A brave old world
I remember the first time I went to the big new ‘super market’ on the edge of town. The experience became an adventure! Before long my home town was ringed by out of town stores like some modern fortified citadel protected by its discounted security and assurance of ever present goods provided for my benefit. I, with everyone else, was locked into a new serfdom to modern day overlords who demanded my regular tribute for the goods I ‘need’.
Now these fortifications of our suburban culture have provided us not just the safety of provision, but the opportunity to worship at the out of town ‘mall’, the USA styled cathedrals of consumerism. A new destination where I can mix with the congregation of consumers without fear of personal connection or commitment. The banner on entering my nearest edifice proudly pronounces, “where you can find yourself” … It seems shopping has become our own mystic and individual spiritual journey to self realisation and fulfilment.
Things are changing significantly. People are abandoning these gods and looking for a local expression of ‘faith’. The ‘hereasey’ of Lidle an Aldi has become a threat to the orthodoxy. Mega out of town is dying while local and community is on the rise!
The reality is that the mall and out of town is slowly losing favour.
The declaration of the death of the mall is an overstatement, but there is a trend that must be recognised. Many malls will remain open, but almost new mega-stores are being placed on hold or cancelled. The trends are unmistakable and unavoidable. Only those who deny reality will fail to note the implications of this issue that we see referred to day after day in the news.
A brave new church.
Dare I suggest a relationship between the decline of the supers store and the Mall and the future of the church? I will anyway! I know the internet has impacted shopping adversely for the many brick and mortar stores, but something even bigger is at play.
what lies behind this change has implications for the Church too. The ‘passing’ and current generation has been the generation of big and have. The suburbia generation (I think they are called the boomers) are the high impact, impress generation. Until now these people have been leading the new churches too. Most large ‘mega-church’ buildings were constructed by and for this generation.
I suspect this movement is passing. Generation X ( I’m pretty sure i squeeze into it, but only just) and, even more, the Millennials, are seeking more intimacy and community. They are the Starbucks and Costa generation. They are the key movers in social media, which has fostered a new online intimacy and despite the protestation of the boomers, Facebook can be intimate.
Among the Christian Xs & Millennials there is a desire for greater intimacy in church. They are in many ways triggering a new community revolution. They are even suspicious of the Big Networks of churches they are inheriting. Whilst respecting and even admiring the ageing ‘Kingly’ leaders they hold a revolutionary doubt like all leaders of new movement. Their idealism may be as blinding as it may be visionary. Though they may not have an explicit aversion to large and impressive, neither are they attracted to them. Implicit in their vision is the desire for community and influence through relationships. Interestingly, many boomers are attracted to the heart of this brave new church. The attraction of touching a real life face to face. The attraction of connection and influence restored to a once revolutionary generation of boomers who feel the rekindling and call of a new adventure.
The Future these churches
There will still be large malls twenty years from now and there be large church facilities whose buildings can accommodate thousands or more in one service. There will also be a discernible difference in churches in next the ten to twenty years. I am a staunch believer in the influence of size, but large churches will not need to have large facilities. More will have smaller worship centers and multiple venues, many with multiple gathering times and days. A new generation of leaders will build communities of communities.
This trend towards smaller has already begun even in the largest of churches. Churches of impressive size will never admit to “downsizing”, but increasingly they talk of multiple campuses and locations. The Xs and Millennials are pioneering new locally connected communities that can multiply and the ‘multi’ campus is the response of the large and mega church. Only time will tell if the impressive current church can adapt in time to attract the connected Millennials who have time on their side.
A Boomer church leader looks at a small building (500 capacity?) and see limitation and restriction. They see the limitations of size and space and the ‘unimpressive’ possibilities. X & Millennial leaders look at the same building and see opportunity, intimacy, connection and so influence. They think multiple venues, multiple services, and multiple days, they think beyond the busy Sunday crowd.
I will be fascinating to watch this future unfold. Large church buildings will yield to smaller church buildings and other venues that aren’t “churchy” at all. Will the Boomers be flexible and adapt or even be lead by the X and Millennial generation? Will this brave new church hold to the courage of its conviction or will the security of ‘BIG’ begin to appeal along with the need to impress? Can they relate more widely into networks of like minded leaders or will they become ‘tribal leaders’ of little kingdoms? Perhaps my role as an X Gen leader is to bridge the gap and model the change that will inspire the millennial leader to hold the best of the old while inspiring the release of the brave new influential church.