It is very clear that the future for our church is challenging. But it is very important that we accurately identify what the challenge actually is. In many minds, institutional survival is our challenge. This is a dangerous idea, as survival, as a goal, tends to generate a morality and procedure ensuring death. A community’s core values and ideals are lost. When that happens, survival is impossible. The task is presented as the management of decline. The real task is the rediscovery of hope.
I see four major components to our present challenge: 1) the authority of the church in the wider society is all but gone, as the era of Christendom ends—this is an identity crisis; 2) critically, we have been deeply influenced (I would say, subverted) by the values, habits and desires of this present age—this is a crisis of commitment; 3) the ethnocultural group that dominated our church has been decimated by low birth rates and the diminishment of the middle class—this is a people crisis; 4) the structures that we developed to be church, in terms of building, staff and program, are very hard to sustain, economically—this is a crisis that presents itself as a resource crisis, when its true nature is a crisis of imagination and faith.
Because of our enchantment by the mirage of efficiency and competence that the businesses of our broader culture present, the response to our challenge can appear to be found in effective administration and planning. Though these techniques are helpful tools, overreliance on them can hide many of the real dimensions of a positive future.
Our first turn is to the heart of our faith, Jesus. His presence and identity are the heartbeat, power and glory of our gatherings. There is no step forward that does not focus on Jesus. It is here that we find our identity.
Our second turn is away from the gods of this age to God, the Ruler of the Universe. This is the rediscovery of a discipleship, so much more important and consequential than the most efficient of administrative regimes.
Our third turn is to the peoples of our wider society, especially the poor and the marginalized. Churches that find room for the other usually find, at the very least, vitality and, quite often, growth. Our horizon can never be limited to finding people like ourselves.
Our fourth turn is to imagine a form of Eucharistic community that is replicable, sustainable and transformational. By making our core values and commitments living and real in the life of our community, we will become a church that the poor can afford and a people whose glory is Jesus.