The Future of the Church
What is the future of the church? Where is the church of the twenty-first century heading? What will the church be like in the days to come? I recently found notes from a sermon shared by my mentor, Dr. Paul E. Paino, in June of 2000. As I read the outline, I was amazed by how prophetic and applicable they are not only for the church today, but also for the future.
1. The church is facing a serious shift in family values.
In 2000, when Pastor Paino preached this message, fifty-six percent of adults were married. In 1972 seventy-five percent of adults were married. There are many single parents in churches today and there will be even more in the future. There will be many children who’ve had a negative example of marriage modeled to them by their parents and others. We must be ready to minister to these folks and not simply blast them from our pulpits. They need truth and grace as they face the future (Colossians 4:4-6).
2. Commitment will become a lost virtue.
Commitment in general is at an all-time low. We are not committed to local businesses, one another, our marriages or the church. It’s difficult to find people who are truly committed to the local church – in attendance, service or tithing. This is and will continue to be frustrating to pastors. Remember, Elijah also experienced frustration, discouragement and despair. Like Elijah, we will at times feel completely alone and must hear the voice of God clearly to have the strength to press on (1 Kings 19).
3. The church will disregard human responsibility.
Sin will no longer be called sin, but sickness. Sadly, many churches have already started to adopt this view. There is no difference between the world and the church, virtually no standards at all. We must take care when dealing with this not to impose legalism on people. There are certain restrictions the Holy Spirit wants to give all of us, but He must be the one who brings conviction, and not us (John 16:8 and Romans 14:5).
4. The church will follow the world instead of leading.
We see this in morality, culture, political correctness, and fads. As the world goes, so goes the church. The church should be leading the world and not the other way around. If we are to be a true New Testament church, we must seek God for his direction and lead the way again. The testimony of the world should be, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6).
5. Social and cultural groups will continue to divide the world.
Things we thought would bring people together have clearly failed. There is more of a divide than ever with regard to race, religion, social status, gender, economics, etc. Only “in Christ” can there ever be unity. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
6. Para-church organizations will diminish.
That is, those ministries and organizations that work outside the framework of the local church. Can you imagine if all the support going to para-church organizations went to the local church? What the church could accomplish! Read “Unleashing the Church” by Frank Tillapaugh.
7. The church will refuse to recognize absolute truth.
There will be a rationalization of disobedience to the will of God. We see this today like never before. We rationalize the Word of God to fit our cultural practices or societal norms. Remember, “There is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
8. There will be a return to more traditional behavior.
Casualism has damaged productivity and respect. It has encouraged disrespect for leadership and authority. We must not get caught up in what is popular at the time.
9. Church leaders will realize that glitz, hype and showmanship don’t work.
People are hungry for a deep relationship, encounter and experience with the Holy Spirit, not more entertainment. They long for a true encounter with God, a real revival sent by him, not parlor tricks from the platform. We will once again see the church return to the altar. We’ll begin to see the altars filled with people seeking the face of God once again.
10. The church will be forced to become active in ministry.
The church must move from inward ministry to outward. If we continue to focus inwardly, the church will die. We must go out into the highways and byways, where the people are. The church must mobilize for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). The Dead Sea is dead because there is no outlet. In order for the church to flourish, it must minister outside itself (Acts 1:8).
11. The church will face a period of persecution.
The church has always flourished during times of persecution. The twenty-first century church is no different. Jesus, speaking of the end of the age said, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). It’s coming, but are we ready for it? Will we remain faithful?
12. The church will experience a period of renewed focus.
The good news is, God’s people will return to focusing on eternity, and not the temporal. The church will also have a renewed focus on the spiritual; to seek first the face of God and not worry about what the world thinks. It was Jonathan Edwards who prayed, “Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.”
13. There will chasm between the church and the world.
There will come a time, near the end, when there will begin to be a clear, drastic and distinct difference between the church and the world, the believer and the non believer, the righteous and the unrighteous and those who serve God and those who do not. The Bible says, “So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (Malachi 3:18).
We’re admonished in scripture,
“Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believes with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?
For you are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).