Vocachurch Letter

I’m Dr. Melissa Kaufman-Reed, executive pastor of Highland Hills Church in Columbus, OH. I am a representative of one-half of the American workforce, which is female. For us the most significant faith development, leading up to 2020, was the formation of thousands of locally initiated female-led vocational networks.

Vocachurches were born during the dark days of the Great Recession. While male CEOs kept receiving bonuses, the women of America realized we had entered a new era of austerity. Acting from faith to overcome frustration, we led America to invest in everything local — including ourselves. As working women, we started meeting weekly to speak into each other’s lives and trade services between our businesses. We rejected long congested traffic commutes and transformed our workplaces through flextime, job sharing and telecommuting.

The first VocaNet was formed in Cleveland as a self-organizing, peer-coaching, innovation group. It was built as a three-fold cord of faith, business, and community development, combining the best of Anne Graham Lotz, Suze Orme and Oprah Winfrey. It started to multiply. Historians tell us it was the rebirth of the Wesleyan class meeting of the 1700s, but with an edge that put faith to work. Each net practiced five L.O.C.A.L. principles: local, open, caring, adaptive and leadership. What Promise Keepers was to men in the 1990s, VocaNet was to women in the 2010s.

By 2015 the movement fused local care with local congregations. Today more than one-half of VocaNets are extensions of churches, or vocachurches. They stand in the long line of innovations from the Sunday school to home schooling. VocaNet has given women back their voices and vocations. Vocachurches now promise to be a main vehicle by which women will receive spiritual formation, give back to the community, and invest in a new generation.

The Hybridchurch Letter

I’m Aiden Harris, a DC or digital coordinator for Lumenar Church, in Orlando, FL. I grew up digital as part of the net generation. Net Geners transformed the Internet into a place to create and connect, rather than just a place where you found information. The most significant development since 2010 has been the emergence of the hybridchurch. We call our churches hybrid because, like amphibians, that operate on both water and land, we meet as easily in virtual as in face-to-face worlds.

In 2020, the personal navigator is not the notebook computer but the PMD, or Personal Media Device, the successor to iBerry. We use our PMDs to connect and create as an ecclesia, when we are gathered or scattered. Our sermons are not single-medium monologues, but multi-person conversations mixed by DCs like me. They are highlights of the previous week’s media-based conversations conducted by the pastoral team, along with instant polls and Twitter feeds. We still reach up in worship, but that itself is enriched by diverse techno or cultural elements assembled and replayed on 3D ultra screens, or on PMDs if we are scattered.

Three factors created today’s hybridchurch. The first was Net Geners like me, coming of age. We refused to be passive in church. The second was next generation broadband. These fiber networks enabled multi-person video conferencing by mid-decade, from both home and work, at 10 gigabit speeds. The third factor was the catalyst — the global N-fluenza of 2016, which shut down all face-to-face meetings for eight weeks. Hybridchurch meetings literally saved the church during those 60 days. It has stayed with us ever since. While some Boomers still operate “purebred” churches, Net Geners like me expect and demand the high degree of authenticity and interactivity found in hybridchurches. We believe the multi-splendored presence of God is seen in the many, not just the few.

One Voice or Many Blends?

Will we see the emergence of the multichurch, vocachurch or hybridchurch over the next 10 years? One voice could emerge, all three could emerge, or we could see various blends of these voices with traditional churches. What we do know for sure is that demographics are destiny. They tell us that immigrants, women, and emerging generations will shape the church in greater measure as it moves toward 2020. The question is, are we listening? Whatever might emerge, the church will survive. It might even thrive, if we rededicate ourselves to keep biblically-focused and culturally relevant.

Dr. Jay Gary has led since 1997 to help church leaders think forward. He serves as an assistant professor at Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA , and directs the Master of Strategic Foresight degree. []


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