In January 1985, the following article appeared in the CHRISTIAN CHRONICLE in the column, “Trends”.
Editor’s Note: The Chronicle staff asked Mac Lynn, Harding Graduate School of Religion professor, to look at trends in churches for our readers. Lynn is director of the Institute for Church Growth and Planting and speaks widely on church growth. He speaks plainly here about some challenges the church needs to face.
“If present trends continue, the church will mirror society among which she lives. Reaction against the “new morality” will be forthcoming, but society will counter much of the effort. Large suburban churches will grow larger as older city churches will continue to decline. Southern rural churches will grow older, remain fairly conservative, and many will die.
Unless something extraordinary comes along, the churches will grow more concerned about comfortable surroundings for worship and socialization than about evangelism.
New methods of evangelism will aim at socialization or benevolence, but they are not likely to include personal encounter necessary to accomplish the hoped-for goal of conversion.
Some congregations will give renewed consideration to their outreach mission and to the personal needs of the membership. These will no longer be tied to the concept that church is a ritual and that “what you get out of it is what you put into it.
Some churches will give new meaning to the idea of being simply “the church”.
While a sense of concern for the youth among us will continue, I believe one of our biggest casualties in the future will be in this area. As children commonly walk in the ways of their parents, the young people of the church will walk in the ways of their “spiritual” parents. As the church grows more like the world, so will the youth. Declining evangelistic activity among today’s adults will lead to even less among the new adults.
Finally, driven for independence, self-determination, and self-centered interests will keep many, maybe even most churches from growing. Fear of women’s takeover, fear of change, fear of not getting one’s way will continue to frustrate many believers, will drive others into indifference, and will finally lead to spiritual stagnation for many congregations.
The Challenge of the Future
There needs to be a way to turn the moods of the present society into a positive platform for launching a new spiritual revolution. Churches, schools, journals, families, and individuals share the responsibility.
Perhaps what is needed in our time is schools which will train students to minister to today’s world, periodicals which will encourage such efforts, and churches which will make full use of these people.
We need schools which will equip business students in the avocation of ministry as they train them in the vocation of business, papers which will cultivate the atmosphere for such training, and churches which will utilize the skills of these people. We need schools which have as strong a vision for mission as they have for professional studies, Christian writers who will write about ways to use this world’s offerings to evangelize as they write about issues, and churches which are as concerned about the lost as they are about their own comfort or soundness.” — MAC LYNN
And now, about 30 years later, where do we stand???