To finish off my critique of the “5 Trends to Watch for This Year” article, here’s the final section. If you haven’t already, read parts 1 and 2.
5 Trends to Watch for This Year
Now, let’s take a quick look at the 5 named trends.
1. Lack of Organizational Trust.
To this, I reply, “Well, duh…” I not only agree that this is a trend, I will admit to being a card-carrying member. But, I find that my lack of trust does not apply to all organizations, or even to some I happen to have major disagreements with. Rather, I tend to distrust organizations which have a very shaky foundation, not being firmly rooted in the past. And, I find that much of the current evangelical church lacks firm historical and theological foundations.
To paint a mental picture, without any ties to history, these groups have no set trajectory. They are points floating in space, blown to and fro by every cultural breeze. So, yes, I distrust them, because they’ve given me no reason to trust them. Rainer is totally right here, in that churches must work to build specific trustworthy reputations, and that takes time. If they aren’t rooted in or knowledgeable of the past, they have not earned trust. Watch them until they’ve established a trajectory, then compare that to the overall trajectory of the church.
2. Desire for accountability in leadership
Essentially, this is the same issue as #1. I agree that leadership is an issue; however, the desire for accountability in the church is a by-product of the trend of contemporary churches trying to establish new trajectories. The problem is not so much individuals, but with the organization. “Accountability” is a big word that no one understands. Accountable for what? To whom? On what basis? Again, if an organization is not firmly grounded in the past, with no established trajectory, the leadership typically has a greater ability to go off course.
3. Fickle Commitment
Here, Rainer ties the fact that people change jobs more often now to them moving from church to church. I’m not sure this is the proper cause-effect analysis. Rather, I think the lack of commitment to a specific church may relate to the first 2 trends.
4. Intimacy with the crowd
Here, I agree with his point, but don’t think this is so much a trend, although it’s perhaps tied to the development of cities, a pattern which has been repeated since people began creating cities. People simply connect to smaller groups easier than larger groups. And yes, your mega-church is too big.
5. Weariness with overwhelming amounts of information
Now this may be the only real trend that I agree is a social trend that impacts the church, but only because of another church trend, and that is the trend of pastors believing they need to shove information down our throats every chance they get. As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m “fed up” with the assumption that I need to be “fed,” and assume most of you are as well.
At some point in the last couple of centuries among non-liturgical churches, the trend has been for the sermon to become the central point of the church service, with the sermon growing to between 45 minutes and an hour. This is not the case in liturgical churches, so this trend doesn’t apply to the church universally. I assume one reason may be simply to fill the void created when liturgy and scripture reading is removed. Another reason for sermon-glut is that it has also been the major marketing focus of the church, so the pressure is on the pastor to provide more and more compelling and enticing sermons so people will return, and maybe even come for midweek classes. Another related trend is that in more contemporary churches, the focus seems to be more and more on the pastor as an individual rather than on an individual who steps into an established role, who could easily be replaced. Think of a stand-up comedian vs. a Shakespearean actor.
The 45-minute sermon is unnecessary. It’s one thing to instruct new believers, but another for folks who have been Christians longer than the pastor. I mean, what more can you say? Let’s be honest, I’ve never known any pastor (and I’ve known some great preachers and teachers) who could fill up 45-60 minutes week after week with great material. Once in a while, sure. But let’s face it, most sermons could easily be edited down to 10 or 15 minutes and be more powerful, especially if they’d put Scripture back as the proper focus.
Like I said at the outset, this article really got me thinking, about the rather transient and vulnerable state of the contemporary evangelical church. The “recent trend” is that these churches seem to be growing, although that is not true for many of the individual churches who are withering on the vine. It remains to be seen what this segment of the church looks like in the coming decades, and only then will we know if what we are seeing was truly a trend. Meanwhile, the gospel remains unchanged, and the trend is that it will be there waiting for us.