My Church Manifesto

Usually I keep my blog posts between 250 and 400 words (about normal for blog posts). This will be a bit longer, but stick with me. I think it will be worth your while, but grab something to drink while you read this. I’ve been waiting to be able to write this for a long time and now feel able to. church

I started seminary knowing I had a passion for the local church. I get asked all the time what I want to do after I graduate, and about the only thing I know is that I have a passion for the local church. My prof says that the church is the only instrument in the world God is using right now, so having a passion for that seems to be a good thing (church universal).

I am constantly thinking and praying about what I desire the local church to look like and what I see God doing in the local church as it grows in the future. Just ask my wife, she always asks me what is on my mind and that is commonly the answer. When I first started seminary I thought some sort of answer from God would come quickly. Well here I am 2 years in and I barely have an answer, but I’ll share some of my thoughts that are a combination of where I want things to go and where I see things going with the local church.

My opinions on this subject aren’t meant to say that any other “models” for the local church are not as good. They are not to say I don’t like my church or that any church that goes this direction is better. Also, I don’t claim to know how God would have the local church be structured.

  • I think local churches will begin to move away from a weekly large gathering of the entire congregation in one location.
    • Instead I think churches will meet once a month and on the other weekends the church will meet in homes for small groups and will partner with humanitarian projects in their communities. Instead of relying on a 30 minute message each week, a church could utilize their resources to provide study materials online throughout the week for people to interact with in these weekly meetings.
    • These thoughts were confirmed as not just in my own head when Carlos wrote something pretty similar last week.
    • I think some churches will choose to go this route as a more effective way to connect believers and non believers to Jesus, but part of it will also be budgets. The current way church is done is very production oriented: a big gathering on Sunday morning with music and one speaker. It costs a lot of money to do that every week.
    • The way and amount that people give is changing, something that was confirmed in my thinking by this well thought out post by iMonk (point #7 specifically).
    • My generation is following what some would call The Greatest Generation. That previous generation gave to local churches like no generation before. They were and are extremely generous in their giving. My generation doesn’t give as much (not sure why at this point), and when they do give, they give to more than just the local church. They give to relief, water, and child support organizations and consider it part of their tithe (call that good or bad). So I think even without a struggling economy, churches are going to have to re-think putting a large amount of their money towards production Sundays and building funds.
  • I see the role of the pastor changing.
    • Senior pastors right now typically are involved in decision making and speaking. Those 2 roles are primary. I think in the future a senior pastor will give up some of those speaking responsibilities to be more of a facilitator. Moving away from a Sunday morning only model and into more focus on small groups and house churches within the church. A pastor will focus most of their time towards facilitating those groups, instead of speaking at them.
    • Pastors will spend much more time on coming up with material for house churches within the church. This could be filming short videos, creating course materials, leading small groups/houses churches.
    • A pastor will also play a key role in either running a community organization within the church or partnering with one outside the church. One of the key changes will be church-wide involvement in community projects locally and globally. No longer will a church hire one pastor to focus on these things, each pastor will have heavy involvement.
  • Opportunities for discipleship and spiritual growth will be plentiful.
    • As internet use by churches continues to grow, I think all churches will begin to use it as a tool to reach their congregation (and even those not a part of their church) for more interaction outside of house church, the once a month gathering, and beyond any humanitarian efforts.
    • The relational aspect of this is high because it allows for more conversation and interaction with weekly small group meetings.
    • The traditional mid week classes can remain as a way for people to dive into theology and Bible study in more specific ways. It would also be a great opportunity for the pastors to meet with the house church leaders for prayer and training.

You might be wondering why I think these changes will happen and why I want them to happen. Here are a few quick thoughts on what motivates me in this.

  • A church should never be focused specifically on a pastor or on the things happening on the stage on Sundays.
  • Most churches cannot pull off a production-oriented Sunday morning service successfully. A focus toward house groups and community service changes the entire look of a church. It puts the focus on discipleship, relational evangelism, and interaction within the body.
  • I think a lot of churches allow people to become lazy Christians. So many people go to church on Sunday and it never sinks in deeply, and I wonder if it is because the current “model” for local churches isn’t working for them.
  • One thing I have yet to figure out is how these changes can happen and still allow for the church to worship through music consistently. I think my generation is more musical than any other in the past. The iPod is a big reason for this, because everyone listens to music all the time.

I don’t have all the answers and I have zero idea how the future of the local church will play out. These are merely guesses in many ways, guesses that I hope will generate a positive conversation here about what God desires to do with the local church in method in order to reach more people for Himself. You are welcome to completely rip a part my thoughts. I didn’t write this in order to prove myself right, I wrote it to allow a conversation and to allow you to process the future of the local church.

I am only in the beginning stages of putting all this together in my mind and I’d greatly appreciate anything that came to your mind while reading this.

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  • http://ash-nits.blogspot.com ash

    tyler- these changes, as far as the church format is concerned, are already changing in drastic ways. call it a “cult following”…but it’s there. if this is something you’re interested in studying, i encourage you to look up two churches i know off hand that conduct their churches as “house churches” and bring people together for celebration services one or two weeks per mo.
    1)- Rock Tribe (www[dot]rocktribe[dot]org) tim and janet johns are the head leaders of this. they are fantastic people and are based in kansas city, mo. however, they oversea branches of ‘the rock’ in other states.
    2)- Blood n’ Fire (www[dot]bloodnfire[dot]com) this is based in atlanta, ga and is headed up by david vanchronkite, i believe. they are also big on assisting the homeless and their main church building is a small warehouse on the backdrop of the city where they also have a small shelter. it’s very cool.

    also, explain this statement from your professor further- “that the church is the only instrument in the world God is using right now”

    face value, i say God uses more than just the “church”- he uses anything he can to get the attn of the lost AND his people

  • http://jimdrake.com jim Drake

    Tyler–you are a man wise beyond your years. We were just talking about things like this last night here in Nashville at Cre:ate. I’m going to point some people to this post today when I see them.

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

    Ash- “the church is the only instrument in the world God is using right now” I believe my prof is using the word “church” in that sentence as church universal…the body of Christ. In that usage is makes perfect sense. Bill Hybels is well known for saying that the local church is the hope of the world. I can’t tell you how much I love that. If the local church really took that to heart I think a lot would change.

    Jim- That would be awesome, thanks so much. Enjoy your time there.

  • http://ricwild.blogspot.com Ric Wild

    Tyler, I wish I could respond to you in person. You just unloaded a truck load. I can tell you’ve been reading and reflecting a lot about what local churches are called to be and do, and the most effective means by which to do this in our post-modern/post-church American context.

    In my opinion, the Church is like the Titanic–it takes a long time to turn in a new direction. I think the changes you’ve identified have already started to happen, will continue to happen, and will eventually overtake the previous way of “doing” church. But this will be a long time in the making. I don’t think it will happen as soon as some suggest (10 years?).

    I’m especially interested in the role of the pastor. I think that in the future churches will have fewer full-time paid staff and greater involvement from lay leaders. I think “facilitator” is the correct word to use in talking about pastors in the future. But if we do have more paid staff people, they will be people with backgrounds in social work and community development.

    Sorry for the long comment… Can you tell I get into this stuff?

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

    Ric- Real great point. I don’t think any changes will be fast, in fact I doubt that any changes will be the majority within my lifetime. But I agree with you and Ash, these changes are happening now. In some ways I think these changes are just a further extension beyond what is the emerging church or emergent right now. I guess I wish it would become a more evangelical movement.

  • godsidekurt

    Definitely think some of what you are saying is happening…I dont know if I agree that we will move away from a weekly gathering in a church building. Do you really think if our people didnt have a church service on Sunday they would use that time to do humanitarian work? Also Im fearful of moving away from a single leader who is the visionary and chief decision maker. I know our culture is moving in this “Wiki” sort of style where everyone has equal say and opinions are valued. It just seems the more you try and move it to a community making decisions things start to fall apart pretty rapidly. There’s a reason why we have leaders in the first place…people are sheep and need shepherds. What happens when everyone becomes a shepherd?

    PS – Now I see why you suggested this as an idea for me to blog about 🙂

  • http://brentinworship.com/blog brent(inWorship)

    Tyler, you need to be here at re:create right now. Like Jim said, lots of the same thoughts and challneges are being heard and discussed right now. I think what you’ve put together here is a logical expression of difference to what we see in the church right now. And I agree. And I like what your thinking through!

    I need to get to Portland so we can have coffee.

  • http://classicalscore.blogspot.com Steve Poole

    I agree that the church is in for some changes in the near future due to economic and generational factors. I do not believe that a weekly worship will become the norm. Most church starts find that monthly worship or even bi-monthly worship is not enough to meet the needs of the corporate church. I personally think it would be a shame if we move in that direction simply for the convenience of the members, to reduce financial costs or to substitute for community/missional ministry. If churches do move away from weekly worship, I believe that we minimize the important of corporate worship.

    With that said, I do see a move among our young adults toward more community ministry and less worship. I believe that this generation sees worship in most churches as a waste of their time because they get a better “performance” from the professional bands and professional speakers which can be viewed at will on YouTube. This has led many Church Growth experts to assert that smaller churches will soon become obsolete.

    As to communal decision making, I see it as one of the major problems in my own denomination (SBC). People no longer recognize that God placed the pastor as the head of the church. Imagine if Moses held a business meeting to discuss the direction they should go..oh, wait, he did once and look where it got them. Granted, that the many scandels involving pastors has certainly brought about a lack of trust between churches and their pastors.

    Just my opinions of course.

  • http://www.jenniclayville.com Jenni Clayville

    I actually agree with you quite a bit. I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot recently… especially since our “big snow” and church was cancelled two weekends in a row.

    Church STILL happened even though it wasn’t in the buildings.

    Church is happening in homes, out at coffee, on phone calls, over text messaging and online ALL THE TIME. People still need to know Christ, but the idea of going into a building may seem overwhelming to them.

    Thanks for posting this, Ty.

  • http://ronpai2.wordpress.com ronpai

    Tyler,

    a lot of what you are saying, we are doing. Not saying that I’ve got it together, because we are still figuring it out ourselves, but here are a few of the things that we do:

    – We close the doors of the church once every couple of months and go and “do” service in our neighborhood. we do this by teaming up with our neighborhood associations and/or local non profit organizations to know the need of our neighbors.

    – We intentionally are planted in our neighborhood and serve them specifically. We are “in, for, and with” our community. this is our mission statement. We have found that we are a “Go and Do” church, rather than a “Come and See” church.

    – We look at our building as a gift to the community. Therfore, we allow them to use it free of charge.

    – We have a potluck to bring our morning and evening service together, and also a combined bi-lingual service for our evening service and our hispanic service to commune together.

    – One thing that we remember is that we are not delegating or facilitating, but we are empowering. We, the pastors/directors, know that people have the skills to do the job we are doing and we need to honor and use these skills to build the church body.

    We are a congregation of 90-100 people. We rent our space from a hispanic seventh day adventist church for three days a week. We meet regularly on Sunday mornings and on Sunday nights in another church in another neighborhood. We are not doing anything really earth shattering to us…we are just loving God and loving neighbor.

    Something that I was thinking about while i was reading was that if the church moves to once a month and home groups the other weeks, what might happen is a split in a church community. People forget others and only stick with who and what they know. I wonder then if this would only bring a division more than a coming together due to lack of relationships with other believers from the church? Just some thoughts.

    Please again, don’t think that I believe I am doing what is right. I believe that we are doing something that is a different expression of sharing God’s love with our community.

    p.s. you should pick up the book “A Community of Kindness”. It talks a lot about the things you are thinking.

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

    Kurt- I don’t think I’m questioning the leadership a pastor provides. I don’t question that a pastor’s role will still largely be “decision maker” but the top down style of speaking right now isn’t as effective so I see a pastor more of a facilitator than just speaker. I would also look at how people today come to “know” things. This is primarily through interaction and the way most church’s do a sermon doesn’t allow for much interaction. I think a pastor can still lead just as effective through how they help put together study group materials and other ways that help them facilitate these groups.

    Brent- I’m always open for coffee, just not Starbucks 🙂 I kid, I kid.

    Steve- Finally someone who disagrees with me. Thanks for your thoughts. I too struggle with how this “model” allows for corporate worship. Maybe our thinking of what corporate worship is, is too short sighted…I’m not sure. I totally agree that we need to submit to our elders. I don’t think anything I’m saying is challenging that ideal. I don’t think we move away from a weekly corporate meeting of the body because of laziness or making it easier, I think we do that because it is more effective.

    Jenni- I would say that a church building can still be used on a weekly and daily basis. House groups don’t have to meet at houses, I think a church can design rooms to more comfortable and allow for a house type atmosphere. Not everyone has a huge house and a desire to lead a group. I dig what you said though.

    Ron- Who wrote that book? McLaren? I love that your church is doing things like that consciously.

    Thanks to you all for your thoughts. This is exactly why I posted this. You all are awesome.

  • http://shapingthespace.blogspot.com David

    Given your post and the responses, and so much similar thought happening globally, I’ll just say I agree – totally. The mode of church has always changed with culture, and I can’t see why that would stop. We, as the church, just need to make sure culture doesn’t actually shape the church, but rather the other way around.

    “The church is not peripheral to the world, rather the world is peripheral to the church”.

    Today is the right day (the appointed time) for this post, thank you.

  • http://ronpai2.wordpress.com ronpai

    steve sjogren and rob lewis

  • http://www.heathermclain.com Heather McLain

    Wow. Great post and very thought-provoking. I’ve been thinking a lot about some of these things lately as well. I find myself very drawn to the house church movement in many ways, especially when I think about authentic worship, authentic relationships with other believers, and the way “big church” tends to be more observational than participatory.

    The main concern I have is that a more administrative/facilitation role of the pastor (or no pastor at all) might leave room for churches to wander from solid doctrine and theology. The main problem permeating the emerging church movement right now is that many of those churches are moving away from the true gospel in their attempt to be inclusive. (Wrote a blog post on that today in fact.) Of course there are some “big church” pastors out there teaching bad theology already, but I could see it as possibly a more widespread problem in the house church model. I’ve been in small groups where people have taken their conclusions to a question in a very non-biblical (even heretical) direction, and without a group leader with some sort of perceived spiritual authority (i.e. pastor or elder) it can be impossible to steer things back. Just something to think about.

  • http://www.thriven.org Jonathan Brink

    Tyler, I think you are voicing what many in the house church movement have been experimenting for quite a while. But the the traditions run deep and I agree that it will likely take a generation to shift. But thankfully the emerging generations are wired for change and flux, so doing something different will come naturally.

    And as Phyllis Tickle is fond of saying, the old won’t go away. They new will just create another option. So many will still hold onto the older traditions, which have value for some, until they are no longer desired.

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

    Heather- Great, great point. Just had dinner with a guy and we talked about this very thing. Anything that revolves around “house church” or “small groups” has to walk a fine line of being relational but not losing Biblical doctrine and theology, both things which I think are supremely important. I think pastors need to play a key role in providing course materials for their churches and that can eliminate some of these problems. I also think pastors will have to be proactive in coaching leaders that are lay leaders. That is important now and will become even more important in the future.

    Jonathan- Great point. I think there also has to be a value for bringing the old into the new. The old will always have value and to just give up on it seems weird to me. I know you aren’t saying we should give up on the old, I’m just making a point.

  • http://www.jenniclayville.com Jenni Clayville

    sure… absolutely. i didn’t mean to say they had to take place in a home… since that would put me out of a job. what i’m saying is that church is people. it’s always been people. it can happen anywhere, not just in a building.

  • http://classicalscore.blogspot.com Steve Poole

    You have gotten a great dialogue going here. Many good and interesting ideas. No matter what, I am certain that the future of the church will be filled with many challenges and many blessings.

  • http://chrisridgeway.blogspot.com Chris Ridgeway

    Howdy, never met although it looks as if we’re both finishing our second year in seminary. Me after coming out of a number of years (6-7) on a missional fulltime staff member with a church that mostly thought of itself as house-church oriented. We did do weekly larger worship gathering, but much of the life of the church was in homes over meals with high participation and relationship.

    I think I had gotten so used to this mode of church that it was a real shock jumping into a seminary (North Park in Chicago) that worked with a much more traditional model. And support it with a fairly rigid ecclesiology! They want to say their views are flexible, but I find that people cannot think outside a Sunday morning liturgy with a decently high “clergy/laity” split. Definitely this is the case of most of my professors, although I find it true for many my own age too.

    All that to say: what you’ve described is close to the kind of church I’ve lived and served in. I think it’s remarkably vibrant, and our community and mission was strong. But more and more I’m feeling discouraged that this will be anything more than a small segment of the church living like this. Denominations don’t think like this.

    I think I heard you describing a church vision that I (very much) hope you’ll pursue, but I’m not sure (sadly) that it really predicts the future for more than a few…

  • Pat

    Tyler, I see these changes coming as I feel the cultural shift in my own church. Right now I feel we’re at a place of being two churches — the traditional and the new church. It’s kind of tough and I think the hardest part is this in-between, transitional stage. We’re not where we used to be, but we’re not quite where we’re going to be either. As for reaching out with technology, I think that the Church should always keep in mind those without technology so that we don’t totally lose them. Senior citizens come to mind, but there are others who do not have a computer or are not computer-savvy that will not be reached if we turn to too heavy an emphasis on technology.

    As for what you’re going to do when you’re done with seminary, believe me, I understand what you’re going through. My biggest frustration was people asking what I was going to do, was I going to be ordained, and since I’m not, I occasionally get questions as though something’s wrong with me because I’m NOT ordained. Very exasperating, but I learned to accept the questions and it made me more secure with not having my future all planned out. Coming up on 3 years out of seminary and I still see it as one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life and I would do it all over again. I currently serve God as an elder and try to be content where I find myself without giving in to the pressures of those who would say I should be doing other things.

  • http://www.irvingbible.org Bill Buchanan

    Hi Tyler – I found your blog from a recent post of yours on Collide about the future of the church. I do think the church will change over time. It has to and it always has. It’s only the rhythm of the beat that has changed 🙂

    One of the folks who commented mentioned how the use of a church facility should change. I worship at and am on staff at a church with a pretty significant investment in facility and the thought process we bring is that we are here to serve the parish. Our facility is almost always open in fact, we closed once on a snow day and the local Mom’s almost broke down the doors to get in. We have a huge play area for kids and with all the schools closed they flocked to our place to let the kiddos run off steam.

    We’ve provided every room in the campus (including the worship space that seats 2200) to local groups, schools, organizations, etc to have events. We have an art space (along with the requisite coffee shop and free wifi) along with couches, chairs and work tables. I know of at least half a dozen folks who run their business from our place. They show up every day, hop on the wifi, fire up the laptop and do their thing.

    Late this summer we are offering citizenship classes, ESL classes, back to school vaccinations (which will expand to free clinic services once we get all the pieces in place) and life skill classes. All this is provided by volunteers (some of whom attend here but many don’t) and all will be free to the community.

    We are taking the physical resources that we’ve been blessed with (and which are not going away) and turning that back to the community. If by chance one day, we fall on hard times and are faced with closing our doors we want to have made such an impact on our community that “they” say “no way”.

    There is an economy of scale and a pooling of resources that large communities such as IBC can bring to the table . . . that small groups can’t pull off. Likewise there is an intimacy that only happens when you are in community with a couple of dozen (or less) other folks.

    At the same time we know that as long as we focus on helping people deepen their relationship with God, find community and be on mission it really doesn’t matter what size we are.

    We’ve been told time and time again buy folks who have a much larger view of what’s “going on in the church world” that we are unique in that we are asking the questions and struggling with answers that are typically being asked by much smaller bodies or new church plants. It makes it a real challenge but it also puts us in a wonderful place (and an envious place to some) to make the most of all the gifts and blessings that God has provided.

  • http://mikeymo1741.blogspot.com Mike Mahoney

    Tyler, I don’t know if you’re right or wrong. I think you are right in some areas, not so much in others.

    I don’t see the weekly gathering going away. At least I hope not. If it does, it’s because we let it, to the detriment of us all, I think.

    I would disagree that it “costs a lot of money” to have a weekly gathering. It only does that in some churches because that’s what they do. They don’t have to do that. They could meet in a plain building, with volunteer musicians and less-than-state-of-the-art sound equipment, and still get fed. People do it in churches all over the world all the time, and in many, many places, the weekly gathering is THE focal point of church life. The vast majority of people in the US attend small churches, and the vast majority of congregations are under 500 people, according to one recent study. For every megachurch, there are a hundred little churches. That’s not going to change any time soon.

    I do agree that the work of the church will be, and should be, more focused on small groups/cells/housechurches. But the work of preparing for those meetings needs to fall on the individual leaders, not one pastor. Each group will have it’s own identity and focus, tailored to its members. The senior pastor’s role will be vision-casting, discipling leaders and congregation-wide teaching.

    I completely and totally agree with your third point. The future of the church is certainly in discipleship and DOING things…

    At least, that’s what I think… 🙂

  • http://www.stretchmarkmama.com Lisa

    Wow, Tyler. That was great.

    I’ve been a leader in the church for many years now, and for at least 5-10 years have felt that the current formula isn’t working. I’m currently involved with a church plant, which means I wrestle with what church should look like all. the. time. I’m not much of a visionary, so I appreciate when others, like you, can paint a picture of another way of doing things.

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  • http://semmie.wordpress.com/ semmie

    Why must these things occur exclusive of corporate worship?

    Is it not possible to maintain the function of the corporate body while encouraging growth and ministry in intimate settings?

    Great blog, Tyler. Lots of great comments, too. I’ve got much to ponder!

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