What will a fresh Christianity look like in America?
First, it will have multiple faces, not just a few bearing denominational labels like Presbyterian and Baptist or styles like Pentecostal. Some faces will be familiar, some not.
Yes, we will see Sunday worship, with people sitting in pews facing a preacher and singing hymns. But that Sunday paradigm will cease to draw the big numbers or to justify a primary claim on funding.
Where it continues, Sunday worship will have less denominational flavor and more interaction among local constituents. Traditional resources like prayer books and hymnals will give way to local idioms and creative resources. Leaders will be locals, not hires from afar. They will be both ordained and lay, probably younger than today's cadre of middle-aged clergy, and not beholden to the traditions of national denominations.
Sunday worship will cease to define the faith community. People will connect with each other in multiple ways, from neighborhood circles to online venues to special interests like a particular mission thrust. There will be less focus on uniformity and consistency, and more freedom to see what emerges from the stewpot.
I foresee less focus on institutions led by trained experts, and more attention to fluid relationships facilitated by assertive and visionary leaders. These leaders will be gifted in personal suasion and in technology, and their work will be to nurture a relational context, not to preserve denominational tradition.
Look for less focus on familiar forms of authority like the Bible and ecclesiastical tradition. Instead, Christianity 2.0 will move away from expertise-based systems and arguments over right opinion, and focus more on creating circles of friends seeking God's presence and help, both in daily life and in the world beyond personal experience. Bottom line: less intellectualism, more intuition.
I don't foresee a sudden outbreak of unanimity and harmony. We remain, after all, flawed and broken people. But because we will be operating on a personal level rather than an institutional one, with little control or power at stake, I think we will function with less friction and less need to exclude.
As our lives get more global in scope, I think we will see more ministries serving local needs and yet linked to a larger movement, and fewer symbolic, institutional and top-down gestures like ordination decisions.
Faith communities will have little need for funds, unless they choose to seek a bricks-and-mortar presence. Their first instinct, however, won't be to build, but to engage a diverse and growing community of people seeking personal health and transformation of life. Kitchen tables will matter more than marble altars.
Money will still be given — more than ever, I anticipate — but it will go toward external mission and mutual support, such as help in emergencies and with joblessness, and not for institutional maintenance.
The faith community will be highly emotive, filled with shared joy and shared sorrow, and experiences like remorse and yearning. Constituents will show less caution and reserve because they will know each other and be drawing strength from each other.
Constituents will argue less and share more; they will be less concerned about control and more eager to find common ground.
Such a fresh Christianity will be far more rewarding than the fear-driven, change-resistant, inward-looking institutions we have now. Faith circles will create more positive buzz, present a friendlier and less arrogant face, attract more interest and transform lives.
In other words, I think we are nearing the end of a bleak and self-destructive period that we will wonder why we endured it for so long.
© 2012 Religion News Service
© 2015 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers