(PAPER DELIVERED BY VEN DR. YEMI AGBELUSI AT THE 2015 YOUTH PARLIMAENT OF THE DIOCESE OF LAGOS WEST. DECEMBER 9TH 2015)
Many people today understand the church as a building. This is not a biblical understanding of the church. The word �church� comes from the Greek word ekklesia which is defined as �an assembly� or �called-out ones.� The root meaning of �church� is not that of a building, but of people. It is ironic that when you ask people what church they attend, they usually identify a building. Romans 16:5 says �� greet the church that is in their house.� Paul refers to the church in their house�not a church building, but a body of believers.
The church is the body of Christ, of which He is the head. Ephesians 1:22-23 says, �And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.� The body of Christ is made up of all believers in Jesus Christ from the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) until Christ s return. The body of Christ is comprised of two aspects:
1) The universal church consists of all those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. �For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body�whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free�and we were all given the one Spirit to drink� (1 Corinthians 12:13). This verse says that anyone who believes is part of the body of Christ and has received the Spirit of Christ as evidence. The universal church of God is all those who have received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
2) The local church is described in Galatians 1:1-2: �Paul, an apostle � and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia.� Here we see that in the province of Galatia there were many churches�what we call local churches. A Baptist church, Lutheran church, Catholic church, etc., is not the church, as in the universal church�but rather is a local church, a local body of believers. The universal church is comprised of those who belong to Christ and who have trusted Him for salvation. These members of the universal church should seek fellowship and edification in a local church.
In summary, the church is not a building or a denomination. According to the Bible, the church is the body of Christ�all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Local churches are gatherings of members of the universal church. The local church is where the members of the universal church can fully apply the �body� principles of 1 Corinthians chapter 12: encouraging, teaching, and building one another up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
SOME FACTS TO NOTE:
1. The Church Belongs to Jesus, Not Us
And Jesus knows what he s doing.
2. The Picture Is Not As Bleak as We Think
Ed Stetzer has done some great work on this. His take? "No serious researcher believes Christianity in America is dying. Not one." Check out his post, The State of the Church In America: Hint: It s Not Dying, for a balanced look at this.
In fact, while the European and North American church is dealing with what Stetzer calls "transition", the church in the rest of the world is experiencing strong, steady growth.
3. The Church Always Thrives Under Persecution
If persecution is coming to the church (let s face it, that s the church everyone is worried about) it may reduce church attendance numbers and perceived cultural influence, but it won t kill the church.
Prosperity is far more dangerous to the church than persecution has ever been. As the Puritan writer Cotton Mather put it in the early 1700s, �Religion brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother.�
4. Loss of Privilege Is Not the Same As Persecution
The loss of morning prayers in public schools is not persecution. Neither is the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from a courthouse.
There are Christians in places like Syria and Iran who know what real persecution feels like. When we claim persecution for what is little more than loss of privilege, we minimize the real persecution our brothers and sisters face all over the world today.
5. The Church Is at Its Best When We Are Counter-Cultural
The church doesn t hold the reins of power well. We�re better off in the role of a challenging the culture than going mainstream. The church as a called out and chosen generation needs to be in the world but not of the world.
6. The Church Is Bigger than Our Buildings and Our Denominations
I do believe that we will lose many church buildings in the coming decades. It will be especially challenging for churches .I also foresee massive problems for many denominations. (But I don t need to be a prophet to see that one, do I?I sympathize with those who love their church s historic building and/or denomination, only to lose one or both. But I�m grateful that buildings and denominations are not needed for the church to survive and thrive.
In fact, we may need to lean on our buildings and denominations less in order to lean on Jesus more.
7. The Church Is People Who Love Jesus, God s Word and Each Other
This is one the main reasons the church thrives under persecution. It forces us to turn to what really matters and can never be taken away � loving Jesus, the bible and each other.
8. The Church Has Faced Bigger Problems Than This � Whatever Your "This" May Be
We tend to magnify the severity of small pains that are close to us, while diminishing the reality of much larger pains that are further removed from us. Whatever your real or perceived church crisis may be, it is not, as I�ve seen written way too many times lately, �the greatest crisis the church has ever faced.�
There have been bigger problems than this. But the church is still here.
9. MY Church Is Not THE Church
My church may be tied to a particular worship style, theological stance, historical background, denominational identity or any of a wide variety of other distinctives. But the way I worship is not the church. It s just my little corner of it. If the way I like to worship becomes less popular, that has nothing to do with the strength of the church as a whole.
In fact � brace yourselves � even if the church in Nigeria collapses, as tragic as that would be, it would not mean the end of the church. Jesus has sheep that are not of this fold.
10. Maybe the Parts that Can t Survive Shouldn t
Anything Jesus does will not just survive, but thrive. Eternally. So I have to wonder, if my favorite form of church is dying, maybe it s because Jesus isn t building it? Everything but the church itself (as defined in point #7, above) has an expiration date. No denomination, worship style or tradition is forever. Sometimes a congregation, tradition or denomination dies because it has finished serving its purpose. (This point is not meant to trivialize the very real pain of a local church going through serious hardships. I stand with you. Like John said to the suffering saints in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13), �I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.� You have my heart, my prayers and any help I can offer.)
11. The Church Is the Most Relentlessly Growing Organism In History
For almost 2,000 years of great triumphs and horrifying persecution, the church keeps going.
When Jesus builds something it tends to stand. And stand strong.
12. Worry Doesn t Work
In fact, worry makes it worse.
13. Jesus Told Us Not to Worry About Anything
Paraphrase Jesus� words in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:25-33: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your church building, where you will worship or fellowship; or about your denomination, what decisions it will make. Is not church more important than buildings, and the faith more important than denominational creeds? � Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his church s life or a Naira to its offering basket? � But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Whatever is of worry is not of faith.
And we need all the faith we can get.
PERISCOPING THE FUTURE CHURCH
So what s likely for the future church? Here are 10 things I see.
1. The potential to gain is still greater than the potential to lose
Every time there is a change in history, there s potential to gain and potential to lose. I believe the potential to gain is greater than the potential to lose. Why? As despairing or as cynical as some might be (sometimes understandably) over the church s future, we have to remind ourselves that the church was Jesus� idea, not ours.
It will survive our missteps and whatever cultural trends happen around us. We certainly don t always get things right, but Christ has an incredible history of pulling together Christians in every generation to share his love for a broken world. As a result, the reports of the church s death are greatly exaggerated.
2. Churches that love their model more than the mission will die
That said, many individual congregations and some entire denominations won t make it. The difference will be between those who cling to the mission and those who cling to the model.
When the car was invented, it quick took over from the horse and buggy. Horse and buggy manufacturers were relegated to boutique status and many went under, but human transportation actually exploded. Suddenly average people could travel at a level they never could before.
The mission is travel. The model is a buggy, or car, or motorcycle, or jet. Look at the changes in the publishing, music and even photography industry in the last few years.
See a trend? The mission is reading. It s music. It s photography. The model always shifts�.moving from things like 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs to MP3s and now streaming audio and video.
Companies that show innovation around the mission (Apple, Samsung) will always beat companies that remain devoted to the method (Kodak).
Churches need to stay focused on the mission (leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus) and be exceptionally innovative in our model.
3. The gathered church is here to stay
Read the comments on SOCIAL MEDIA and you would find that some Christians believe the best thing to do is to give up on Christian gatherings of any kind. This is naive.
While some will leave, it does not change the fact that the church has always gathered because the church is inherently communal. Additionally, what we can do gathered together far surpasses what we can do alone. Which is why there will always be an organized church of some form.
So while our gatherings might shift and look different than they do today, Christians will always gather together to do more than we ever could on our own.
4. Consumer Christianity will die and a more selfless discipleship will emerge.
Consumer Christianity asks What can I get from God? It asks, What s in it for me? That leads us to evaluate our church, our faith, our experience and each other according to our preferences and whims. In many respects, even many critics of the church who have left have done so under the pull of consumer Christianity because �nothing� meets their needs.
All of this is antithetical to the Gospel, which calls us to die to ourselves�to lose ourselves for the sake of Christ.
As the church reformats and repents, a more authentic, more selfless church will emerge. Sure, we will still have to make decisions about music, gathering times and even some distinctions about what we believe, but the tone will be different. When you�re no longer focused on yourself and your viewpoint, a new tone emerges.
5. Sundays will become more about what we give than what we get
The death of consumer Christianity will change our gatherings.
Our gatherings will become less about us and more about Jesus and the world he loves. Rather than a gathering of the already-convinced, the churches that remain will be decidedly outsider-focused. And word will be supplemented with deeds. In the future church, being right will be less important than doing right. Sure, that involves social justice and meeting physical needs, but it also involves treating people with kindness, compassion in every day life and attending to their spiritual well being. This is the kind of outward focus that drove the rapid expansion of the first century church.
That s why I�m very excited to be part of a church that has, at its heart, the desire to create churches that people would love to attend. While the expression of what that looks like may change, the intent will not.
6. Attendance will no longer drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance
Currently, many churches try to get people to attend, hoping it drives engagement. In the future, that will flip. The engaged will attend, in large measure because only the engaged will remain.
If you really think about this�engagement driving attendance is exactly what has fuelled the church at its best moments throughout history. It s an exciting shift.
7. Simplified ministries will complement people s lives, not compete with people s lives
For years, the assumption has been that the more a church grew, the more activity it would offer.
The challenge, of course, is that church can easily end up burning people out. In some cases, people end up with no life except church life. Some churches offer so many programs for families that families don t even have a chance to be families. The church at its best has always equipped people to live out their faith in the world. But you have to be in the world to influence the world.
Churches that focus their energies on the few things the church can uniquely do best will emerge as the most effective churches moving forward. Simplified churches will complement people s witness, not compete with people s witness.
8. Online church will supplement the journey but not become the journey
There s a big discussion right now around online church. I think in certain niches online church might become the church for some who simply have no other access to church.
But there is something about human relationship that requires presence. Because the church at its fullest will always gather, online church will supplement the journey. I believe that online relationships are real relationships, but they are not the greatest relationships people can have.
Think of it like meeting someone online. You can have a fantastic relationship. But if you fall in love, you ultimately want to meet and spend your life together. So it is with Jesus, people and the church.
9. Online church will become more of a front door than a back door
There s no question that today online church has become a back door for Christians who are done with attending church.
While online church is an amazing supplement for people who can t get to a service, it s still an off ramp for Christian whose commitment to faith is perhaps less than it might have been at an earlier point.
Within a few years, the dust will settle and a new role for online church and online ministry will emerge. Online church has the potential to become a massive front door for the curious, the unconvinced and for those who want to know what Christianity is all about.
In the same way you purchase almost nothing without reading online reviews or rarely visit a restaurant without checking it out online first, a church s online presence will be a first home for people which for many, will lead to a personal connection with Christ and ultimately the gathered church.
10. Gatherings will be smaller and larger at the same time
While many might think the mega-church is dead, it s not. And while others think mega-churches are awful, there s nothing inherently bad about them. Size is somewhat irrelevant to a church s effectiveness.
There are bad mega-churches and bad small churches. And there are wonderfully effective mega-churches and wonderfully effective small churches.
We will likely see large churches get larger. Multisite will continue to explode, as churches that are effective expand their mission.
At the same time, churches will also establish smaller, more intimate gatherings as others seek tighter connections and groups. Paradoxically, future large churches will likely become large not because they necessarily gather thousands in one space, but because they gather thousands through dozens of smaller gatherings under some form of shared leadership. Some of those gatherings might be as simple as hotels,offices and even home venues under a simple structure.
We will see the emergence of bigger churches and smaller churches at the same time as the gathered church continues to change.
It is vitally important that we prepare now for the future of the church. How we train our children and young people has great bearing on the spiritual commitment of the next generation. God has high expectations and standards of conduct for our youth and young adults. Our intentions and motives have been right, but has the spiritual education in Sunday Schools, vacation Bible schools, Christian schools and church youth groups been consistently producing young people who are up to God s expectation and standards? Are they capable of providing future leadership for the church with the same doctrine, standards, and convictions that they have been taught? Are the children learning the Bible doctrines that they should? Are the young people in the Christian Church mature and following God s ways?
In the past years, I have witnessed remarkable changes in the local church, and the coming decade will usher in even more transformations. While the ancient Sacraments will remain, everything else is up for debate. How we worship, when we gather, what is said, who is leading, and where the gatherings happen will all undergo scrutiny and debate.
I have four predictions for the next decade of local church.
1. The places where we gather will become smaller.
Every social and cultural trend is leaning toward the smaller, more intimate gatherings and away from the stadium worship experience. Mega churches that purposely create numerous worship settings that promote intimacy and community will see the most significant growth. There will always be a group of church people who will come to the big building, but if we want to see significant growth among skeptics and seekers, we must create less threatening venues for them to explore the issues of faith.
2. The church will be launched into real mission.
The local church is hungry to embrace the mission of the New Testament, and this will only increase in the next decade. This next generation is tired of the hype of events and is eager to give their lives to something that requires sacrifice and results in biblical justice. They want to get their hands in the dirt of humanity and see real change in the communities where they live. They will come to the church building for some of the attractive events but will get disillusioned quickly if these events do not result in real opportunities to serve their world.
3. The church will return to its ancient roots.
If it s new, it s probably not truth. If its truth, it s probably not new. I believe the ancient yet simple recipe of local church will return. We will gather often, read the Scriptures, worship intently, pray fervently, be led by servants, live authentically, and honor the Sacraments. For sure, we will continue to be creative and inventive but not at the expense of the ancient structure which has transcended all generations for over 2000 years.
4. The church will return to wonder and awe.
The churches that embrace the miraculous nature of God will see the most growth and have the most influence in the coming decade. Good preaching, trendy stage sets, and clever videos will not be enough in the next ten years because people want to see God intervene more and more in the affairs of the Earth with miracles and healings. Sound theology must prevail, and we must not return to our sloppy Charismatic tendencies, but we must also embrace the mysterious and risky nature of God and not be afraid of wonder and awe. While the Holy Spirit may be unpredictable, the results are always predictable � people will find God, people will be healed, and people will discover real freedom
The church of the future in a few words?
Inclusive. Active. Innovative. Interactive. Authentic. Out in the community. Responsive.
What Do You See?
Ultimately, I have a lot of hope for the future church. I hope you do too. The mission is too important to feel otherwise. God bless you!!