Future Church

Future Church
Terry R. Baughman

The chestnut mare stood three-legged at the hitching post completely at rest on a warm spring day. An occasional twitch of her ears and swish of her tail were the only perceptible movements as she shed the flies that had come to rest on her warm back in the late morning sun. Other than the occasional buzz of the flies around her ears, the only other sound was the call of a distant crow and the joyous song of the meadowlark in the nearby hayfield. That is, the only sound other than the steady drone of the minister inside the clapboard church house by which the mare was tethered.

The rhythmic rise and fall cadence of the preacher’s voice had ceased to stir the mare or the other horses (and perhaps more than a few inside) who used this time for a nap in anticipation of the long trail back home after the service ended and lunch was shared on the grounds outside. It was a simple, predictable existence and weekly ritual, with only the weather and the success or failure of the crops as fodder for conversation among the men. The ladies busied themselves with preparations for meals while sharing the latest gossip about a budding romance in the community, or who just had a baby, or whether Aunt Velma’s shingles might be contagious.

Less than a century ago church was very much a part of the lives of North Americans. Only the very pagan would miss church on Sunday and would likely be the subject of discussion during dinner. Church bells rang out religiously calling worshippers together in towns all across the land. Most states had laws regarding what businesses could operate on Sunday, and alcohol (where it was legal) was not allowed to be sold on the Lord’s Day.

Entire communities were branded by religious affiliation: “It’s a Catholic town” or “They are all Presbyterians.” Communities developed a class system often based on the church you attended: “Oh, he’s a Lutheran!” or “You know she’s a Methodist,” somehow implying their social acceptance or lack thereof. Social strata spread from the elite to the commoner then to the heathen, the unchurched minority in the community.

The Rise of Pentecostalism

Freedom of Religion was previously understood to be that one could join any Christian church of preference – Catholic or Protestant. Of marginal acceptance were the fringe groups, those perceived as later inventions, finding their roots in the brief history of American culture. The groups originating in America included Mormons, Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostals. From their fledgling beginnings and their tenacious grappling for acceptance, they have grown to be a dominant force in Christianity. According to Paul K. Conkin in American Originals, “Today over half of all Christians in the world … owe their conversion either directly or indirectly to the American missions efforts” of one of these groups.i Of the twenty-one million members in the United States, of these and other American original religious groups, “Pentecostals make up almost half of that totalii.”

Acceptance has not come easily to the Pentecostals. Often slandered as holy-rollers and social outcasts, they were commonly referred to as “the church across the tracks,” a reference indicating they were on the wrong side of town, a society of the impoverished and underprivileged.

The last century has witnessed phenomenal growth in the Pentecostal movement. Life magazine, while ranking “the top one hundred incredible discoveries, cataclysmic events, and magnificent moments of the past one thousand years,” identified Pentecostalism as number sixty-eight. The report stated that, “today about a half billion people call themselves Pentecostal or Charismatic, and Pentecostals alone outnumber Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans and Presbyterians combined.”iii

The phenomenal growth of Pentecostalism has been the source for much study among church growth specialists. One earlier study concerning the phenomenal growth of the Pentecostal movement in Latin America was entitled, “Look Out! The Pentecostals are Coming,” by C. Peter Wagneriv. Wagner was appointed Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Seminary in 1971 and has been a leader in the church growth movement for more than thirty yearsv. What Wagner observed and predicted in the early seventies has been confirmed in more recent studies. Harvey Cox, professor of religion at Harvard University, stated in Fire from Heaven, “Several Latin American countries are now approaching Pentecostal majorities on a continent that had been dominated by Roman Catholicism for five centuries.”vi

Vinson Synan, Pentecostal historian and now Dean and Professor of Divinity at Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA observed in 1975:

Pentecostalism seems now to constitute the wave of the future for Christianity. Some experts have predicted that after another generation or so, the majority of all the Christians in the world will probably be nonwhite, from the southern hemisphere, and Pentecostal.vii

In his book, The Century of the Holy Spirit, Synan identifies the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement as “the most important religious movement of the entire twentieth century.”viii He continued in his assertion that:

This movement, which now constitutes the second largest family of Christians in the world (after the Roman Catholic Church), is found in practically every nation and ethnic group in the world. By the end of the century, over 500,000,000 people were involved in this revival which continues its massive growth into the new millennium.ix

If you were happy with the days when Pentecostals were unknown and uninvolved in the culture, you are not going to be very happy with the future. Pentecost has become mainstream. Some of the larger churches in America are now of some stripe of Pentecostal affiliation, and in civil government a member of the Assemblies of God serves as Attorney General of the United States.x

There are as many varieties of “Spirit-filled” Christians as there are of any other denomination, and the group frequently bends and blends the lines of denominational demarcation. You will frequently find “Spirit-filled” members among denominations that previously resisted, even demonized, those who demonstrated the experience of glossolalia.xi

Pentecost is a rapidly growing movement that has not been easy to define or evaluate. About the time a new study is published and the numbers are neatly added, there is another outbreak of revival experience or another site of phenomenal demonstration and more books are written, studies have to be edited, the numbers increased, and growth patterns explained.

Pentecostalism isn’t the Only Thing Growing

While there has been tremendous growth among Pentecostal groups, there has also been expansion among various cults. In spite of the violence of the attack by radical Islamic terrorists on the World Trade Center, there has been an increased interest in the study of the religion of Islam. According to a website produced by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs, “Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States today.” A recent survey quoted on this website in support of this dynamic growth stated, “There are 1,209 mosques in America, well over half founded in the last 20 years.”xii

The Islamic community has expressed a radical agenda to change America from within by religious conversion. It should be noted that “between 17 and 30 percent of American Muslims are converts to the faith.”xiii A direct quote from a fund raising letter by the South Bay Islamic Association (SBIA), which I have in my possession, was written to solicit funds for the promotion of the cause of Islam in America. It said, “As we strive to meet the demand for religious services from believers and would-be believers, we find ourselves straining for resources. We cannot, and must not stop, for we believe that it is our destiny to integrate the universal teachings of Islam into the every-day life of the American society.”xiv

While mainline denominations are failing in recruitment efforts and suffering attrition in their membership, eastern religions and New Age cults continue to attract larger followings. Though they are called “eastern religions,” the evidence suggests that they have migrated west in increasing numbers. The following statistics on some of these movements were recorded by John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene in Megatrends 2000:xv

•There are 4 million followers of Islam in the U.S.
•The Moslem community in Colorado numbers more than 6,000.
•There are at least 600,000 U.S. Buddhists from the two main Japanese sects.
•There are between 3 and 5 million Buddhists of all varieties in North America.
•There are more than 40 Hindu temples and 500 Hindu religious organizations.
•In 1965 there were only 30 Korean churches in the United States; now there are 2,000.

Apostolic Pentecostals may think their mission is to convert the local community of Christians to the Pentecostal persuasion, when the truth is the community mission field has changed. Proselytizing must be changed to evangelizing. A whole new matrix of ministry must be embraced to reach our neighboring population.

America is religious but increasingly less Christian. The postmodern populace prides itself on reaching a new level of maturity by accepting all manner of religions and spirituality as equally valid. The downside of this pluralistic philosophy results in tolerance of any stated belief system—be it satanic, philosophical, or esoteric. There is no right or wrong, no good or bad, no true or false; everyone is right and nothing is wrong!

The preaching of pluralism has taken root and religious tolerance has gripped the nation—except, that is, tolerance for evangelical Christianity! Efforts to silence the conservative Christian voice are strangling. The new American is open to all religions and closed to absolute truth, open to diversity and closed to moral values, open to civility and closed to Divine justice. Freedom of religion is now more likely to be interpreted “freedom from religion.” Christian America is rapidly becoming Pagan U.S.A.!

The Present is Only Now

Changes abound. The horses and wagons and dusty trails of the last century have been replaced with automobiles, freeways, and speed. The demand for faster transportation makes airports as common as bus terminals. Communication with cell phones is more prevalent than with pen and paper. Today’s generation of youth is more comfortable with computers and email than with an ink pen.

Community churches now attract congregants from miles away, especially in our metro areas. People are accustomed to commuting for work, for shopping, and for pleasure. So to drive ten, twenty, or even fifty miles to assemble with the congregation of their choice is no problem.

Church and culture are dynamic—always moving and always changing. About the time we get things defined, everything is different. We cannot find a hitching post to hang our hats on and park our buggies. If we do, we will be left in the dust of changing times. We cannot complain that “things aren’t like they used to be” or “we’ve never done it that way.” One songwriter said it like this, “One thing you can count on, things are gonna change.”xvi Fortunately, we serve a God that is also dynamic, and He is up to the challenge of changing culture. It is “in him we live and move and have our being!”xvii

The Holy Spirit is uniquely described in terms of motion: rivers, the wind, and a dove.xviii It is significant that these are dynamic metaphors showing signs of movement, life, and change.
The powerful course of a river cuts a path wherever it wishes. It flows within its banks until the downpour of rain causes it to spill over, breaking out into new areas. Spiritually, floodwaters force us to relocate, to move from our lowlands of comfortable existence, and to settle in a

The powerful course of a river cuts a path wherever it wishes. It flows witin its banks until the downpour of rain causes it to spill over, breaking out into new areas Spiritually, floodwaters force us to relocate, to move from our lowlands of comfortable existence, and to settle in a new home on higher ground. That image evokes a powerful picture of the Spirit’s work in the life of the believer, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38 NKJ).

The wind cannot be contained and maintain its identity. How can you house the wind? How can you box it, package it, and preserve it for some future day? Of course, it’s impossible. Wind must be free to blow wherever it wishes and for as long or as hard as it desires. Jesus declared, “So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 NKJ).

The dove is a gentle creature, cooing and fluttering about. But it is also living, active, and representative of the Holy Spirit. The image of a dove is a metaphor of peace and tranquility; its presence promises the comforting assurance that no danger is near. And so the Spirit moves into a world of chaos and brings order; He fills a life of turmoil and invades it with peace; His presence is that of a comforter who causes angst to disappear (John 14:16).

The Holy Spirit came with power on the Day of Pentecost, filling believers and creating a movement of epic proportions. The church came into existence with a dynamic display of phenomenal events: a mighty wind, tongues of fire, and speaking with other tongues. Peter proclaimed it to be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, “In the last days … I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17 NKJ).

This is the church, empowered by the Spirit; the church that Jesus said would be built upon the rock (Matthew 16:18). The metaphor of a rock brings to mind the image of solidity, steadfastness, and consistency -appropriate descriptions for the institution of the church -but this image does not lend itself to a movement of motion. However, the foundational cornerstone of this church is Jesus, and He is a rock that moves!

In the first Corinthian letter, Paul wrote of the example of Israel in the Wilderness. He spoke of the sea as being Israel’s baptism. He referred to their spiritual food and spiritual drink of miraculous provisions. Then Paul said, “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4 NKJ). This is not your normal rock! This rock followed them in the wilderness.

If we are to be a church founded on the rock, may it ever be the Rock of Christ, and may we move when He moves, and may we stand when He stands. Some movements have become institutions; their foundations became tradition and not the Rock of Christ. Some movements have become political; their foundation became material and not the passion of Christ. Other movements have become history; their foundation was sand. But the church must forever be a movement, founded on the dynamic Rock of Christ.

Erwin McManus, in his book An Unstoppable Force: Daring to become the church God had in mind, warned against losing the dynamics of a movement and the danger of turning our ministry into a monastery.

So we turned our churches into monasteries—places that became spiritual havens for us, focusing on our spiritual life, caring for our spiritual needs, and nurturing our spiritual health.xix

The church was never intended to be a monastery, a safe place and a sterile environment. The church should always be a movement! McManus wrote:

When the church is a movement, it becomes a place of refuge for an unbelieving world. The church becomes the place where the seekers finally find the God they were searching for.xx

We are part of a movement, the Pentecostal movement. Our heritage goes back to the Day of Pentecost ultimately, but initially, to the turn of the twentieth century, as the Holy Spirit was poured out on students of a Bible school in Topeka, Kansas, and on hungry seekers on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. We have a lot of history, a great heritage, and a glorious past. But, the past is no place to live! We learn from it and grow from it, but don’t live in it!

To live in the past makes us irrelevant to the present and incapable in the future. The fastest way to become a monument of ancient glories is to park in the past and plan only for preservation. The pyramids of Egypt stand in silent witness to those who sought only to preserve the present and failed to plan for the living future. Once the most powerful of kingdoms with a strong lineage of dynasties, the State is now the curator of the relics of a glorious past; it is now a museum, a monument to faded glories. The sphinx with the broken nose is an icon of a nation whose glory is yesterday, her best days behind, with little hope for a much different future.

Life is never static; it’s always dynamic, ever changing. The present is only now, a thin ribbon of existence separating the past from our future. It is forever with us, snaking its path with ours; with each dynamic moment it moves the future into the past. So as you read this text (and as I write it), we are participants in movement; the future has become the past.

It’s the Same, Only Different

About the time we feel we have a handle on ministry and a grasp on the culture, everything changes. Like a sandcastle on the Pacific beach, the next large wave that surrounds the construction of painstaking care erodes the foundation, melts the walls, and flows back into the ocean. We can bemoan the condition of changing culture or we can jump on the train and confront the passengers with life-changing conviction.

Culture is at once changing and the same. Leonard Sweet in Soul Tsunami called it the double ring of postmodernism. He said, “One of the characteristics of postmodern culture is that opposite things happen at the same time without being contradictory.”xxi It is like the toll of a church bell; the clapper strikes one side and then the other, but the opposite side rings the same bell.

My grandfather, Mark Baughman (1912-2002), was an itinerant preacher for much of his ministry, preaching on the streets, under tents, in open-air meetings, in schoolhouses, and in numerous churches. He would strum the old Epiphone guitar and sing until a crowd gathered to hear his message. He was more comfortable baptizing in the creek than in a modern baptistery. After preaching the gospel message to any who gathered on the banks to watch and listen, he began to baptize the newly converted. Often someone would make the decision to be baptized right there on the bank and jump into the water, lining up with the other candidates.

It is different now, in that ministers seldom preach on the streets with only a guitar to accompany them. People are reluctant to stop and listen to a lone singer or preacher. Most of those who pass by are driving cars with windows rolled up (either because of fear or air conditioning) and are entertained with their own stereos.

Should we give up street evangelism? Not necessarily, but we need to adapt to the needs of our culture. One church group uses “encounter teams” on the streets to talk with people about their needs. Areas of need include drug/alcohol counseling, crisis programs for unwed pregnancies, and suicidal intervention, or countering depression. Leighton Ford, in Christianity Today, wrote about a young man who found a way to encounter gang members on the street effectively.

You couldn’t preach a sermon on the street corner to the guys … because they wouldn’t listen. But you could talk to them about their buddies who had been gunned down in the last year. You could ask how long they expected to live, then offer, “I am a preacher. Would you like me to preach your funeral? What would you like me to say?” From there you could tell them what you would like to have said at your funeral. What a creative way to communicate the gospel!xxii

Now we seldom hear of open-air meetings, revival services in someone’s yard or in a vacant lot. Can you imagine your neighbor’s response? However, we might promote a “concert in the park” or get permission to host a gospel singing in a Wal-Mart parking lot, or set up an information booth at a fair or festival.

Tent revivals of a few decades ago have been replaced with camp meeting tents, coliseum crusades, rented auditoriums, and special events in the local church. The old one-room schoolhouse has now been replaced with a modern campus, and some churches utilize these modern schools to accommodate new church starts. Numerous small churches have morphed into larger churches with “small group meetings.” Rather than using the schoolhouse, many churches now have their own expansive educational complexes.

Things have definitely changed, but have they really? We are still attempting, and hopefully accomplishing, the same thing, but often on a grander scale. We are attempting to reach more people, but there are more people to reach. We find ways to attract people to the gospel message and we find that the gospel still works!

What has Changed?

Church is not viewed as much as a brand or an exclusive membership. Today’s churchgoer is less likely to be “brand loyal,” shunning all other church venues. Their membership in a local assembly would not preclude them from participating in other worship centers. Our “consumers” are accustomed to choosing from a variety of restaurants when they are hungry. Giant malls and shopping centers offer a variety of purchasing opportunities and a pocket full of multiple credit cards finance their adventure. Why would they view church as an exclusive (never look elsewhere) place of worship? Many don’t, as they shop for benefits and convenience at their local outlets of religion. One offers educational childcare, another touts the benefits of a Christian school, while another promises contemporary music and shorter sermons. The choices are endless and become more diverse, from “drive-in” services to Christian clubs and hard rock worship.

Many newcomers are not accustomed to the concept of having a “home church.” They are consumers—shoppers in the grand mall of life. When they come to church they are still looking for the best value, the freshest presentation, and the best youth program. They treat church like a spiritual smorgasbord, traveling down the line, picking and sampling, a little of this or that. Their kids may belong to a karate class at one church while enrolled in another’s summer camp program. They may go to one church for Bible study and another for the live band and upbeat worship, while becoming a member in neither one.

There has been a tremendous shift in attendance away from mainline denominations, the neighborhood churches that were once the mainstay of every American community. Lyle Schaller in Innovations in Ministry, Models for the 215 Century, identified the following reasons for ministry organizational principles of the past becoming obsolete in current times.xxiii I have added my brief comments:

1. The erosion of denominational loyalties. People are no longer interested in preserving denominational labels for identity. Have you noticed the proliferation of non-denominational churches?

2. The popularity of the privately owned automobile. People are willing to drive to a church where they feel their needs are being met. Frequently, members of a given congregation will pass dozens of churches to attend the one they have chosen. Gone is the premise of the neighborhood church.

3. Public investment in excellent streets and highways. This development contributes to the safety and ease of longer commutes. People now regularly commute daily distances that would have taken days to travel in a covered wagon.

4. The change from a geographical to a non-geographical basis for meeting new friends. No longer do you have to marry the girl next door or isolate your peer group to those in your geographical area. Travel, telephone, and now the Internet have reduced the size of the globe and brought the opportunity to communicate with anyone in the world into our living room.

5. The emergence of a consumer-oriented society. People become more selective in their purchases and more discriminating in their wishes. This has given rise to a whole new genre of churches—the seeker-sensitive variety. Their philosophy is to give the people what they want and require little in return.

6. The sharp drop in the number of immigrants coming from Western Europe. The majority of immigrants now come from very different religious traditions. The social mix has changed the look of our communities. The metaphor of a mixing bowl has often been used of our urban areas with the blending of cultures and ethnicity. A recent writer suggested it is time to update the metaphor from a mixing bowl to a salad bowl; each group of subcultures are part of the mix but they maintain their distinctive culture, language, traditions, and religion.

7. The blurring of social class lines. There is much more openness to blending in society and in the church. In many arenas social class distinctions have dissolved and there is more opportunity for interaction.

8. The increased affluence of American people. With affluence comes independence and the option of choice. People can afford to make some choices; when faced with the option, they may choose to go elsewhere or to come to your church.

The whole societal structure has changed and “family” is not the 60’s family anymore. Many of us think of family as a mother, a father, and two or three kids, but today, if a family has two parents, it is probably a blended family. Due to the prevalence of divorce and remarriage (or even choosing not to marry) single parent families are on the increase. It is commonplace, or even “normal,” for kids to have two or more homes as they rotate between parents and grandparents, spending the court-appointed amount of time at each place. Even singles that are in a “relationship” maintain their own homes … just in case things don’t work out. They may be “together” but live in separate houses and continue to live their separate lives.

As a result, even the simple question, “Where do you live?” may get a complex answer. How do you plan a visitation for your Sunday School class when you don’t know which house they will be in this week? Or, how can you have an attendance drive and press for perfect attendance when the kids are only with the “Christian” parent every other week?

Other changes and challenges are more materialistic. The costs of land, materials, and construction have increased dramatically during the last few decades. Tremendous additional expenses challenge church planting in metro areas. Added to astronomical land prices, there are increased restrictions for land use, various developmental fees, special-use permits, and traffic or environmental impact studies. Planned communities have little use for tax-free parcels dedicated to building churches. All of these changes affect the planting of new churches and often discourage the missionary who feels drawn to the urban centers of America.

Aiming for the Moon

The challenges don’t become easier. Not only are we trying to find answers to the obstacles facing the church today, we must also engage the challenge to prepare for future ministry. It’s not enough to find out where the church is in the context of our present world; we must also project where the world will be tomorrow and so prepare the church to be there to meet it.

One of the most profound illustrations of this fact was the manned exploration of the moon thirty-five years ago. The Houston command station prepared the flight pattern for the space travel of the Apollo and its three astronauts. It was understood that they could not target the moon, but rather they had to plot a course to where the moon would be when they arrived. How often have we aimed for the moon in our church efforts, only to find that it wasn’t there when we reached for it?

How can we prepare for tomorrow? Schools, utility companies, and commercial enterprises must know the future! Why don’t we? They must plan for future demand and determine population growth years before the fact. They conduct studies of demographics, check migration trends, analyze the job market, and study trends in the region in order to predict the future need for their products or services.

For more than twenty years a new community was meticulously planned in the California Bay Area, east of San Francisco on the eastern slopes of the Altamont. The community of Mountain House was planned to accommodate the migration of Bay Area residents out of the rising prices and congestion of the metropolitan area. In January 2003 the first foundation was poured for the Mountain House project, an entire planned community of 16,000 houses and a population of 43,500 people near the intersection of 1-580 and I-205.xxiv Before a street was paved or a foundation laid the planners could tell you where the houses and businesses would be built, where the schools and parks would be constructed, and whether or not the tax revenue would pay the bills!

While I am not suggesting that we plan our properties and our real estate acquisitions like that (if only we had those financial resources available), I am suggesting that we apply ourselves to the study of our community. Demographics of the city are often available to us from city developers, on the Internet, or through the Chamber of Commerce. Corporations spend thousands of dollars to study growth trends in order to prepare for the future of a community, all in the name of profits and commercial success. Why not take advantage of their studies to better understand our mission field? Become a student of your community!

Future-thinkers, future-preachers and future-leaders are needed if we are to be ready for the future when it arrives. We must embrace change and prepare ourselves for the viable ministry God has called us to. Future leaders are described by Samuel Chand and Cecil Murphy in Futuring: Leading Your Church into Tomorrow, as those who look at new paradigms of ministry, are future focused, embrace relevancy as a core issue, and are vision and purpose driven.xxv

The Church is not the Church

Our emphasis should always be on people rather than properties, the person rather than the place. Often our goal in church planting is to “get a building,” and the church becomes the structure. If we are to be successful in planting churches in metro areas, we must get back to this basic understanding: the church is the body of believers!

We are careful to quote the apostolic pattern in the Book of Acts in matters of doctrine, water baptism, and Spirit infilling. We are careful to avoid the traditions developed in the creeds of the early church. However, we have not been as careful to follow the Book of Acts pattern when it comes to the concept of church growth.

According to the apostolic pattern the early church had no buildings. As a matter of fact, it seems they were divesting themselves of all property and giving the proceeds to the work of the Lord (remember Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5). Now, I am not suggesting that we teach property ownership as not biblical, only that we have mistakenly associated the structure as something spiritual. As soon as the Church was born they had 3,000 members, with 5,000 added in the few days following. There is no building program that could keep pace with that kind of growth!

It was noted that this growing, vibrant, New Testament church “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4) and they met “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). They met in public meeting places, such as the synagogue. The synagogue of the New Testament era should not be thought of as a “church” but rather as a community center—a public meeting hall. The church is the church wherever it meets!

Michael L. Brown, in Revolution in the Church, maintained that we must change our thinking about the church to be consistent with the New Testament pattern. He said:

In the first two centuries of this era, the Church .experienced great growth without church buildings, over the last fifty years it has experienced its t growth in countries such as Communist without church buildings…. Jesus is building without church buildings.xxvi

Because of the long tradition of the Temple as a central part of Judaism, the original Christians, as Jews, might have assumed they too needed a Temple, a structure to unify this new group of believers in Christ. The New Testament record is conspicuously silent on any such effort or discussion of land acquisition or building of a worship center. Brown quotes Watchman Nee from The Normal Christian Church Life:

Had Christianity required that places be set apart for the specific purpose of worshipping the Lord, the early apostles, with their Jewish background and natural tendencies, would have been ready enough to build them. The amazing thing is that, not only did they not put up special buildings, but they seem to have ignored the whole subject intentionally…. The temple of the New Testament is not a material edifice; it consists of living persons, all believers in the Lord. Because the New Testament temple is spiritual, the question of meeting places for believers, or places of worship, is one of minor importance.xxvii

Consider the limitation of being restricted by the possession of property. In some instances, the majority of a congregation has moved from the area where the church is located. As a result, they either had to commute or change churches. Without ownership, it is easy to move where people live, relocating anytime it is needed!

Church growth is good. Crowded facilities and packed parking lots are exciting … at least for a while. Then there is the pressure to build or to expand the facility. The focus and energy of the church is shifted from evangelism and continued growth to building projects and fundraising. In the mobile church environment, division and multiplication are easier. Small groups are encouraged as cell groups meet from “house to house” (again, Book of Acts) building up the community through fellowship.

Relevance in Ministry

In the future church we need ministries that meet needs, rather than fulfill traditional roles – real ministry in a fake world. The more artificial and veneered the world becomes, the more vital it is that the church be genuine.

With all the tricks and toys offered consumers, they expect a higher level of communication in the church, without the emptiness of entertainment. Our challenge is to provide relevant worship in a technological world, building community while embracing technology. Rather than fighting technology, we must utilize the expertise for the benefit of church ministry. Samuel Chand said, “We may not like certain innovations, but we can’t get away from movement. If the past teaches us anything, it’s that the methods we used a generation ago probably aren’t effective now.”xxviii

Rather than expressing concern about people becoming obsessed with computers and isolated from human contact, instead see the technology as a whole new way of connecting with people. Try communicating with the church and potential contacts by email. Just last year Eli Lopez, youth pastor at Christian Life Center in Stockton, California, stated that 75% of his youth group used email to communicate! Utilize the Internet to spread the gospel and connect with believers.

I began to require an Internet assignment in a college class in 1998. The majority of the students did not know how to do a simple search online. So the first year I had to lug in a desktop computer, string a phone wire from the adjoining office, dial up the online service, and demonstrate how to do a search with the display projected on the screen with a 25-pound computer projector. Within two years I no longer had to demonstrate how to do a search but found that the majority of the class had a much greater understanding of computers and increased knowledge of their use. Now a 5-pound laptop has replaced the cumbersome desktop, and a high-speed Internet connection is available in the classroom to simply plug in through the Ethernet port. The mammoth projector has been replaced with a small portable LCD projector weighing less than five pounds … and students can hook it up and show me how it works!

Incredible changes are taking place and the public is rapidly accepting this new technology. In a two-year period the Internet was embraced by more than half of the households in America. The following chart from data in the 2000 census shows a comparison of how long it took for 60 percent of households to adopt these various media technologies:xxix

1. Telephone 30 years

2. Radio 10 years

3. Television 5 years

4. Cable TV 27 years

5. VCRs 10 years

6. Computers 15 years

7. Internet 2 years

We must use the technology available to us today! There is a virtual harvest field awaiting us as near as the computer and Internet service. In the year 2000, 45 percent of children under age 18 were connected to the Internet -more than 30 million children!

We are on the crest of a huge wave in youth ministry. Statistics show another boom in youth population similar to the “baby boomer” generation. Forty percent of the world population is under the age of 19.

At the same time, we are experiencing the “graying of America.” With the baby boomers reaching their senior s, about one third of the population is over the age of There are now more people over 65 years of age than at any other time in history.xxx The challenge for the church to meet the needs of both elderly and young, a relevant senior ministry and a vibrant youth ministry.

We are facing a more educated future than ever before. In 1950 only 18% of older Americans had a high school diploma, and 4% had at least a four-year college degree. In 1998 67% of older Americans had high school diplomas and 25% had at least a bachelor’s degree.xxxi People are more educated and expect more from a pastor’s message. You can no longer make bold statements and expect people to just believe it “because I said so!”

To be relevant we must communicate truth in contemporary terms. Evaluate your ministry for relevance. Ask yourself, “Am I repeating clichés and giving pat answers without thoughtful consideration?” Work at making your preaching, teaching, and witnessing applicable to the experience of people’s lives. Hour-long sermons seldom hold the attention of our congregations. The “remote-control” generation will turn you off after 3 minutes or less if you don’t grab their attention. Use visuals, use drama, ask for Bible readings, and involve people in your preaching!

People are seeking reality in a plastic world. No doubt this is partly the reason for the success of the numerous reality shows on television. It is an opportune time for the church to rise to the challenge and declare a living Christ to a dying world. This is the ultimate reality show – living life for an eternal prize!

Future Church

Many challenges and changes face the church at this crucial juncture in time. Throughout the centuries of church history God has faithfully preserved His Word and the Gospel message. The power of the message has not diminished with the transitions of time and may confidently be expected to weather the storms of passage again in this eventful millennium. However, the church cannot rest on its traditions and past formal liturgy to communicate the faith to a changing generation. The Gospel message must be made to speak in relevant terms to contemporary society. To exist as a vital force in the 21st century, we must adjust to meet the challenge of a changing culture. For the church to have a future, we must be the Future Church!

The Gospel is like a submarine: it does not sit on the water, but moves deep down in the depths of the ocean – and if that water is not deep enough for it, then it moves away to other regions…xxxii

Terry R. Baughman, B.A., M.A.

An alumnus of Western Apostolic Bible College, Terry R. Baughman earned the Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible and Theology in 1977. He earned the Master of Arts degree in Exegetical Theology from Western Seminary in 1999 at the San Jose campus.

Baughman has served as an evangelist for nine years, an assistant pastor in Gladewater, Texas, and as pastor in the town of his birth, Canyon, Texas. The Baughmans planted a new church in Peoria, Arizona in 1989 and he served as pastor until coming to Christian Life College as College Pastor in 1994. He has served as the Dean of Students and the Academic Dean. In 2003 he was promoted to Executive Vice-President. The Baughmans are planting a church in Pleasanton, California — The Pentecostals of Pleasanton — and they are also active in the ministry of writing.

i Paul K. Conkin, American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 322.

ii Ibid., 321.

iii “Pentecostalism Catches Fire,” Life Magazine, Fall 1997, 57.

iv C. Peter Wagner, Look Out! The Pentecostals are Coming (Carol Stream, IL: Creation House, 1973).

v Global Harvest Ministries; online; accessed May 4, 2004; available from http://www.globalharvestministries.org/index.asp?action=peter.

vi Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995), 15.

vii Vinson Synan, ed., Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1975), 1.

viii Vinson Synan, The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), ix.

ix Ibid.

x John David Ashcroft, a member of the Assemblies of God and the son of a Pentecostal preacher, was appointed to the post of Attorney General of the United States by George W. Bush and won confirmation February 1, 2001 after a bitter fight by political opponents. He previously served as a two-term Governor of the state of Missouri as well as a term in the U.S. Senate.

xi The term glossolalia is derived from the Greek glossa, *tongue” and lalia, “manner of speech,” i.e. “speaking in tongues.”

xii U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs; online; accessed June 14, 2004; available from http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/muslimlife.

xiii Ibid.

xiv Ahmad Al-Helew, letter to Dear respected brothers and sisters in Islam, October 14, 2002, South Bay Islamic Association (SBIA), San Jose, CA.

xv John Naisbitt, and Patricia Aburdene, Megatrends 2000 (New York: Avon Books, 1990), 297.

xvi Brian Duncan, Slow Revival, “Things are gonna change” (Word/Epic, 1994).

xvii Acts 17:28 — The passage from Acts (vs. 24-28) may be especially applicable. Paul addressed a philosophically pluralistic culture in Athens. It may be helpful to remember that the disciples were not ministering in a Christian nation!

xviii The Spirit is seen as rivers, John 7:38-39; wind, John 3:8, Acts 2:2; dove, John 1:32

xix Erwin Raphael McManus, An Unstoppable Force: Daring to become the church God had in mind (Loveland, CO: Group, 2001), 65.

xx Ibid.

xxi Leonard Sweet, Soul Tsunami: Sink or Swim in the New Millennium Culture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 27.

xxii Leighton ford, Christianity today, “Up & Comers: A Letter to Future Leaders”; Christianity Today, Volume 40, Issue 13, November 11, 1996; Magazine online, accessed January 24, 2003; available from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/6td/6td016.html

xxiii Lyle E. Schaller, Innovations in Ministry: Models for the 21st Century (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 47.

xxiv Mountain House, The Best of Yesterday, the Brightest of Tomorrow; online; accessed June 21,2004; available from http:www.mountainhouse.net/index2.html

xxv Samuel R. Chand and Cecil Murphy, Futuring: Leading you church into Tomorrow (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 17.

xxvi Michael L. Brown, Revolution in the Church: Challenging the Religious System with a Call for Radical Change (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2002), 40-41.

xxvii Ibid., 44 citing Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Church Life (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1980), 169.

xxviii Chand and Murphy, 15.

xxix Ibid., 34.

xxx Ibid., 66.

xxxi Ibid., 74-75.

xxxii Mbiti, John S. “Christianity and African Culture.” Kenneth Aman, ed., Border Regions of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987), 391.

The article “Future Church: Meeting the Challenge of Changing Culture” written by Terry R. Baughman was excerpted from Third Millenium Ministry: Volume One; Christian Life College Faculty Project; 2004.