I remember a former district official repeatedly telling his pastors,
“I don’t really care what you do, but please change something!”
This statement was made in exasperation and directed toward a dozen or so churches in our district that refused to change. Most of these churches were planted in the decades following World War 2.
Today, many of those same churches have closed. They never changed.
Hold that thought.
In the early days of Covid-19 it felt as though the entire world changed overnight. Pastors and leaders grappled with the future of the church and we were all trying to find new ways to innovate and minister in a lockdown society that was increasingly fearful of gathering.
In that moment everyone recognized the importance of change and innovation to the future of the church.
In May of 2020 this understanding was reinforced in a Zoom call I will never forget.
The 22nd Century
The pandemic was in full force, and I was on a call with a number of church planting leaders from around the country. Leonard Sweet, author and futurist, was leading the conversation when halfway through his presentation he made a startling statement,
“Instead of thinking about tomorrow, we should be thinking about the 22nd century where our children will spend part of their lives.”
I quickly did the math.
I had a 5-year old at the time and calculated that if she made it to her 85th birthday she would live into the 22nd century.
What will the Church look like in the year 2100?
It was a question I had never considered. Churches planted in the 2020’s (also known as the “Roaring Twenties” :) ) that don’t embrace a posture of learning and innovation will never make it to 2100.
William Pollard the great physicist and priest once wrote, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
Brian Sanders, founder of the Tampa Underground talked about this innovate spirit on the same call and then issued a warning,
“New ideas will always be a threat to the system even if everyone is onboard.”
His advice for local churches, networks, and denomination was to create, “Parallel systems, skunkworks that have their own leadership, money, environment, research, and development to move things forward.”
How can we spark innovation for the future church?
Innovation Is Critical
Globalization, urbanization, post-modernism, the sexual revolution, and rise of the information age continue to have significant impact on our society. Not a day goes by when I’m not reminded of the challenges facing the Church in the West.
First and foremost, we need revival. We need a fresh move of the Spirit. We need increased dependency on prayer. We need holiness. However, when the Spirit moves, He often sparks something new.
Webster’s dictionary defines innovation as “The introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device.”
In 2021 Groundswell participated in an initiative hosted by Leadership Network called the Future Church Initiative. This was a “Shark Tank” style experience where I had the opportunity to present a few innovative ideas to a panel of leaders who helped fund our efforts.
A few weeks ago I joined the team at Leadership Network to help oversee this Future Church Initiative as the Director of NEXT Ventures.
While I still plan to work full time with Groundswell, this new role will provide an opportunity to get a front-row seat on innovation and the future of the church.
If you would like to explore this initiative further, CLICK HERE. The list below represents a small sampling of the type of projects the Future Church Initiative has supported.
E-2 Army Discipleship Network- Serving disciple makers in the US Army by equipping and encouraging them virtually to make disciples while deployed around the world.
Church Project- An innovate church of decentralized house churches in the city of Houston that gather regularly for worship and support.
Robloxian Christians- A ministry that equips and resources teenagers to plant churches on Roblox and Discord.
VR Church- A ministry committed to exploring and communicating God’s love through virtual reality, augmented reality, and next generation technologies.
Kingdom Dreams Initiative- A ministry that comes alongside entrepreneurs to launch kingdom dreams and partners with pastors to create “dream factories” in their local churches.
Grace in the Bywater- A ministry designed to create affordable access to diverse food entrepreneurs by helping them start new businesses in New Orleans.
The Future Church Initiative
If you have an initiative you are working on, a dream for the future, or an innovate project you believe will help shape the future church, KEEP READING!
We want to give you the opportunity to do a 7-minute pitch to a small panel of national leaders at Exponential Global in Orlando.
This pitch could result in an invitation to our next Future Church Initiative gathering in September. If invited to the September gathering, your project will receive significant grant funding, networking opportunities, and exposure for your project.
Please consider applying!
We are looking for projects focused on an innovative approach to church planting, but also welcome any innovation in the area of reaching, discipling and mobilizing the next generation.
If you or someone you know lead a project that fits this description and would like to sign up to make a 7-minute pitch, fill out the APPLICATION HERE.
This is a first come, first serve opportunity and space is limited. Once all pitching slots are filled, we will move applicants to a wait list.
It’s time to innovate for the future of the church!
If you have any questions, let me know!
Thanks for sharing this. A few replies:
First, on the ideas behind this, I would say I am "all in" on preparing for 2100. That is a good place to start (as usual, Len has a way with words that makes you think differently). If we "begin with 2100 in mind" I think it radically changes the way we engage in what we're doing in the kingdom today. (Of course, we might as well say the year 3100, but that's so far away it's hard to even conceptualize--will be planting churches on another planet or moon in colonies there?) Instead: since my kids as well are likely to live to 2100 (although just barely) it is helpful for me to ask what kind of church they might leave behind when they pass. What will THEIR legacy be? This is why I care so much about more portable, less institutional church models that empower their generation to actually facilitate the change, not me. I think it's time to hand the keys of the kingdom over to them. It's why I think less clergy-centric church life, where everyday Christians lead everyday Christian community, is so important. It's why I think we need more multi-vocational leadership and clergy, more people on mission globally by keeping their career and doing their job in another country, instead of quitting that job to raise money. All these things flow from the 2100 motivation. Is what we're doing now working? Yes, more or less, it's in decline but not in crisis, most might say. But is what we're doing now going to work in 2100, or even 2050? I have little confidence that is the case.
And then on the practical ask you make here: it was a rewarding thing for me to be a part of the past NEXT Ventures/Future Church Initiative and I wrote about the experience and the other kinds of orgs that were nominated here: