Recently, I’ve been thinking about what the future of the American Church looks like. It’s hard not to think of it in terms of survival and integrity. Survival in the sense of financial and institutional continuation; and integrity in the sense of remaining faithful to God, strong in its particular focus of ministry and free from corrupting social or political influences. (From that list you might tell that I value integrity over simple survival.) Between the declining Protestant mainline, the abuse-riddled Catholics and the political opportunism of the Evangelicals, it’s hard to argue with people who want no business with any of them. I’ll take encouragement when I can get it. Much of that encouragement comes from people doing the hard work: the people who make the most out of limited resources and meager opportunities. But so was the apostolic church; we are in good company.
And as anyone who’s dealt with small churches with paid mortgages knows, this kind of church is more likely to weather the cultural storms that are surely coming.
But then we may have to let go of customary ways and comforts. Recorded music, locally trained ministers and shared space may be the bargain keep churches and mission alive. The Christian church has a habit of adapting and surviving, even to transcend its place as the church of a nation or people, when the occasion allows and the Spirit wills. A smaller, leaner and more chastened church may be the one we always wanted.
As I was finishing this letter, the Washington Post ran an article about the (necessary) return of circuit preaching an a way to cope with shrinking communities and churches. “The circuit preacher was an idea of the frontier past. Now it’s the cutting-edge response to shrinking churches.” (Julie Zauzmer, September 23, 2019)