future of the church

Does the Future Have a Church? And in What Form?

By the Rev. Ken Howard

“Does the Church have a future?” is the wrong question.
The real question is, “Does the future have a Church?”
– Attributed variously

I think I agree… I would only add, “And if it does, in what form will that Church be?” 

It was a little over three years ago in 2017 that I published my research paper, “The Religion Singularity: A Demographic Crisis Destabilizing and Transforming Institutional Christianity,” in the Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society. But I still prefer my working title, “Singularity: The Death of Religion and the Resurrection of Faith.”

If the term “Singularity” sounds kind of astrophysics-y or SciFi-ish to you, good! It’s supposed to. Because institutional Christianity is entering a kind of wormhole that will deliver us into a context so different, it might as well be an entirely new universe. And what we do now to prepare our congregations and judicatories will determine whether they will survive and thrive or be consigned to oblivion.

The crux of the Religion Singularity is this: Christianity has become better at division than multiplication – we are producing new churches and denominations at an exponentially faster rate than we are producing new Christians. My 2017 projections indicated that by the end of the century there would be only 17,000 Christians per denomination and 67 Christians per worship center. And that’s PER not IN, which means that when you factor out the “Nones,” the average membership of those institutions could be less than half that, which means that all of our ecclesiatical institutions – from congregations to judicatories to denominations – will have become unsustainable in their current forms. 

And that’s B.C.: Before Covid accelerated those trends and crushed all of our familiar paradigms about what Church was supposed to be. This year, for the first time in the history of the U.S., fewer than half the population now “attends Church” (in either physical or virtual form).

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Do NOT Plant a Church, Unless…

By Ken Howard

 

This is gonna be a short one. And many of my fellow church-planting colleagues may not like it.

But if a young clergyperson with aspirations of becoming a church planter came to me today and asked my advice about how to go about it, this would be my advice:

DON’T

Why? Because the picture they have in their head about what a church looks like is some variation of the typical church model that Christian clergy and their congregants have been carrying around in our collective consciousness for more than hundreds, if not thousands of years.

It probably looks something like this…

A dedicated church building. On a dedicated church lot. With a dedicated clergyperson. And dedicated members.

Somebody recently asked me if we would still see churches like this in the future. My response was, “Only if it were stuffed and mounted and displayed in a museum of church archeology.”

Because this model of church is dead. Walking dead. But still dead. It is unsustainable. Because the way the trends are heading, there will simply not be sufficient numbers of Christians per worship center to keep it afloat, either financially or communally.

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