That’s a good question. We talk a lot about what the BGCT, and for that matter what the SBC and other state conventions, need to change in order to regain lost relevance and interest, and remain viable into the future. Can we gain a vision for a postdenominational future, in a world of postmodern thinking, from what we consider to be “cutting edge” kinds of ministries that currently exist? Or are those ministries and churches, like their predecessors, limited to the scope of thinking and ideas that exist within their generation, and perhaps parts of the preceding and succeeding generations, and destined for the same kind of decline and decay that we see in churches which are part of the Postwar generation?
We can have a vision for the future, but we can’t really see what it looks like. There are some things we can probably anticipate, and some changes that seem likely. Regardless of the kind of change our institutions need to make, and even our churches, it will be extremely important to separate the message from the method of delivery and remain focused on the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and reliance on the teachings of the scripture. Many of the questions related to how we approach ministry will be answered simply by listening to what God tells us to do. Too often, our habit is to lean on our own understanding, and place too much stock in our seminary training and personal experience. Jesus promised the Spirit would come after he ascended to heaven, and he did. The Spirit gives us the ability to interpret and understand the scriptures. That’s what we need to do.
Within the next 20 years, a big chunk of the WWII generation will pass away. These people, who are now 65 years old and up, constitute a large percentage of our church membership, tend to be the bigger givers in terms of money and time, and make up the bulk of convention messengers. Unless there is some kind of phenomenal revival that brings huge numbers of younger people into the churches, we are looking at a serious drop in financial and human resources. I think it is doubtful that many convention structures and organizations will survive their passing.
An electronic generation will eventually bring the convention into the technological age. If the convention survives the downsizing, it will learn to conduct its business electronically. Eventually, convention via webcasts or satellite telecasts will be the norm because it will be the only way people will attend. Many other aspects of convention business will be conducted in a similar way. Frankly, there is no reason this cannot be implemented now at a relatively low cost but it will take a new generation to make the change.
It does not seem that the younger generation, which is clearly not interested in attending meetings, is interested in a heirarchy of who’s who and prominence in church ministry organizations, either. What they are interested in is efficiency and practicality. The convention itself will largely serve as a network and referral of resources agency, rather than being involved in consultation, or in conducting ministries itself. Churches in areas with common ministry interests will link up through the convention, and do the hands on ministry, rather than having a convention program operating in a specific area. Those who work for the convention itself will be those who have proven expertise in a particular skill or professional field. The days of promoting people into denominational service because of who they know will be over. The payroll of the convention will be small, and there will be a lot more short term contractors than full time executives. Of course, this is a guess based on observation of younger people in the church as things are now. Change is always in the wind.
I would not venture a guess as to what the church community will look like. There will certainly be some congregations that look like today’s postmodern, Gen X, and Baby Boomer congregations. I suspect that, as I heard from a young pastor at the Willow Creek conference, the future holds ways of doing church that no one has thought of at this point. Considering what his congregation looks like, I believe him.
The future also depends on how many younger people we are able to win to Christ and disciple into a Christian community. At the present time, we are losing about 80% of those who are currently raised in the church, and that does not bode well for any kind of future at all. Obviously, there is a serious disconnection between the way we work at evangelism and discipleship in the church today, to lose so many of those who grow up in our Sunday Schools and church buildings. Until we learn how to stop those losses, thinking about what the convention of the future might look like is pointless. Our current methods are not working. Perhaps we need to look at Texas Hope 2010 again, and see if our ways of sharing the gospel are effective in reaching a younger generation. My guess is that they are in need of major overhaul.
Self identification under a denominational brand name may also be a thing of the past, and that will be something that is difficult to change. To be a “Baptist” means that you stand on a specific set of doctrines and principles to someone my age and perhaps older, but to someone younger, it means that you are separating yourself from other Christians and acting in an arrogant and exclusive manner in doing so. Most of the gray head generation identifies itself as being “Baptist,” but most younger people will tell you they are Christians who attend a Baptist church. Many of them have been turned off by what they see as uneccessary separation from others in the body of Christ.
Change is in the wind, but what kind of change?