When people talk about developing a “long-term approach” to something they usually are not talking about the next 500 years. That seems a little too long for most of us. Yet with Christianity and even Judaism, every 500 years or so there is a reformation of sorts. If not a reformation a major shift in how organized religion operates.
Just take a look at our own history (biblical and otherwise) in roughly 500 year increments…
1000 BC- The Temple of Israel is constructed in Jerusalem which became the capital city and a major shift in how Israel worshipped.
500 BC- The temple is destroyed and Israel goes into captivity
0 BC- Jesus arrives and changes everything
500 AD- The fall of Rome and the beginning of monastic communities
1000 AD- The first split of Christianity between the Roman Church and Orthodox Church
1500 AD- Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation
2000 AD- ????
Phyllis Tickle puts it this way, “Every 500 years, Christianity reboots. Christianity goes into its attic, pulls everything out, and has a massive rummage sale. Every time this happens, Christianity emerges stronger than before—lighter, faster, cleaner. Rather than losing steam, it speeds up, becomes more resilient, more intense, more compelling.
What always emerges (also called the Great Emergence) is a profoundly new form of Christianity, which proceeds to spread across vast new areas of geographic and demographic space—with radical implications for politics, science, industry, social structure, and technology.”
Wow. Unfortunately, we are in the beginning stages of this new reformation or “emergence” of Christianity. This is the most difficult time in any shift, because things are uncertain and we don’t know how these transformations will impact us. It is a liminal period for the church. We aren’t what we used to be and we don’t know what we will become. We are like a caterpillar who has gone into the cocoon, we are changing but we aren’t there yet.
At Bethel, we have talked about the symptoms of the old model of church not working as well anymore. We have seen a decline in attendance of our own membership. Meaning, people still come to church, just not as often or every week. Also, we are trying to figure out why there are less young adults attending church than 20-30 years ago. There are other things as well, but these are the two visible signs that we have discussed openly at Bethel.
Asking the questions, “How do we grow younger” and “what will compel people to worship on a regular basis” is the realization that we need to engage in the beginning of this new reformation.
In another article, Tickle is asked this question…
Q: What will mainline denominations need to do to survive and thrive?
“If one were going to put one adjective to the Great Emergence (new reformation), and thereby one adjective to emergence Christianity, one would say ‘deinstitutionalized.’
I’m Episcopalian, and I hear with the same sorrow as my fellow Anglicans that we’re shutting parishes every month now in the United States in the Episcopal Church. That’s alarming.
It’s not just that Christianity is changing. It’s the whole culture. Have you looked lately at the number of Rotary Clubs that aren’t anymore or the number of Kiwanis Clubs that aren’t anymore? American Legion? VFWs?
Institutionalization is being leveled. One of the characteristics of emergence thinking (the next Reformation) is there’s a flattening out.”
Thought provoking, isn’t it? Like the Protestant Reformation, it wasn’t an overnight event. It took 20 plus years for the roots of the Reformation to set in and many more years for the fruit of the Reformation ripened. For us, the seed has been planted but we do not know what is going to sprout out of the ground.
What is important at this point is that we are engaged in the conversation and asking questions even if we don’t know the answers. Sticking our heads in the sand is not an option if we want the church to be around in 2050. Many churches in the past 20 years have closed for various reasons including not addressing the cultural and religious changes in our society. I am sure more churches will close because of the unwillingness to sail on the winds of change.
What do we do? First, don’t panic or worry. Christ is still in charge of the Church. Although Christ doesn’t change, the methods and ways we minister to others will evolve. I am not sure we would be comfortable going to church a thousand years ago. Things change but Christ doesn’t. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8
We don’t need to have everything figured out or have a complete church makeover either but we do need to keep asking questions and looking to Christ who will His Church through the next Reformation and beyond.