There have been, and will be, some truly “next” churches. But our threshold should be more than rapid growth, a charismatic leader, a niche-market, the latest beneficiary of a growing edge of town or the migratory flow of believers. Not simply because there may not be anything truly “next” about it beyond that which is cosmetic, but because our appetite for the “next” has us looking to churches that have yet to truly prove themselves through the test of time.

But let’s not hold back the last five percent. Attenders looking for the “next” must realize that a church, no matter how innovative, is not the provider of spiritual formation. Individuals must dig deep into the core disciplines of the faith which have been with us for centuries and own their own spiritual development through prayer and study, fasting and retreats, worship and solitude. And leaders must realize that however exhilarating a new church model may appear, silver bullets do not exist. Leaders must look deeper than the latest model or program, conference or style, and realize that the process inherent within a thriving church has not changed in 2,000 years: you must evangelize the lost, then assimilate those evangelized, then disciple those assimilated, and then unleash those discipled for ministry.

Not much “next” to that.

Or maybe there is.

Sources

Adam Bryant, “iSee Into The Future, Therefore iAm,” The New York Times, Sunday, July 1, 2007, section 4, page 3.

Marian Salzman, Next Now: Trends for the Future.

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

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