I promise I will get back to my New Covenant Law series (and my “This I Know” series). First, however, I am posting an article in 3 parts just because I was up late thinking about an article a friend of mine posted a few days ago. It connected with a number of earlier posts I’ve written on the state of the contemporary evangelical church (not evangelical in the true sense, but using the word in it’s common use). I’m certain that I’ve made a few assessments I may disagree with a year, or even a week, from now, but that’s the way opinions go…
The problem of church trends
A pastor friend of mine recently posted an article by Sam Rainer entitled “5 Powerful Church Trends to Watch For This Year.” I found the title somewhat provocative, causing me to spend a bit of time thinking before even reading the article (which caused more thinking). While I am not necessarily disagreeing with many points the article makes, I think the title and subject matter raise questions about the potential defects in a certain segment of the contemporary church.
I think it would help first to define what is meant by the word “trends.” Most definitions of the word use the word “general,” as in “a general direction” or “a general tendency.” Other definitions use “average” or “gradual.” Typically, in about the 3rd listed use of the word, we find the words “current” or “vogue.” While lately the word has been used to mean “fads,” those styles that come and go fairly quickly, typically a trend is a gradual change in long-term direction.
The 2 words in the title that really caught my attention were “this year.” That would seem to rule out any thought of “general” or “gradual,” although that would depend upon your perspective. Considering that the Church is over 2 millennia old, anything to watch for “this year” would not seem to qualify as a trend; perhaps a better term would be micro-trend, or even nano-trend. I suspect that my Orthodox friends would laugh at any so-called trend that doesn’t involve a decade or more. If someone were tracing a general change, say, over a generation or two, then we may have a real trend.
However, many of our contemporary American churches have not even been existence more than one generation, so they themselves may simply be a mini-trend, and may or may not survive into the next generation. For example, the so-called “emerging” church has proven to be little more than a speed bump, certainly not qualifying as a trend in the large scope, and having minimal effect on much of the more stable church.
The significance of micro-trends: a sign of weakness?
I think it interesting that the 2nd sentence in the article references “cultural climate.” We all know too much (or way too little) about the so-called climate change. There, one of the big questions is whether what we are seeing (measured over the past 100+ years) qualifies as a true trend, or if we’re just witnessing a “blip” in a larger cycle. In other words, scope matters. When looking at the church, I think we need to ask the same question.
The fact that these micro-trends could be considered “powerful” enough to warrant watching seems to suggest a weakness in this segment of the church. Again, I doubt the Orthodox churches would have the same concerns; they are a large ship, able to withstand waves that would demolish a sailboat. I wonder if these 5 trends (without even looking at what they are) would have much of an impact on those churches with roots going back centuries. Are they indeed trends which can impact the future, or are they merely hiccups that themselves have no impact on the larger trends?