The future is coming. If you look closely toward the horizon you can see a hint of light pushing against the darkness. As the future rises now is the time to seize the day! Though we currently sit in the darkness of the in-between, a new day is dawning.
For church leaders the transition from now to next has already been dizzying. Even the most experienced pastors are on a steep learning curve. Instead of a ministry marked by the incarnational presence of Jesus, their ministry is marked by technology. Life on life has been replaced by life to screen. Their connection to the flock has been disrupted. Even regular rituals such as weddings and funerals barely recognizable.
The dawn of what’s next for the culture and the church isn’t comfortable, but it shouldn’t intimidate us. After all, we are God’s people. Jesus himself, promised that the forces of evil would not conquer us (Matt. 16:18). Still, in order to thrive in the future churches must adjust their methods while adhering to the mission.
The time is coming for churches to shift their focus from surviving to thriving. During this in-between season, they have leaned into practices that have allowed the past to continue into the present. As churches think through the new landscape, there are four focus shifts that will help churches make disciples who make disciples in the days to come.
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1. Shift from a Content Focus to a Connection Focus
Most churches have responded to the pandemic by producing more content than ever before. I get it. Pastors miss interacting with their people. They wonder how they are doing and want to communicate the importance of faith during this time. Too much content muddies the water of what’s important. The answer to separation is connection, not content.
Disconnection was a problem even before the pandemic. Consumerism teaches us to solve our problems with information rather than connection. It’s the reason we ask Alexa instead of a neighbor. Our true problems are solved by connection, not content. Consumerism isn’t going away, so churches that want to thrive in the future will focus on ministering to people by fostering meaningful connection to one another and to God.
2. Shift from a Digital Focus to a Tribal Focus
There’s no doubt that digital is here to stay. Online experiences allow people an easy way to connect and to test the waters before getting in. For churches, an online presence is helpful, but only if it leads to deeper engagement and connection. Too often an online experience has replaced offline connection. In other words, the means have replaced the end.
Instead of a digital focus measured by clicks, views, and comments churches of the future will measure emerging tribes. In tribes, people know they belong to one another and out of that belonging develops a way of being. In other words, a common culture. It’s the mindset that says, “people like us do things like this.” As churches move into the future, instead of optimizing for eyes, we must cultivate a sense of being through connection and culture. When connection only happens online a common culture IRL (in real life) isn’t possible.
3. Shift from an Entertainment Focus to an Equipping Focus
One of the biggest challenges churches face is getting people to engage the mission of Christ. Many churches work hard to make their services entertaining. The result is some come, while most don’t. Even the best attractional churches lose the entertainment game to the likes of Netflix and Amazon. In the future, churches who focus on entertaining people at the expense of equipping them will simply not survive.
Entertainment is nice for consumers looking for a show, but soldiers, athletes, and farmers (2 Tim 2:1–13) prefer to be equipped for the task at hand. The thriving church of the future not only connects people to one another, but they also connect people to the mission of Jesus. Instead of focusing on entertaining, they focus on equipping. As people see the important role God has for them, they will find tribes of people who are committed to that mission and who can help train them for success. The church of the future is smaller, but mightier.
4. Shift from a Focus on Breadth to a Focus on Depth
The last shift is almost required if the first three are to take place. It’s a shift that has already occurred in many segments of society. Books, tv shows, and movies are made for a segment of society rather than everyone. In doing so, niches have emerged that allow people to go down deep rather than out wide.
Churches that make this shift are comfortable saying, “we do this not that,” and “we must grow, not just go (and vice versa).” A focus on depth is a commitment to individual and tribal development that’s at least as strong as global development.
Churches who commit to fleshing out the details of these shifts will be poised to thrive as the future comes. These focus shifts allow disciple making to thrive in a future that could be very challenging to our past models of church. Which focus shifts will you and your team make NOW?
By Justin Gravitt