Your church’s style isn’t nearly as important as its mission: to stay fresh and change the world. No matter whether your church is traditional or contemporary, small or large, there are core values you can embrace to bring the gospel to a world that desperately needs it. If you leverage the post-seeker age culture around you to the gospel’s advantage, your church can reach young adults and help usher in a future full of hope.
Here’s how you can become a church of the future:
Get creative. Use the arts – such as dance, paintings, sculptures, poetry, or drama – in your worship service. Know that God will often use words and images to work together to communicate His messages. Teach in innovative ways. Tell stories, as Jesus did, because stories touch the deepest parts of people’s souls.
Get spiritual. Don’t pay nearly as much attention to marketing or entertaining people as you do to what’s truly important – helping people encounter God. Don’t water down your teachings, or tone down the intensity of your worship services. Rather than asking, “What do people think?” ask the vital question, “What does God think?” Instead of focusing your services on believers or seekers, focus them simply on God. Strive to make disciples of everyone in your congregation. Provide ways for them to grow spiritually outside of worship services, such as through Bible studies, service projects, and prayer meetings.
Get radical. Have the courage to embrace a lifestyle that clearly shows the world you follow Jesus Christ, and encourage others in your church to do the same. Don’t bother with small ambitions; have big ones instead. Ask God to help your church participate in nothing less than changing the world for the better.
Get real. Acknowledge the reality that life in a fallen world includes sin and suffering. Don’t pretend to be happy all the time or to have all the answers. Don’t give your congregation sugar-coated pop psychology, oversimplify complex issues, or mince words with them. Admit your frailties. Be humble, open, and honest. Let your authenticity lead you to confess your sins and turn from them so your congregation can see a holy God transforming a broken human being. Speak as freely about your doubts and pain as you do about your faith and joy, because each extreme gives context for the other to glorify God’s work.
Get truthful. Don’t be afraid to proclaim the absolute truth of the Bible in our relativistic age. Remember that it’s far more compassionate to tell people the truth than to tell them what they want to hear but cause them to miss out on the truth. But when you proclaim universal truth, do so kindly and gently, with respect for your listeners and without a condescending tone. Never compromise your convictions. But allow people to make up their own minds about what to believe, after carefully considering your message. Rather than simply telling people what to believe, become a guide who helps them discover truth on their own.
Get “multi.” Strive to have a multigenerational, multiethnic and multicultural congregation. Make it a priority to welcome, value, and include people from all walks of life in your church. Encourage everyone to fully participate in the life and leadership of the church, regardless of their gender, race, age, economic status, personal appearance, etc. Ask God to help you overcome your prejudices and look past the surface of people to see their souls for whom Jesus died. Don’t tolerate sin just to be tolerant; be discerning. But when you must confront someone about sin, do so in the spirit of redemption rather than condemnation.
Get connected. Accept people as they are and support them as they grow toward who God wants them to be. Encourage your church members to give and receive grace to each other. Strive to connect people to God and each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Build deep bonds that go beyond shared fellowship at a church picnic. Help your congregation form friendships in which they can count on each other to share their lives in significant and meaningful ways, both inside and outside of church.
Adapted from Future Church: Ministry in a Post-Seeker Age, copyright 2004 by James L. Wilson. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.broadmanholman.com or www.thefuturechurch.com.
Dr. Jim L. Wilson is the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Seaside, California and the online editor at www.FreshMinistry.org. Jim is an award-winning writer with more than 100 pieces in print in more than 40 publications. His recent books include The Boomerang Mandate: Returning the Ministry to the People of God, Transformations, and the e-book How to Write Narrative Sermons.