Here are a couple of things I think will be the topics of discussion in coming years. Feel free in the comments to agree, disagree, or add your own.
Evangelism of the unchurched rather than reaching those in denominations. There will be a shift from debating those from different Christian groups to reaching people who have never been to church a day in their lives. As our country becomes more and more religiously diverse and increasingly post-Christian we will find that the way we approach evangelism will have to shift. You can no longer assume people have a basic knowledge of the Bible, a belief that God exists, or a respect for the authority of scripture. Because of that our Bible studies will look a lot different than having a study with someone who is from another Christian group.
We will need a renewed commitment in bringing people to Christ rather than bringing people to this church or that church. Our conversions will be more Christ-centered and less doctrinal centered. Doctrines are important and should be taught but first things need to be kept first and other things can be taught as people mature and grow in their faith.
This also means we will have to get back to the basics. People aren’t going to seek out fine tuned doctrines. They are going to seek out Jesus and we have to be ready to have a conversation with them about the story of the Gospel and how their life can plug in to that story.
A need for narrative over deductive logic and reasoning. As post-modernism increases people will need to connect with the story (as mentioned above). We will have to re-familiarize ourselves with the story and be able to tell the story of how God has been working to save his people from the beginning of time until today. Too often we go from Genesis straight to Jesus and miss out on how unified the Bible really is in the ongoing telling of the story.
Worship will take on increased importance and a re-centering on giving God praise. People are becoming more and more experiential and we will begin seeing more variety in how we express our worship to God. There is already a renewed interest in the psalms and a higher frequency of praise songs today than in recent years. Worship is central to the lives of our young people and as they age and become leaders in the church I think we will be in for some interesting time when it comes to worship. Sunday mornings are moving from the “buffer system” of using songs to space out the scripture reading, prayers, sermon, and Lord’s supper. The songs will be seen with renewed significance for what they have to offer God through worship. This may result in the death of four part harmony (sorry Keith!) for many but the most important thing is not the style of the singing but the motivation of the heart.
Leadership will become less and less centrally defined. With the explosion of the small group movement and the pastoral care that is taking place in group fellowship we will find our leadership base becoming broader. This is not diminshing the role of elders as shepherds. It is a both/and situation where people start taking on more of a personal accountability for the well-being of other Christians. Why? Because as the world becomes less and less Christian we are going to understand our need for one another once again.
I think we are heading into a world that resembles the first century in many ways – Christians in the minority, Christians persecuted for their faith, Christians that are misunderstood and stand out from the world…because of that I think the words of the New Testament are going to be read and appreciated with new ears as our situation more and more closely resembles theirs. It is hard to read books like 1 Peter or Revelation in the proper context when 95% of the people around are Christians. It is quite another thing to read it when you feel like you are undergoing persecution yourself.
What would you add?