Adapt or Die: How to Future-Proof Your Church

How churches engage in ministry is changing more rapidly than ever before. The continued exponential growth of technology, global collaboration, and growing disruptions caused by these developments will only continue to force ministries to adapt or die. Here are several ways that you can begin to “future-proof” your church.

Create a Sustainability Plan for Your Physical Church

As a result of the 2020 pandemic, most churches have become aware that, without a sustainability plan for their ministry expenses and, in particular, their physical structures, sudden disruptions can quickly have an immense negative impact on their finances. While Covid19 has been the most recent mass disruption, it is not the last that the church will see, and is likely not even the worst. It has been predicted for quite some time that a coming automation crisis will cause global job loss that greatly exceeds the loss caused by the pandemic.

The difference is that with Covid19, there has always been hope that a vaccine will eventually end the pandemic and return the job market to normal. In the case of the automation crisis, predicted to be in full effect by 2030, only increased innovation and mass job retraining will mitigate unemployment. What is worse is that the 12-22% automation unemployment rates that were predicted for the United States will only likely increase due to the pandemic. When business owners cannot count on having virus-free workers, they will quickly find solutions that help them to avoid the workers altogether, if possible.

What this means for the church is that congregations cannot rely on the passing of the plate in the local congregation to sustain their ministries long-term. They must now expand their reach, leverage their assets, minimize their overhead, and become centers of entrepreneurial creativity and innovation if they hope to secure the resources to survive.

Be Local AND Global

One of the ways that churches will build this sustainability is by expanding their user base. In recent history, it has been typical for congregations to identify and serve people in particular geographical areas. While this approach properly enacted has worked in the past, present and coming disruptions will make that way of doing ministry nearly impossible. Instead, congregations will need to shift from simply serving local and regional areas to deploying global efforts as well. 

Churches that want to survive the next decade must begin to focus their attention on how they can engage people outside of their geographical areas in both digital and virtual reality environments. More than 3.5 billion people are on the internet, and that number is growing daily. Over two billion self-identify as gamers. Increasingly, virtual reality and augmented reality platforms are being popularized by major organizations like Facebook, Sony, Google, HTC, Apple, and Microsoft. Such efforts will only increase globally.

The church is historically one of the most consistent content creators in the world. Like businesses, churches have the opportunity to use the benefits of modern technology to scale their ministries in global environments; they must leverage tech to advance content that they are already creating.

Doing so expands their outreach and fiscal capabilities in ways that have never been explored in human history. 

Become Technologically Literate

The first step in churches expanding their global outreach will be increasing their staff and congregation’s technological literacy. To attempt this presumes that congregational leadership is already proficient at discipling their church members. Church leaders do not have to be experts, but they do have to know enough to avoid the pitfalls of ever-emerging technology. Understanding what technology is currently in development, considering its implications on congregants’ lives, and understanding how new technology can be utilized for effective ministry will increasingly be a requirement for congregational flourishing.

Increase Ethnic Sensitivity

Another area where the church will need to increase its global literacy regards issues surrounding ethnic sensitivity. A growing result of a globalized technological world is that people are now challenged to know more about the people that they engage with around the world. Engagement in new digital, augmented, and virtual environments will quickly turn congregations into intercontinental establishments. This will require shifts in how congregations communicate, preach, teach, provide care, and develop congregational strategic initiatives.

The congregation of the future will be multi-ethnic, and this will require new levels of training so that bonds are strengthened. Churches will need to be active in preventing local cliques from dominating missional objectives.

Encourage Diversity in Thinking

The greatest single resource that a church can have to future-proof itself is creativity via a diversity in thinking. Diversity of opinion arises when the church leverages the greatest assets it has in Christ: its people.  

The church of the future will not compete; it will create.  Congregations will do this by tapping into the contextual insights of their people, fostering enthusiasm for creativity in using the technological tools rapidly emerging. Churches that want to prosper will intentionally create strategic plans for investment in opportunities that will help to positively steward humanity and the cosmos. These plans will require that we see our congregants for what they are: divine caretakers of all creation, made in the image of God. By encouraging and fostering the gifts of those around us, the church will embark on collaborations that will benefit numerous organizations, including itself. 

Create Spiritual Agility Among Your Congregants

Additionally, and of critical importance, churches that want to future-proof themselves will strive to create ecclesiastical environments that promote spiritual agility among its membership. Evolving technological advancements and global disruptions will most certainly change theological perspectives in the emerging future. Training people to be able to quickly adapt to these circumstances will be of critical importance for their evolving mental, physical, and spiritual health and for allowing them to better grapple with questions of ultimate meaning. Developing leaders with the wisdom and vision for adaptation in such changing times will allow the church to grow in new ways while avoiding antiquated dogmas and fundamentalist neo-luddism.   

While it certainly is the case that many adjustments need to be made in the church universal to ensure its flourishing, taking these steps will advance the health and wellness of churches both immediately and long term. Such implementation may very well be the difference between whether a church adapts or dies in the future. 

Reality Changing Observations: 

  1. Of the six ideas listed above, which do you think is most important for churches to focus on, and why?
  2. In what other potential ways do churches need to prepare for the future, and why?
  3. In what practical ways have churches that you are familiar with made efforts to address continued exponential growth of technology, global collaboration, and the disruptions that they presently face?

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