As one decade fades and another begins, you’ve undoubtedly seen all the lists popping up, a retrospective stream of “bests”: best music, movies, moments, and television shows these past ten years. But six months ago, I began a project to do the opposite; rather than looking backwards on the decade past, I wanted to look forward.
With a cultural anthropologist and a small team of contributors, we started to evaluate macro trends that were happening in the wider culture and where those trends might intersect with the trends we see in the American church today. What resulted was a short eBook: 10 Church Predictions for the Next 10 Years.
When I’ve talked about this project, the number one question I’ve heard from people is Why? Why make predictions when they may not happen? Why spend time doing this when the present is such a mess? Why would this team be so presumptuous?
In addition to being a full time Innovation Strategist, I also continue to pastor and elder a local church in the inner city of Richmond, Virginia. So I’m not only thinking through a macro lens, but through a very “located” lens of church leadership. Let me offer a several simple reflections for why I think predictions matter.
Reason #1: Predictions help us exegete today’s culture.
Prediction is ultimately a guessing game where you make a number of futurist projections and winnow it down to the ones in which you’re most confident. But in order to say “what will be,” you first have to start with “what is.” That means not only identifying trends for the future but also recognizing trends that are happening right now.
William Gibson is a futurist who once said, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” What he’s getting at is that the seeds of the future are already in the soil of the present. In order to think about the future, we have to know the soil we live in really well. What predictions help us do is take a good, hard look at what’s currently around us, just as Paul did as he walked the streets of Athens in Acts 17 as he identified the “unknown god.”
Reason #2: Predictions help us build for the future.
I don’t know too much about hockey and this quote has definitely turned into an overused cliche, but Wayne Gretzky once said, “Skate to where the puck will be, not where it has been.” Cliches become cliches because the statement taps into something we know is true.
The church has long struggled to move from a 1950s cultural way of “doing church” and when it has, it looked more like a refracted version of what was popular five years ago. What I’m suggesting is that we don’t build for a 2020 model of being the church; rather, we innovate for where the future will be. Why? Because in the end, we don’t fully know what the future will hold or what it will look like. But we can start experimenting and seeing what God might want to do. Not everything is going to work, but predictions have a way of giving us some much needed intel on what could work. We don’t fully know what the future will hold or what it will look like. But we can start experimenting and seeing what God might want to do. Click To Tweet
Reason #3: Predictions move us towards movement.
When we completed the church predictions project, the discoveries made me want to start working. They gave me fresh energy for my local church and helped me pull my head out of the weeds and the day-to-day challenges long enough to take a longer-range view of what God could be doing in and through his people. The project highlighted outcomes I did not want to see happen in our local church, but it also underlined things I really hoped would happen. I know that “grace is not opposed to effort, but is opposed to earning,” so the results made me want to start dreaming with our leadership team what we could do together.
Moreover, stepping into a new decade provides a unique opportunity that can only happen once every ten years. We are more likely to take bold steps for a different future now than we will virtually any other time in the next ten years. Predictions help trigger something in us to move, and there’s almost a double-down effect of movement as we are concurrently stepping into a new decade.
Reason #4: Predictions show us the gaps in our current paradigms.
When you think ten years out into the future, you have to ask questions such as, “If this current paradigm were to stay on this trajectory for the next decade, what would it look like?” It almost adds an absurdist quality to the exercise. But more than anything, the predictions project shows how the little gaps and cracks in our church paradigms today become giant fissures in the future. Once again, this exercise was helpful for us to converse about the gaps in our local church context.
Reason #5: Predictions move us to pray.
When we finished our eBook, I saw things that I liked about the future of the American church and things I really didn’t like. But either way, it’s driven me to pray. What I want to see happen can’t happen apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. And what I desperately want to avoid, in my view, can’t be stopped apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. Doing this project continued to show us the ways in which we are desperately dependent on God. We truly can’t do this apart from him. Nor should we ever try to. Click To Tweet
Ultimately, doing this project continued to show us the ways in which we are desperately dependent on God. We truly can’t do this apart from him. And nor should we ever try to.
If you’d like to download the eBook “10 Church Predictions for the Next 10 Years,” you can get it here.
In addition, Missio Alliance has created a discussion guide in partnership with Doug Paul that you can use in your staff meetings, with elder or other leadership teams, as well as in your small groups. You can download the discussion guide here.