After almost eight years of leading a ”church laboratory”, trying to find new ways of how church has to be in order to survive the spiritual whirlwinds of change that are still drawing over Europe, I’m sometimes asked: ”So – what are your conclusions?! What does the future church have to look like?” Well, there’s an awful lot to be said about that, but one of my most important observations is as follows: The church of the future has to consist of humble congregations.
Too many churches come across arrogant. They might not be, and I’m sure they don’t want to be. However, to non-church-goers it easily appears that churches tend to gather perfect people. Folks who have their life in control, and are always nice. Prospering people. Know-it-all's who can explain even the most difficult questions of life. In their gatherings and sermons you learn how you’ll become even more perfect. However, I know quite a number of people who find a perfect world pretty unpleasant, irritating, even repulsive. Why? Because they can’t relate to it at all. Deep inside they feel more like losers who’ll never flourish. They bear around too many tough ”Why?”-questions – and all those people who can explain everything right away are simply scary. It’s easy to see that they can’t stand the gap between their own messy lives and faultless, sort of proud, Christianity. Well, I forgot to mention that many “losers” don’t even believe in perfects worlds or shiny Christians anymore. They consider it hypocrisy.
So, as far as I see it, the church of the future probably won’t be known as much for preaching grace to the sinners outside. Instead, congregations need to re-learn how to experience grace inside, how to have mercy on the pews, among themselves with their own struggles, disappointments, brokenness. After all, church is not a beautiful Sunday masquerade, pretending as if there were no issues. There are issues. Lots of them. There is sin within the church. Too much. We need grace. Plenty of it.
The future church needs to relearn how to deal with our inadequacies in a life giving way. Future congregations will have to be humble enough to confess that we did not turn flawless the day of our conversion. We’re still earthly vessels (aren’t we?) in need of hope and healing. As Christ’s body we have to practice daily grace and mercy. I still recall one of our Christian Associates Connect gatherings when we were led through a spiritual exercise that eventually encouraged everyone to find a person we trust and confess our sins to each other. First it was humbling – but then it was a relieve beyond words. Hearing that others have similar issues; speaking it out without condemnation; receiving and granting forgiveness in Jesus’ name will always trigger tears of joy...
Why don’t we share more of our own experiences of being pardoned? Authentic stories of experienced grace and true forgiveness are compelling and liberating. Of course, confessions are embarrassing for perfect Christians. They’re humbling because it implies that there was some sort of thing, delusion, or iniquity to forgive. But that is not only what the church needs, it’s also something non-churchers can relate to: imperfect people.
A humble imperfect gracious community is fun and easy to connect with – and it’s one of the most appealing and powerful things the church has had to offer since Pentecost. Neither present nor future will change that.