My call to ministry came while walking across a bridge in downtown Richmond, Virginia, carefully stepping over a dead fish that a bird or fisherman had dropped on the sidewalk. One shriveled up fish, but the imagery and God’s insistent urging proved too much for me to ignore. After all, times and culture may change, but it’s still about being a fisher of people (Matthew 4:19).
The apostle Paul knew quite a bit about changing things up to reach a variety of audiences. While the gospel never changed, his methods did (1 Corinthians 9:22). To the Jews, he preached Jesus from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2); to the Athenians, he started from the culture (Acts 17:16-34).
According to Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, Christians today must have that same sensibility if we’re to reach the current generation. We have to meet people where they are, and he dishes up 12 trends to get the conversation started:
1. Online as the New Default. You used to have to go to church to hear a message or music, or get the cassette or cd. Now you just need a phone. Every attender can (and often will) listen to any communicator, band or concert they want. And almost everyone who shows up at your door has checked out your church online before they came. What are you doing to embrace the online world beyond a barely-supported and moderately outdated website, podcast or Facebook page?
2. Wifi and Smartphones. They are googling you while you’re speaking, and checking out other options while you’re listing yours. Do you assume your audience is intelligent, literate and has options?
3. Dialogue. People want to talk, not just listen. While sitting around tables every Sunday may not be the answer, increasingly a church without conversation is a church without converts. What scalable, meaningful venues do you have for people to go to online and inhouse for real conversation?
On the other hand, Dr. James Emery White recently discussed how churches can get caught up in the “trends” and completely forget the main purpose of the church, something he calls the “Microsoft mistake”:
Microsoft forgot what business it was in.
For the last ten years, Microsoft has acted as if its business is PCs and Windows operating software. It’s not. Those are products. Their business was what the personal computer revolution promised: more convenience, more information, and a better life through what technology can afford, whether it’s the internet or the microchip.
I’ll say it again: They didn’t understand what business they were in.
Churches can make the same mistake.
Are you in the Sunday School business, or the discipleship business?
Are you in the door-to-door visitation business, or the evangelism business?
Are you in the hymnbook and organ business, or the worship business?
Are you in the small group business, or the “one-anothers” community business?
Are you in the multi-site business, or the Great Commission business?
Now, it’s your turn. What trends do you think the church needs to pay attention to? What trends should we ignore?