[Continued from “Tomorrow’s Church Today – Pt. 1.” The first half of this post was first published in the Mar-Apr 2010 issue of Net Results magazine.]
The technology used in the service would have been astounding to see in many churches, and yet nothing being used isn’t already a part of the culture’s fabric. Even the most traditional church is filled with members who are immersed in screen technology – television, movies, and computer screens grace their lives, so it is hardly surprising to find screen technology fully employed in the worship center. Multiple screens display much more than just the words to the music and the outline of the sermon. Videos illuminate, illustrate, and touch the core of the congregation’s emotions. Supporting materials and suggested links flash on the screens to encourage deeper study and reflection – even during the service. Images, both static and animated, invite viewers to reflect on, meditate on, and contemplate the sermon’s teaching, like the stained glass of old opened windows of understanding in the great cathedrals of Europe.
Dotted throughout the worship center are participants using laptops, iPads, smartphones, and cell phones to do further research; to find and consider alternative views; to provide additional material on the church’s wiki of the week; to exchange comments, thoughts, and opinions on the congregational forums and chat rooms; and even to communicate their questions, confusions, and affirmations to the speaker. What is amazing is that the speaker is able to clarify points, explain concepts, and even answer relevant questions that are being delivered digitally live from the participants – and the speaker makes those adjustments on the fly. Clearly, the speaker isn’t just familiar with the sermon topic, but is well versed, well read, and therefore well received.
When the service is over, it’s clear that the service isn’t really over. Although there are a few who race to the parking lot to beat the restaurant lunch rush, most of the participants appear to be in no hurry to leave. There is much conversation, and again we see clusters of people praying for each other. Many of the participants make their way to what must have been a fellowship hall at one time, but has been converted to a cozy café. Food and beverage services are available and soon many of the tables are filled with conversational groups, most of whom seem to be discussing the service’s teaching. Floating throughout the room are hosts who drift between groups fulfilling hospitality needs from refilling coffee to answering questions, and from clearing tables to facilitating conversations between table groups. The service’s speaker does similarly and engages several of the groups in further discussions.
All in all, though, the church of tomorrow doesn’t immediately appear to be all that different from a number of what some call “contemporary” or “alternative” churches today. However, peeling back the veneer of the weekend service reveals a couple of core differences. Whereas most churches today seem to exist for the weekend service, the church of tomorrow uses that service to enable and equip the participants and deploy them into the real world. During the week, we find the majority of the participants are connecting with one another informally. Some meet in multiple small groups where they are encouraged in their faith walk (and held accountable for their faith practices and behaviors). Others get together at meals, for coffee, after work, or whenever they can get away to connect. They too find their faith habits and general conduct receiving attention from their Christ-following peers. As flies on the wall, we can oversee these folks putting their faith to work in their vocational callings during the week.
We see spontaneous, silent prayer breaks throughout the day and especially just before meetings and when decisions must be made, even before those that seem to be minor or banal decisions. But silent prayer is only the beginning. These men and women spend more time listening to faith stories than they do talking about why their coworkers should come to their church or consider their brand of faith. And when they hear accounts of despair, pain, frustration, or fear, they offer to pray – and they do so then and there. Hand on shoulder, hushed pleas and quiet thanksgivings. Nothing elaborate or showy – indeed, it seems that few even notice the brief interchange. But the effect on the coworkers is profound.
When we look under the hood, so to speak, it seems clear that the weekend services play a distant second to the discipleship and ministries that seem to bloom spontaneously during the week.
But we all know better, don’t we?
All those weekday manifestations are part-and-parcel of a comprehensive commitment to life changes that surpass just head changes.
It begins with a vision, not of a transformed church, but of a transforming process that invites and encourages all, from the most cynical unbeliever to the most entrenched church-goer, to take a first step in exploring a faith that demands more than just an enlightened mind. Knowing more about faith, about God, about theology, and even about expectations is good.
But there’s a bottomless crevice between knowing and behaving. Our culture knows this – and has generally castigated Christianity because of that gap. The church of tomorrow not only knows this – it is intentional in creating processes to engender personal transformation. It encourages seekers and pilgrims alike to embark on that journey. And it expects those who claim the name to live accordingly.
Question: What do you think the church of tomorrow will look like? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.