What will the church look like in 20 years?

Bruce Reyes-Chow, the current moderator of the PCUSA General Assembly, posted an excellent reflection on his moderator blog upon this video about “Generation We”

This video highlights the reality of how the demographics and power base within the United States will change dramatically over the next twenty years.  While the last 30 years or so has been led by the baby boomer generation, in about 10-15 years, the country will be led primarily by those who are part of what is starting to be called “Generation We” or “Millennials” This generation is best understood as  those who were born in 1980 and following.  They have alternatively been called the “Net Generation” because they were the first generation to have the Internet as a regular part of the majority (or the entirety) of their lives.

The recent presidential election is the first glimpse into how this demographic may begin to change the landscape of America and the world.  They are far less concerned with labels (Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, etc) than those of preceding generations, they tend to be more concerned as a whole (whether they are religiously connected or not) with the poor, the disenfranchised, and and the vulnerable than past generations (Greenberg, Eric, Generation We.  Pachutasan, 2008, p 38).  There are other aspects of the general aspects of this generation, but suffice to say they represent a dramatic shift from the institutional labeling that marked previous generations.

While the video largely speaks of the shifts that will take place politically as a result, it is also necessary for us to think about how this shift will affect the church.  What will the church need to look like 20 years from now in order o continue to be relevant, active, and a vital presence in the world today?  Will the same patterns, programs, and activities still continue to “work”?

I think that the churches that have, at their core, a culture of active service, community involvement, connectionalism, and vital relationships will be those that are the most relevant.  They will not be the churches that “market” themselves to a specific generation or a specific group, but instead their culture has become one where they are open to a wide diversity of people (as further research into Millennials notes that they are not only very racially diverse but also far more “open” racially than preceding generations), are flexible in their life and community, and are not tied into the labels that have defined the American religious establishment for so long.

That being said, I think that what I just described would speak not only to those of a specific generation, but simply to those who want to be a part of a community that is making a difference in the world, regardless of age, generation, background, and so forth.  I think that the reality of God’s church in the world is one that connects to generations of all ages and all places.  A community marked by the vital and real presence of God’s Spirit, is deeply committed to God’s Word, is passionate about forming deep and lasting connections amongst participants, is an open and welcoming community to the newcomer, and is active and visible in the community beyond the walls of the church.

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