The Church of the future will meet as groups that reflect the culture’s need for family — nuclear, extended and tribal. Very small groups of 3-6, called “Huddles” will serve as the Discipling vehicle. Mid-sized groups of 20-50+, called “Missional Communities,” will serve as the Mission vehicle. Large gatherings of 125+, called the “Tribe” (or church, faith community, etc) will serve as the Identity vehicle.
A look at trends around the nation and world, tell us the future is now! Specifically, sixty-two (62) percent of Americans say they will never attend a church service. That number is growing by 2% per year. As Christianity is getting pushed more and more to the margins of society, the crisis we face in the United Methodist Church (my own denominational tribe) is indicative of a much broader crisis of Christendom. The culture is not rejecting Christ, as much as it is rejecting Christendom—the systems and structures of organized religion. This cultural revolt against these structures, will require revolutionary change on the part of the Church if it is to have a role in the world of tomorrow.
As this happens, its utterly intriguing and perplexing that micro-missional communities are growing at ten times the rate of all other churches, even mega-churches. For millennia, we have thought of the Church as having a mission in the world. The truth is, the mission of God in the world, has a Church!
In fact, Jesus never told us to make or grow churches. (Now that’s ironic coming from me!) But He reserves that work for Himself through His Spirit. He did tell very explicitly, however, to go make and grow disciples, and He showed us how as He invited persons to imitate His own life and ministry. He taught and trained His disciples, sent them out to practice, debriefed them, then finally commissioned them not only as followers, but friends. He considered them co-laborers who were entrusted with all His authority and power to continue His mission to the world.
A little reflection on this and it seems that the world may know this narrative better than the Church does right now, and they are rebelling against the disconnect they see. We would do well to have open hearts, doors and minds, ready to rethink Church more radically than we ever have. Not superficial, cosmetic change. Deep change! Foundational change! Radically, with the likes of Mr. John Wesley himself, we will have a future, or we will have no future. There can be no future Tribal identity without intuitive, reproducible Discipling and Mission vehicles. A Discipling culture without understanding the Mission of bringing Kingdom life to this world is merely evangelical egocentrism. A Missional culture without a disciple-making (discipling) process is merely social justice.
If this seems so “out there,” it need not, really. The early Methodists got this. Forced out of established Church buildings, they took to the highways and hedges with vehicles to meet the culture of their day right at their point of need—nuclear family, extended family, tribal family. In their day they called these vehicles “Bands,” “Classes” and “Societies.” No, this is not new at all, nor is the culture’s rejection of organized religion or need for family. This is simply Wesley 2.0.
Like them then, we today must get out of the building, and stay out for as long as possible!