No one doubts that steady change is happening in worship styles, motivations for participation, sizes of congregations, and themes that connect meaningfully with the unchurched. What we do not know is which of these shifts will lead to the biggest impact – and what those implications will be.
Eddie Gibbs, longtime professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies, is one of the few observers of today’s church who is highly qualified to make savvy guesses about how things will unfold. I recently re-read his 2009 book Church Morph: How Megatrends Are Reshaping Christian Communities, impressed at the helpfulness of his insights.
- I like the shifts he identifies that have led to what many call the Post-Christendom era. They include consumerism, spiritual exploitation, delayed adulthood, and individualism.
- I don’t agree that “the megachurch movement is largely a boomer-generated phenomenon” (page 91) because the generation that follows is creating new and often faster growing large churches. But I do think his analysis of Willow Creek’s REVEAL self study is insightful in showing how a highly structured and programmatic church is seriously trying to morph. I also think he pegged a trend accurately in what he calls “the decentralized cluster approach” (page 121).
- I think he rightly acknowledges the role that worship styles play in today’s church, both its expression and its message. He underscores the underlying theme of fuller congregational expression as the direction of most “alternate worship” today, as he calls it.
He generously credits Leadership Network as a catalyst in stimulating new networks today. He also tries to bring clarity to the term “missional” and also to the now fragmented emerging church movement.
His overall conclusion is that the rising generation is looking for a church “that is less program-oriented and event – focused, and more relational, empowering, incarnational and community engaged.” Time will tell but I think he is right.