It’s a question most people think about, but not many people even attempt to address.
What will my Church or ‘The’ Church look like in 10 or 20 or 50 years time?
The challenges for the Church at large are huge. An ageing population increased marginalisation within society, a public perception of irrelevance, inter-denominational differences and sometimes prejudices, the erosion of some fundamental truths, public media embarrassment of well known Christian leaders in sin, we could go on….
Churches that seem to be with it in terms of the modern style of their services, lighting, live contemporary music, the creation of a brand around the name of the Church and the use of all media, including video streaming, do very well.
Churches that also seem to do well are ones which might focus on supplying the needs of particular social groups, young families, missional communities providing small mid week groups to solve problems, focus on a hobby or provide a social service usually through friendship and fun.
Then there are the Churches that create a niche for themselves. I read recently of an American Church whose congregation was buying up medical insurance debt in their community and writing it off. This effectively released sick community members of thousands of dollars of debt that they couldn’t afford to pay off themselves. That caught the attention of the news media and the whole community viewed the Church in a very positive light. Over $10 million of debt was bought and written off.
More local to home is I61 Church in North Wales (www.i61.org) who for the last few years has run a community fundraiser. They invite their town to vote on worthy causes and then over six weeks, bake cakes, wash cars, provide haircuts – what ever they can do to raise money, and then distribute it to those worthy causes. To date they have raised and given away over £100,000. What’s interesting in this case was the local paper ran the vote and i61 was featured in the paper on an almost daily basis during the six weeks of fundraising and everyone came to the giving service, where cheques were given out to community groups from the Church.
When the Church engages in the latest fad, technology or media platform ‘we the church’ often frown upon the prospect of descending to such depths. Sometimes our own prejudice towards non-Traditional means becomes the very barrier to our growth.
Within five years, 5G mobile technology will be everywhere. This will mean super fast mobile downloads, making fix line connection internet less relevant. You’ll be able to setup a wifi hotspot with a sim chip in your home office or car. It will mean Church services will be much easier to stream. Mutli-Camera streaming from a Church will be the norm, controlled from a phone or an iPad. Voice activation to your Virtual Home assistant will also become more and more prevalent, talking to Siri, Alexa, Cortana & Bixby will allow much more control over ‘connected devices’ in the home. From switching lights on, to closing blinds or curtains, you’ll also be able to remotely open a door for a delivery or a waiting friend as well as have smart monitoring of your boiler, so the repair man is scheduled at the hint of a problem.
These virtual assistants already analyse a considerable number of things you do. Things you like to buy online, the most frequent routes you drive and the people you speak to the most. Internet content has been ‘personalised’ for years, being tailored to your internet searches. The next step is more pervasive, as your virtual assistant will be given more power to ‘help’ us. Automatically sending a birthday present to a friend, making suggestions for meals to help you keep to a diet.
Within 10 years, you’ll struggle to walk through a Mega Shopping Mall (with the demise of the high street), without your virtual assistant informing you of a tailored deal. For example, you’ll walk near a travel agent, and they will know your proximity, your virtual assistant will inform you that the holiday to Rome you were looking at recently carries a 10% extra discount if you walk into the store your in front of and confirm the payment.
This of course suggests our lives will be monitored to death and raises serious security and privacy issues. Most people think we should have as much control over our privacy as possible, but as the rise of social media has proved, people readily sacrifice privacy for convenience, most people are willing to be tracked and analysed for a better deal or a faster outcome.
In 50 years we’ll all be passengers of self driving electric vehicles, young people will have their phones integrated into glasses which project images onto their retinas. Paper money and cheques will be no longer and the average life expectancy will be 100 years old. This is of course dependant on no 3rdworld war !! People will be as happy to gather in a virtual online environment as they would be in real life. You’ll be able to have a meeting with the virtual representation of a friend or family member in a way that makes them almost indistinguishable from their warm blooded form.
Within 50 years every aspect of our diet and health will be monitored, the NHS will not exist as we know it now. If it exists at all it will be an emergency only service. Society will become healthier as the technology we use, suggests what food to each, how much exercise we should take, will encourage forms of stress relief and make finding the items we want and need, so much easier and as instantaneous as possible.
For the Church, a person could literally experience any kind of service live with an Augmented Reality Headset and some bio-mechanical feedback built into their clothing, a young professional could stand in the middle of the crowd for Hillsongs morning service in Australia, then after 10 minutes jump across to C3 Saturday night worship in America…. What happens to the spending habits, like the generation of a tithe, the sponsorship of a Child, the commitment of a house group meeting. Those fleeting moments of personal interaction at work, within families and at Church will have the most pressure placed on them as our societies are force fed increasingly pervasive forms of technology.
Ultimately the work of God through the Holy Spirit will draw people to Christ. When a society prays, something happens, when tens of thousands of Christians burn the mid-night oil for the communities around us, we will see change. Regardless of the new technology, the bombardment on our souls ……..
So how will you prepare ? What will you do ? Will you embrace or reject the coming wave of technology. The final shock is everything I have written is available in an embryonic form TODAY.