I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. To make matters worse, I stink at Fantasy football. I think Astrology is a crock (although I do read my "fortune" in those delicious, little cookies and now know that my lucky numbers are 4,16,19 and 24.) So with those awkward qualifications in place here are my predictions for Christianity over the next ten years.
1. Economic strain will force churches to go primal.
With a national dept that is catapulting toward the unstoppable, it's only a matter of time before the United States goes bankrupt and the "new" new reality hits Americans and American churches like never before. I am convinced that the current recession is just an appetizer to the main course of soup lines, increased joblessness and the impending bankruptcy of the United States.
I'm no economist, but I can do Kindergarten math. Financing two wars + universal health care + a government that is growing faster than a baseball player on steroids = probable bankruptcy, not just for the nation, but for a lot of Americans and the ministries they support.
Is this inevitable? Of course not! Congress could choose to attack the deficit and get this nation right side up before it's too late. But, even if they don't, is this all bad news? No! I believe that, if or when the economy of America collapses, that many churches and ministries will go primal in their purpose, priorities and programs. Bigger and better church buildings will become a thing of the past and loving one's neighbor by engaging, serving and introducing them to the Lord Jesus Christ will become central to the focus of thriving churches.
In his book Primal: Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, Mark Batterson writes, "Our generation needs a reformation. But a single person won't lead it. A single event won't define it. Our reformation will be a movement of reformers living creatively, compassionately, courageously for the cause of Christ. This reformation will not be born of a new discovery. It will be the rediscovery of something old, something ancient. Something primal."
Hooah! Count me in Captain Batterson sir!
In light of shrinking donations churches and parachurch ministries will be forced to re-evaluate the reason for their existence. The ones that survive, and then thrive, will have the advancement of the gospel through peer-to-peer evangelism and love-your-neighbor campaigns as their new bull's eye.
Pastors, youth pastors and ministry leaders of all stripes will scour the New Testament, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to rediscover their calling. Armed with "the weapons of righteousness" in their right hands and in their left, ministry leaders will become elemental in their focus and re-engineer their churches to look more and more like the book of Acts and less and less like the typical church of the first decade of the 21st Century.
2. The new spirituality will leave "that old time religion" in the dust.
According to the book UnChristian 40% of those between the ages of 16-29 in America consider themselves outsiders to the Christian faith. That's up from 23% among baby boomers! The historic Christian faith is losing trajectory with the younger generation and is being replaced by an "all roads lead to God" type of quasi-spirituality. This kind of philosophy is more eastern than western and more Buddhist than Christian. And, in my estimation, this spiritual point of view will accelerate across every corner of the United States over the next ten years.
Just two years ago I had the opportunity of leading a reality series called Gospel Journey Maui with a Mormon, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Seventh Day Adventist and an evangelical. Most of these participants were in their late teens or early twenties. Instead of tribal challenges we tackled tough issues like the existence of God, the problem of evil and the purpose of life. We had amazing conversations on a boat, at the top of a volcano, on the beach, and, finally, in a leper colony. Every participant shared what they believed from their religious point of view. I listened, learned, asked questions and, toward the end of every episode, shared what the Bible had to say about that particular subject.
What surprised me throughout the week of filming was that, other than the evangelical and the Muslim participants, every one of these young people had developed some altered, watered-down, Americanized version of the religion they claimed to follow. Each one had dressed their individual religion with whatever accessories he or she saw fit. Most of them presented their beliefs with a kind of "this is true for me but not necessarily for you" qualification. It became clear to me that they were more alike than different in their worldview, even if their religions differed on the finer points. This overarching spirituality was really the one religion that united most of them at their philosophic core. And it is the same spiritual philosophy that will dominate in the next decade.
This belief system is hard to nail down doctrinally because there is no formal creed. But it has something to do with being nice, going green and tolerating others. The only thing that won't be tolerated is any belief system that claims to be the exclusive way to God. I believe that this will lead to a growing tension between those who espouse this philosophy and those who embrace the historic Christian faith. This inevitable tension leads to my third prediction for Christianity and evangelism over the next ten years.
3. Evangelism will become a hate crime in America.
Maybe evangelism will be considered a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony, but I'm convinced that sharing one's faith, with the intention to convert that person to Christianity, will be outlawed in the good ole' US of A. The First Amendment will be "contextualized" for a postmodern culture by postmodern judges and, as a result, any speech or actions that seem intolerant will be considered intolerable.
Is there anything less tolerant than telling someone that they are on the highway to hell unless they change their way of thinking (i.e. "repent") and put their faith in Christ alone for the salvation of their souls? Strip away all of the fancy trappings, snappy gospel tracts and cool conversation openers and that's exactly what evangelism is. Even when we say it nice we will be told not to say it twice. Why? Because we will be sharing a message that points to Jesus as "the way and the truth and the life" to a generation that has no patience for narrow minded thinking. And does it get any more narrow minded than to declare Jesus alone as the narrow path that leads to life everlasting? As one sage put it, "All roads lead to God…most to His judgment, one to His forgiveness."
Two millennia ago in the Roman Empire if you said "Jesus is Lord" you were dangerously close to signing your death warrant. Jews thought Christians were blasphemous because they were assigning deity to a man. Romans thought Christians were treasonous because the man they were assigning deity to was a poor Jewish carpenter and not the mighty Emperor of Rome.
The same brand of treasonous blasphemy that got Christians killed thousands of years ago will get Christians arrested in America over the next ten years. Hate speech will be the law that triggers the trials. As Alan Sears, President of the Alliance Defense Fund, once told me, "The persectution of the 21st Century will be prosecution."
A milder form of this persecution is happening right now in secular universities and Hollywood studios. How many evangelical freshmen in philosophy classes across America have been taunted by bowtie wearing, atheistic professors? Too many to count! How many unflattering caricatures of evangelizing Christians been painted in movies and television shows? Too many to count! And when the ideals of the secular university and Hollywood studios trickle down to the working class, a legal predisposition against evangelism (aka "proselytizing") will be the result.
But maybe that's just what the American church needs…a swift kick in the "but I preach the gospel without words" to trigger the actual proclamation of the gospel to friends, family, neighbors and strangers. Maybe when evangelism becomes illegal we will do more of it.
I love my job now but I think I'll love my job even more over the next one hundred and twenty months. As the President of Dare 2 Share Ministries, an organization that mobilizes teenagers for peer-to-peer evangelism, I may get to, not only train teenagers to please God by sharing their faith, but to promote something illegal at the same time! When teens begin to realize that they could get thrown in jail for sharing their faith it could lead to an unstoppable movement of relational, relentless and rebellious evangelists who sweep the nation with acts of love and the message of Christ!
Maybe I'll get to start a prison ministry as a result…from the inside.
4. Missions organizations will work together for the fulfillment of THE Cause!
What has been known for three hundred years as "The Great Commission" will get rebranded as "THE Cause." Why? Missions organizations will realize that the TGC term was popularized by missionaries centuries ago with the express purpose of mobilizing young people for world missions. As mission leaders realize that most Christian young people have no clue what The Great Commission is they will begin to reframe the call of Jesus to "make disciples of all nations" as a cause rather than a commission. Because it is no mere cause it will be called THE Cause.
More and more of these organizations will begin to synthesize strategies, coordinate efforts and share resources to get the last and lasting mandate of Jesus accomplished. As they do their efforts will be exponentially accelerated as key organizations push the giant flywheel of world evangelization in the same direction.
Missions work will become more and more about training indigenous people to contextualize and evangelize their own people rather than missionaries seeking to do all of the evangelism themselves. We see the apostle Paul switching to this tactic midway through his missionary career.
When Paul evangelized in Ephesus Acts 19:8, he went into the Synagogue and preached the gospel there. This was his usual approach when coming into a new city. As a result of this strategy several Jews in Ephesus trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior. But in verses 9-10 Paul changes his tactics. He took the people who had trusted in Jesus at the synagogue to the School of Tyrannus, a local community college, and trained them every day for two years so that "every Jew and Greek in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord."
How did every person in this vast region hear the gospel in such a short time? The men and women the apostle Paul equipped at the School of Tyrannus evangelized everyone in the province of Asia! They were able to do collectively in two years what the great apostle could not do his entire life, reach every person in such a large region with the gospel!
As mission organizations take hold of this School of Tyrannus strategy they will see the same results as Paul did. Entire countries will be evangelized by their own countrymen as missionaries focus on mobilizing (inspiring, equipping and deploying) those they lead to Christ to make disciples as opposed to trying to do all of the disciple making themselves.
Churches and youth groups in America will get in on the action too. Effective stateside ministries will focus more and more on seeking to be Schools of Tyrannus that train their people to reach their spheres of influence with the gospel as opposed to just inviting them out to "the synagogue" (church, youth group, outreach meeting) so that the person upfront can do the work of evangelism for them. This approach will lead to the exponential spread of the gospel in America and across the world, which leads to my final prediction for the next decade.
5. An army of youth evangelists will unleash holy havoc across the globe.
To bolster this worldwide evangelism effort, I believe that God will raise up an army of youth evangelists (both in and out of high school) who will embrace the gospel as THE Cause and spread it to the ends of the earth both online and face-to-face. The average teenager has over one hundred online and face-to-face friends and, according to one survey, these teenagers have one hundred times more influence on their friends than a stranger does.
As Christian teenagers are equipped to evangelize their sphere of influence in compelling ways that gospel will spread in powerful ways. As a result even more persecution will take place. This will inspire aligned and united missions organizations to mobilize persecution-hardened, cause-inspired young people for global outreach. As some in Thessalonica said about the early Christian evangelists in Acts 17:6 they will say about these young world changers, "These…who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here…"
In ten years I believe there will be disciple-multiplying teenagers in every one of the 67,342 high schools and middle schools in America. The coming, inevitable revocation of The Student Bill of Rights (a bill signed into law by Bill Clinton which gives students the rights to evangelize on campus) will only inspire more teenagers to engage in reaching others with the controversial message of the gospel.
Youth groups and churches will begin to grow as a result of new converts being added to their rosters at a rapid rate. These churches will start to gauge their effectiveness, not by how many people go to their meetings, but by what percentage of them came to Christ as result of their personal evangelism efforts.
A FINAL DISCLAIMER
What makes me qualified to make these predictions? Other than the fact that I once ran into George Barna at the airport, absolutely nothing. Sure I used to be a pastor a church and currently train teens to live THE Cause I'm pretty much just a guy with a Bible and a blog. I could be totally wrong about what is going to happen to Christianity and evangelism over the next decade. But, even if half of my predictions come three quarters true, this has huge implications for the church, youth ministry and world evangelism.
Talk to me in ten years and you can either slap me in the face or pat me on the back.