Last year I watched an elaborate children’s play about a country family who sold Christmas trees, collected shoes for those in need, and shared the love of God. My nephew played the part of a boy with a special jig and a desire for the limelight. He sang a solo with the words, “Well I love Christmas, and I love bare feet, so it only makes sense to this country boy. Givin’ of yourself by givin’ up your shoes, can help someone else hear the good news.” He was thrilled about playing this part! His grandmother shared her hope that each child had one experience they would remember from that church program that would help them in their future lives. I wonder about the future and what church will be like.
As spiritual people, we know that Spirit is always moving in the midst of change. We may observe fads, predictions and prophecies. With research we can find trends that represent long-term evident changes to society. With inquiry we may forecast or determine what the future may hold. With intellectual and spiritual wisdom we can discern what things are likely or probably to come.
What are some changes we see that affect ministry? We see a dramatic increase in “nones,” those with no religious affiliation. In his book American Religion: Contemporary Trends, Mark Chaves points to the 17% of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation. Fewer young people are attending church and this trend continues to grow. Many of these people are part of the generation born in 1965 and generations that follow. In reality most young adults are finding other ways of engaging with the Divine. Some see themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” Yet they are likely to be involved in yoga, meditation, music, spiritual discussions or even pilgrimages to holy places.
We see congregations changing, too. The people in our religious communities are more diverse, ethnically and culturally. Increasing intermarriage between religious groups is more common as Americans become more comfortable with other religions. How people worship is changing too. Some emerging communities are using more computer technology, music, and video in their informal worship. Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence, suggests that new groups of Christians “will rewrite Christian theology.” These communities will weave traditions from all expressions of the church.
When we think about our neighbors with no religious affiliation, we may affirm that God is all powerful and everywhere present. We see that God is present and at work in the lives of our friends and acquaintances. We may dialogue with them about the nature of their spirituality and personal values.
When we examine how spiritual communities are changing, we look for positive aspects. We affirm that every person is an expression of the divine. Young people are networked with others through instant messaging and instant information. They are growing up with a global view and desire real collaboration and meaningful discourse.
Like emerging churches, we can reach out to young people and engage them in conversation. Our conversations don’t have to be forced, but often come about through shared experiences. Even with their focus on technology, young people desire meaningful relationships.
We can be open to new technology and new ideas. It may mean learning how to use an iPod or watching a video we don’t really understand. Remember to look for the good. Ask how a technology can bring positive benefits. Like successful mega-churches, we can use technology in positive ways.
We can change our consciousness through prayer and meditation and we can lead, collaborate and take action for positive change. Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest, estimated there are more than 100,000 groups working on health, human rights and environmental safety. Like Social Justice Christians, we are joining with others to sponsor programs to assist the homeless, participate in public actions for human rights, provide school supplies for children or offer resources to sister congregations.
John of Patmos discerned Spirit saying: “See, I am making all things new (Rev. 21:5).” Adaptation is what made current spiritual traditions successful enough to survive. We may be excited by change. I expect that theatre, music, dance and technology will be part of my nephew’s spiritual experiences in the future. You and I can act today. You and I can be part of positive change. We can be part of the good things to come!