It is always difficult to understand your place in history while it is unfolding.
It is always difficult to understand your place in history while it is unfolding. However, it is likely that years from now we will look back upon 2005 as one of the early years in a revolution of faith that reshaped the American Church. History will look kindly upon those leaders who understood this time and knew what to do to facilitate the healthy development of the Church.
Our research leads me to suggest that this new era of the Church will usher in significantly new ways of experiencing and expressing faith for tens of millions of Americans. Currently, about two-thirds of our nation’s adults experience and express their faith primarily through a local, congregational form of a church.
By 2025, we believe that percentage will be halved. What will people do? If you look closely, you can already see it happening. We estimate that about one-third will have their dominant experience and expression of faith through alternative forms of the Church: house churches, organic churches, marketplace ministries, cyberchurches, strategic faith events and more. Close to another third will experience and express their faith mostly through forms of media, ranging from outside-in forms, such as television and radio, to inside-out forms, such as podcasting and filmmaking. Family will be the locus of faith realities for a relative handful of believers.
Some Christian leaders will be alarmed by this transition away from traditional to new faith conduits. Wise leaders, however, will seize the opportunity to help shape the faith journey and landscape of people who simply want more of God in their lives. We have discovered that it is the quest for authenticity in people’s relationships with God that is driving this seminal shift. In many ways, people are crying out for a return to the Church found in Acts, which focused more on God and His people than on structures, programs, offices, budgets, buildings and the other elements that so often characterize today’s local churches. This is not a time to censor the will of the people of God, but a sacred moment in which we may celebrate the impetus of the Holy Spirit driving them back to God in ways that fit within the culture of the day.
Increasingly, people are less interested in attending church than being the Church. Consequently, they are returning to the basics to identify what it means to be a genuine follower of Christ. The result is a new breed of Christ followers who are majoring on seven dimensions of spirituality:
• intimate worship of God,
• intentional spiritual growth,
• faith-based conversations,
• kingdom-oriented investment of resources,
• compassionate servanthood,
• spiritual friendships and
• family-based faith.
This transition places the responsibility for spirituality on the individual rather than an institution. With that change comes a new commitment that alters the way faith is understood and carried out.
What does someone whom God has called, gifted and prepared as a leader do in this era? The same thing that a leader always does: understand the vision He gives you for the good of His people, and then involve people in its pursuit. You involve them by motivating, mobilizing, resourcing and directing people to convert that vision into a God-honoring reality.
Your ultimate responsibility, in whatever way God uniquely positions you to pursue as His leader in a given time and space, is to foster people who are fully knowing, loving and serving God and His people.
During these formative years of this third great awakening of America’s spirit, leadership will be crucial.
Because this is an organic, bottom-up process, leadership will be more complex and fluid and must be team oriented. You will encounter many people who have pieced together their “church” in ways that are presently unrecognized in the church world. Your task is not to steer them back to what they intentionally left, but to help them focus on connecting with the heart of God through the new forms they have embraced.
Right off the bat, you may help them discover the unique vision that God has for their lives. Just as you find joy and meaning by following through on the vision He placed in your heart, it is important to help these believers find their role and rhythm in the unfolding of the kingdom. As a leader, your role in this revolution of faith is not to reclaim turf for the institutional church; it is to empower individual Christ followers to discern how to be the Church every day, everywhere, in every way.
You have the privilege of motivating people to be Christ in a hurting world. This will undoubtedly entail encouraging them to stay focused on the seven passions of a revolutionary. What can you do today to instigate true worship as these people execute their daily routines? How can you connect them with other people in ways that bring God into their conversations? What resources can you identify or provide to facilitate their spiritual growth? As they seek to find meaning and influence in this world, are there ways in which you can help them use their gifts and resources to tangibly bless other people? Are there ways of assisting them in the investment of their personal resources—time, relationships, money, possessions, ideas—that advance the kingdom of God? Consider how you might introduce people of faith to each other or support existing relationships in order to build them into more secure and God-focused communities. Reflect on the families of faith that you interact with, and discover ways of helping those households become representations of God’s true Church.
You can foster these outcomes within an existing, congregational church, or you can facilitate them outside of any formal organizational structure. Where these things happen is less important to God than the fact that His people are narrow-minded in their focus upon Him. Your challenge is simply to facilitate the life transformation that Jesus died on the cross to make possible. Effective leaders in the days of this revolution of faith will be more concerned about how they apply their training and skills to building the true Church than to where or for whom they employ those gifts. Your leadership will necessarily be carried out through impermanent partnerships with other leaders and in a diverse array of settings. Your ability to not only direct people’s attention and energy but to also help them act strategically and in community with other believers, with some degree of efficiency, is a reflection of the unique perspective you possess and the incredible value you bring to the process of an organic Church.
God’s instructions are appropriate for today’s spiritual leaders. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2, NLT). Your ability to adapt to current conditions and opportunities, without compromising biblical principles and values, will go a long way toward determining your leadership capacity in this new era. God is doing a new thing among us. May it be part of your legacy that you recognized this transformation in its earliest stages, accepted His reshaping of the American Church and invested your heart, mind, strength and soul in leading people to God through the new channels and forms He made available.
George Barna is a world-renowned pollster and researcher.