Saturday, January 09, 2016

5 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2016

2015 permanently changed the face of North American Christianity.

We are all witnesses to, and in many instances participants in, a seismic shift in the patterns of church life.

Carey Nieuwhof in a recent post considered the disruptive church trends of 2016. I agree with many of the items on his list, and also think there are other shifts, less organizational, less practical, that are in fact more fundamental.

Almost everything on my list indicates this will be the year in which church leaders of all stripes will be called upon to self-differentiate, to learn to stand calm, and take initiative, even in the midst of the anxiety of systems, not to mention the fear of a whole nation.

"I believe there exists throughout America today a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try to stand tall amid the raging anxiety-storms of our time. It is a highly reactive atmosphere pervading all the institutions of our society—a regressive mood that contaminates the decision-making processes of government and corporations at the highest level, and, on the local level, seeps down into the deliberations of neighborhood church, synagogue, hospital, library, and school boards." (A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin Friedman)

Consider this an ode to Carey's list. An expansion pack.

1. The church will align with the new civil rights movement. #blacklivesmatter

We are already witnessing this re-alignment across the religious spectrum. Even with the blatant racism of certain Christian communities, the continual subtle sabotage of white fragility, and the fierce animosity of so-called tolerant liberals, #blacklivesmatter has awakened the beast.

When an evangelical organization like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship AND a mainline Protestant denomination like Evangelical Lutheran Church in America AND advocacy organizations for LGBTQ equality all simultaneously pick up the #blacklivesmatters motto, and when clergy have feet on the ground at protests all across the country, and local congregations open up conversations about race and faith (if ever so halting and awkward), you know there is a new civil rights movement afoot, and it will not go away, and in the spirit of Scripture itself, which from Acts onwards has sought to address racial inequality (the dialogue about Gentiles and Jews), the church will not be behind but at the frontline of this conversation in 2016.

2. Church will be increasingly trans-mediated.

Nieuwohf says church online will be an advance, not just a replacement or supplement for church in person, and I couldn't agree more. Although he doesn't say it quite this way, the reason for this shift is an increasing recognition that we live in a trans-media era, so the life of faith, including participation in institutional forms of church, will be increasingly trans-media also.

We will continue to deepen the ambient intimacy of life together in social media, and Christian leaders will discover better and better ways to communicate and share faith in these contexts.

People will keep reading blogs (like this one, and Carey's), not simply as supplement to church, but AS their engagement with the mission of God.

And almost any Christian who lives their faith in social media will tell you church is mediated through them to a wide net of people who do not attend church, and they participate in the life of the church even if they don't attend through the mediation of Christians who use social media in such ways.

Churches, because of trans-media, will have more and more "friends" who may never become "members."

I happen to have written a book on this, which is very reasonably priced on Kindle these days.

3. Communities of faith will transcend bipartisan politics, and also entrench in them. Then they will remember Jesus.

Churches and Christians across the country have become frustrated with church as partisan politics, even if they increasingly believe faith has a political component.

Because increasing numbers of people are connecting their faith to their political and ethical engagement, more and more of us will find ourselves stuck parroting the propaganda of partisanship, but then turning again and again to resources that will help us transcend such propaganda.

Some of us are Christians and fully align with Bernie Sanders. Some of us are Christians and fully align with Ted Cruz.

But almost all of us think there is quite a bit more to Christianity than that. We will witness many churches hosting dialogues that study current events, faith and politics.

People want to build bridges, to get over divisions, and connect. Adam Hamilton of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City is leading the way on this with his series Facing Issues That Divide.

4. Real, deep creativity will emerge as an alternative to derivative mimicry.

Nobody is talking much about CCM anymore. Okay, Stryper may have come out with an album this year (which isn't half bad), so the kind of Christian music that imitated popular music is still around, but it is no longer the norm.

The norm instead might be Gungor, whose music pushes so many artistic and faith boundaries as to be almost unclassifiable.

We see ourselves returning to that which Christianity has for millennia been known for--generative rather than derivative art, creation that models the Creator.

We have heard the call to culture-making so clearly articulated by Andy Crouch and others, and it has taken us a while, but more and more faith communities are doing it.  They're making their own art, recording their own music, forming new organizations because the old ones no longer function.

5. Church will become refuge, and walk with refugees.

You can take this one to the bank. As much as there was xenophobic fear mongering about Syrian refugees coming to the United States in 2015, more Christians across the country heard the narrative of refugees, and thought two things, "They are us. And we have a call to love our neighbor, to both give refuge and join the refugees."

The most profound prophetic witness to this in 2015 was Larycia Hawkins. If you haven't read her statement at her recent press conference, you must.

In it, she writes, "Wheaton College cannot scare me into walking away from the truth that all humans, Muslims, the vulnerable, the oppressed, are all my sisters and brothers."

For far too long culture Christianity has held sway in our churches, so church was a protective system to justify the self-satisfied smugness of our own comfort. 2016 will be the year we learn in new ways the discomfort of making room for the refugee, and opening our doors as the place that gives refuge. 

That is, we are learning that the church isn't ours, was never ours, because it is Christ's. The refugee. The refuge-giver.


  1. I'm glad to read this the day before we do our visioning at the church where you pastor, Good Shepherd Lutheran. Now I know what your vision is in more depth, and I totally support you!

  2. All I can say to Lutherans.... Don't forget your foundation.