The closing of a year typically engenders a reflective look back and some prognostication for the next one. I would prefer to not look back at 2020; I can only handle so much masochism.
So here are our Top 4 Predictions for 2021 and beyond. Keep your rocks to yourself—we’re not prophets by any stretch—but I think these may have legs. This is much longer than our usual weekly emails—apologies for that in advance. Back to normal next week.
The first three here are obvious…
1. The Way Churches Communicate.
The pandemic has taken us way beyond the standard church announcements, the weekly lame Facebook plugs, and a sporadic blanket email or snailmail postcard. People will want more face-to-face (via video), more transparency and authenticity, and more exposure to leadership.
As we watched late night seasoned talk show hosts transform to low-tech smartphone videos from their homes and a peek inside how they live, they became a bit more real, approachable, and even more humble. Then when they slowly moved back to broadcasting in their studios, they still had no live audiences or guests, kept wearing casual Mr. Rogers’ sweaters, and seemed less canned in their banter with staff.
Now watch the evolution as they slip back into their several-thousand-dollars-suits and slowly fill their theater seats. I’ll keep watching but will miss the informality and sense of accessibility. But church leaders critically need those two qualities if they really believe in the “priesthood of all believers”—that all believers are “deputized” for service—and the church being the church wherever it is. It may work for the unreality of reality TV, but I fear it stunts the activistic yet relatable influence church leaders need.
2. The Way We Connect.
The Zoom Effect cannot be overstated. Small groups and communities were forced to video chat. But think back to how smaller cell meetings functioned. For instance, if your group met every other week, if you missed one meeting, it meant that you weren’t connecting with those people for a month. That doesn’t help to develop a sense of community.
But because video chats more easily fit into schedules (hey, we’re home and don’t have to go anywhere!), seeing your fellow groupmates is better than not being with them physically.
Some of you may remember office phone conferences in the days before video accessibility—those awkward pauses, stepping on each other verbally, not being sure who was speaking, and the inestimable inability to read facial expressions.
We’ve come a long way technologically. And although nothing can quite take the place of breaking bread in the same room with fellow pilgrims, it can work. My wife and I recently had a wine date with another couple via Zoom and ended up talking and laughing for three hours!
What if small groups met weekly via video and once a month had dinner together physically? We simply need to rethink how people connect.
3. The Way We Celebrate.
I don’t need to say much more here other than simply returning to only in-house church services is an obvious miss. Unless churches reconsider their online presence, they are missing the boat both in terms of connection and outreach.
Back in the day, pastors would take communion (eucharist, Lord’s supper) to shut-ins and those who couldn’t physically attend. In other words, they were bringing an element of the celebration or church service to the missing member. We need to rethink how we celebrate and the role live video can have.
Obviously, this is all dependent on certain income abilities for online accessibility. But what if churches wrestled with the idea of providing that for their lower income members? What if that became part of their annual budget? What if we built radical generosity into our church DNA from a stewardship and discipling perspective? Let’s just think differently about how to move everyone into the next decade and beyond.
4. The Birth Pangs of a Radical Transformation of Evangelicalism.
A split between those of a political/conservative bent and justice-oriented evangelicals will become inevitable. Over the next few years, a new wave will come with a fresh infusion of spiritual renewal and emphasis on merely doing the things that Jesus did. They will eschew the term “evangelical” and yet still reinforce the need for personal conversion that includes true spiritual formation with a unique blend of contemplative yet activistic and proclamatory service.
Though I’m certainly no expert in “revivals” and spiritual movements in the U.S., it seems that every 50-70 years there is a fresh move of God to reorient the Church and shake out the norms. From the Great Awakening in the mid 1700s, to the Second Great Awakening in 1800, to the Great Prayer Meeting Revival of the 1850’s, to Azusa in the early 1900s, to the Charismatic/Jesus Movement starting in the 1960s, it seems we are due for a reorientation and right-sizing of a creaking ship that has lost its bearings.
And remember this: movements of God typically make all of us a little uncomfortable.
Well, there you go…
...and we’ll try to remember to assess these at the end of 2021. Goodbye 2020 (thank you, Jesus…) and Happy New Year, friends!
Dave Workman | Elemental Churches