The Christian movement was founded around an empty tomb, and now everywhere you look there are churches like empty tombs dotting the American landscape. They are buildings that were once great centers of worship that are now simply museums. Any pastor who ignores this will be a curator one day himself. But there are a few of us who won’t put up with that trajectory.
If the Church in America is going to survive into the next generation, it’s going to have to be a few things that it isn’t and a few things that it doesn’t want to be. To survive, the Church is going to have to be pushy, stubborn, crass, hyper, and bloody.
Pushy – We’ve been weaned on the message that Christians are judgmental and overbearing. Youth pastors in the 80’s were telling their students, “Just try to be normal and try to be a good friend.” The results of witness-by-assimilation have not been stellar. In the next generation, Christians are going to have to be clear, articulate, and persistent about their proclamation of the gospel. A secular culture won’t pick it up by osmosis. A friend of mine tried hard to be a good witness at his workplace through kindness and exemplary living. Finally someone asked him, “You seem different. Are you a vegetarian?” The coming Church is going to have to be rigorously evangelistic if it intends to keep its doors open.
Stubborn – I’ve been told over and over again that people don’t like how narrow-minded Christians are. Nonsense. The only movements which have proven to have staying power in world history are those which are stubbornly dogmatic. Clarity, not complexity, propagates a movement. The next generation of Christians living in a secular culture are actually going to have to know what the Bible says and why they won’t compromise it.
Crass – For some time now, Millennials have been branded as valuing authenticity more so than previous generations. A friend of mine, who is a Boomer-at-heart born in the X Generation, says that no generation has ever valued inauthenticity. But the opposite of authenticity isn’t inauthenticity, it’s performance, and there are lots of churches that are into performance. The next generations of Christians will not be able to mount elevated pulpits to distribute biblical truth from the perspective of an unaffected, objective third-party. The preacher is going to have to rise from the pews (which will be theater chairs) and do less “Thus sayeth the Lord!” and more “…and he’s saying it to me too, and we’re going to have to figure out how to obey this together.” And that’s going to make for some pretty raw preaching, in which congregations actually stop committing the docetic heresy when it comes to their pastors.
Hyper – The rising generation is not only increasingly secular, it is also increasingly entitled. It will spend a lot of time pouting about the fact that no one handed it a job when it finished its degree. In that era, the Church is going to have to return to the passion of a God-ordained work ethic in which productivity is valued and providing for a family is honored. Christians are actually going to have to work hard to have a church, rather than resting on a Christianized culture which will just hand it to them on Sunday mornings.
Bloody – There are going to be a few martyrs in the next generation of American Christendom. It won’t be so dramatic as a crucifixion. It will be much more bureaucratic. They will be stretched across unfriendly laws which make it harder to carry out a belief system which actually shapes the world instead of just comforting the psyche. They will be sued into submission while liberality shrugs.
The Church in America is about to go through a reworking. I don’t fear that it will erode quite the way it has in Europe and Canada, because American evangelicalism got such a firm hold here where it did not elsewhere in the West. And a lot of churches, instead of closing, will just hand their keys over to the immigrant population which had previously been renting. Through either means, the Church in America so much as it remains viable will be a more clear, wiry, hungry animal than it was in the last era.