Only God knows the future. But if current trends in Christianity continue, we can expect great change in the church by 2062. I predict the church will become both larger and smaller; less centralized and more efficient at meeting people’s needs. Doctrinal differences will continue to shrink, and emphasis on mission will continue to grow. Here are my predictions of what we can expect the church landscape to look like fifty years from now:
The midsize congregation will disappear.
The church-on-the-corner that’s been the bedrock of American Christianity since colonial days will cease to exist by 2062. These churches of 50 to 500 souls will become too expensive to staff and their aging buildings too difficult to maintain. These so-called “family churches” are already losing members to megachurches that offer superior preaching, music and programming. Pastors are shunning their pulpits, preferring to plant new congregations. In their place we will see:
An explosion of satellite campuses and microchurches.
Megachurches will accelerate the establishment of satellite campuses. Some of these will have a physical building holding hundreds of worshippers, and some will be microchurches of less than 50 people. These churches will have little or no staff. Microchurches will be led by a layperson (or couple) and will meet in private homes or in rented spaces. These will not be “house churches” as we know them now, because they will be affiliates of…
A small number of cutting edge megachurches led by amazingly talented communicators.
I predict that about 200 megachurches will come to dominate American Christianity by 2062.
In the same way WalMart took over the mom-and-pop store, a handful of megachurches will absorb thousands of other congregations – including other megachurches. They’ll do it by planting satellite campuses in thousands of cities and towns in America, delivering their teaching and music via video. Just as there are Baptist churches in nearly every city in America today, in 2062 there will be satellite and microchurch affiliates in every city and town.
It’s already happening
In case you hadn’t noticed, most megachurches have stopped building ever-larger buildings. Instead, these king-sized congregations are going multi-site – beaming their teaching (and sometimes their music as well) into satellite campuses. By 2062, 80% of U.S. churchgoers will receive teaching from a pastor who’s not in the room with them.
The seeds of this innovation were sown in the early 1990s, when churches began adding cameras and screens to their sanctuaries. Projecting a magnified image of the pastor on the screen allowed worshippers to feel closer to him — even in a big room. Worshippers became comfortable seeing their minister on a screen.
Very quickly, churches like Saddleback began routing that video image to other buildings on their campus. Thus, Saddleback was able to offer multiple musical formats (traditional hymns, hard rock, country-and-western, Polynesian, etc.) but each venue featured the same sermon, piped in by video live from the main sanctuary.
Without realizing it, Saddleback had proven that believers would accept a sermon delivered by a pastor who wasn’t in the room.
Once churchgoers began to accept preacher-on-the-screen, the door opened to satellite campuses. Typically a megachurch rents or renovates a space in another part of the city and beams its pastor’s teaching into that venue. Satellites allow one pastor to teach in many locations. He can reach more people, relieve congestion at the main campus and shorten the drive for many attendees.
But why stop at the city limit? Some megachurches are planting satellite campuses in other cities and states. This trend will continue and accelerate.
By 2062 denominations as we know them will be gone – replaced by about 200 “mother churches” with tens or even hundreds of thousands of members worshipping in satellite and microchurches in thousands of cities across the globe.
No denominations? You heard me. Since 1517, churches have branded themselves around denomination. But the old brands have died before – and they’re dying again. In 2062, churches will brand themselves around their teaching pastors (see I Cor. 1:12):
- 1600s brands: Calvinist, Puritan, Anabaptist, Quaker, etc.
- 1800s brands: Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Church of God, etc.
- 2000s brands: Joel Osteen, Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, etc.
By 2062, America will have about 200 well-known preachers. These men will be the new brands. They’ll all possess three key gifts: 1) God’s spirit, 2) amazing communication skills, and 3) ambition. These men will establish satellite campuses and microchurches in every city and town in America. Their messages will be so compelling and so widely distributed they will make mediocre preaching obsolete. That quality gap will drive many churches-on-the-corner out of business.
These changes may sound horrifying to you, but in 50 years they will be the norm. And they will bring many advantages:
- Consistency. In 2062 when a couple is transferred from Kansas City to Milwaukee they won’t have to leave their church behind. They’ll simply find Pastor Joe Smith’s satellite congregation in Milwaukee. The people around them will be different, but everything else will be the familiar. Same thing when you’re traveling – you can meet in “your church” and hear “your pastor” whether you’re in Seattle or Savannah. It’s the McDonalds-ization of church – consistent quality wherever you go.
- Efficiency. One great communicator will be able to reach many more people. Imagine if Charles Spurgeon or D. L. Moody could have preached in 1000 cities at a time. Pastors will be able to expand their reach and establish new congregations at a fraction of the cost of building brick-and-mortar locations.
- More money for mission. Churches currently spend an obscene amount on their buildings. Satellite and microchurches are cheap – which will free up funds for mission and service to others.
- Specialization. Today’s preachers face the impossible task of teaching new, growing and mature believers with one sermon. But in 2062 some preachers will specialize. I can even see the day when entire congregations are targeted groups of believers based on maturity or calling.
So, what will these innovations mean for the church and its men?
- We’ll need a lot fewer preachers. Future Christians will place the emphasis on sermon quality, rather than having the minister in the room.
- Even as the demand for preachers plummets, the need for “campus pastors” is going to explode. These men will function more as chaplains; caring for people’s needs, organizing small groups and keeping their flocks healthy. They’ll answer people’s questions and point them to Jesus. These men are described in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. Seminaries should begin preparing overseers, not just preachers.
- Small group ministry will become even more important than it is today, as the worship service itself become more impersonal.
- Microchurches and satellite campuses will have to cooperate if they want to offer expensive programs like youth and children’s ministries in various cities.
Overall I believe the shift away from denominations and churches-on-the-corner will be good for men, for a number of reasons:
- Men will have more opportunities to get involved. Each small church will need an overseer, and most of these will be men (or couples).
- Churches will be less “preacher driven.” Since the local body lacks a paid professional leader, laymen will have to step up and take responsibility, much as they did in the early church (as the Mormons do today).
- Satellite campuses often use rented space, which need set up and tear down. Men have traditionally spearheaded these efforts.
- There will be less discontent with the quality of the preaching. For men, sermon quality is paramount.
- Men will get more personal attention from their campus pastor or group leader. And since he doesn’t have to prepare a weekly sermon, he’ll have more time to disciple his men.
So what do you think of these predictions? I’d welcome your comments below.