I see the following types non-traditional churches emerging:
* Relationship-centered churches. These churches will be built on the notion that a church should exist for no other reason than to forge deeper human relationships. Churches of this ilk often begin valiantly, but in one to two years they typically run out of steam and disintegrate. The reason: They will be built upon a foundation other than Jesus Christ.
* Evangelism-centered house churches. In the New Testament, the purpose of evangelism was to build the church of the living God. Evangelism-centered churches have reversed this order. See Finding Organic Church? for a detailed discussion on the relationship between church planting and evangelism. Proponents of these kinds of churches exist in order to evangelize more effectively. As such, these churches will multiply as a strategy to gain more converts. But they will multiply far too rapidly (before they develop a solid foundation). Because these churches will be built on a very thin ecclesiology, most of them will disintegrate and burn out within two years.
* Small-is-beautiful churches. Many churches that survive past the two year mark will become no more than scaled-down (small-is-beautiful) versions of the traditional church with a hierarchical structure firmly in place. Aside from moving out of the building into the home, there will be very little that will distinguish them from the garden-variety traditional church.
* Biblical blueprint churches. These sorts of churches will be built on the idea that an ironclad blueprint can be extracted from the New Testament and mechanically followed. Instead of allow the functions, gifts, and ministries of the church to emerge organically out of life, members will be put into offices immediately in an attempt to conform to a “Biblical blueprint.” Most of these churches will devolve into elder-controlled churches. Their meetings will be stiff and perfunctory.
* Personality-centered churches. Led by a human personality, these churches will be part of their own narrow circle of networked churches headed up by a gifted leader. They will be narrowly elitist, laboring under the delusion that they are the only real game in town.
They will have their own exclusive vocabulary and clichés that no one outside the group can understand. They will speak disparagingly of other Christians, mocking and demeaning them as lacking the spiritual insight that they possess. Each church in the network will be little more than one mirror looking at another mirror.
Despite what he preaches, the gifted leader will draw disciples unto himself rather than to Christ. The leader will encourage hero worship. (This encouragement will never be verbally admitted.) Byzantine politics will be present as the leader’s disciples seek to win prominence with the leader. Various tests will be given to prove the disciples’ loyalty, not to Christ, but to the leader. This will naturally spawn “tattle-tailing” among the leader’s understudies, as each disciple fights to sit at the leader’s right hand.
The growth in these groups may be strong in the beginning. But slowly, members will begin to get disillusioned and leave. The “faithful” who remain to hold down the fort will become part of a very tiny movement with declining numbers. They will become a backwater in the Christian world. They will not appear on anyone’s radar screen, but will exist only in their own tiny universe.
Even though they will be sitting on the periphery of the periphery of Christianity, they will remain convinced they are the center of everything. They will have stepped into a black hole, and they will be out of touch with what God is doing in other places and with other people. The Lord will quickly move on from them. But tragically, few in the movement will have enough discernment to recognize it.
The Plymouth Brethren began as a beautiful work of God in the early 1800s. But as time went on, the law of unintended consequences kicked in with a fury. Elitism and sectarianism entered the bloodstream of the work. Swords were crossed, blood was drawn, and divisions were made. I don’t have a notebook large enough to list all the factions that this movement splintered into. The early Brethren excelled in Bible study (they produced some of the greatest Bible teaches in church history). But they scored poorly on Christian charity and tolerance for those who differed with them.
One faction of the Plymouth Brethren were known as the “Exclusives” or “Closed Brethren.” They derived this name because they held to the tenet that you could only have fellowship with them if you agreed with their doctrines. But that’s not all. If you had fellowship with anyone who disagreed with their doctrine, they would exclude you.
“Purity of doctrine” was the basis on which they gathered. So much so that if you merely associated with those who disagreed with Plymouth Brethren doctrine, you were guilty of embracing false doctrine.
If I’ve learned anything from the Plymouth Brethren, and other movements like them, it is this: If “perfect doctrine” is the basis for Christian unity, the Body of Christ will perpetually divide. God’s principle of unity is our common life in Christ and nothing more.
I said all that to tell you a story. The great evangelist D.L. Moody once attended an Exclusive Brethren convention in which the conference hosts put up a large banner in the conference room which read, “JESUS ONLY.” After one of the sessions was over, someone had left the conference room door open. While the conference attendees were sleeping, a wind blew into the doorway and knocked part of the banner down. The following morning, when everyone walked into the building, the sign read, “US ONLY.” The part of the banner that had the letters “JES” had been torn down.
Presumably, God was finding them out. “US ONLY” was the message they were unwittingly sending to the world. Sectarianism, elitism, and exclusiveness are like body odor. Everyone else can smell it except those who have it.
One of the outstanding marks of our Lord’s character is His radical inclusivity. When Jesus walked this earth, He despised the spirit of separatism, elitism, and self-righteousness. And He still does today. Hebrews 13:8, NKJV.
Consider the Lord’s words: “Whoever is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:50, NKJV. Yet not long after Jesus uttered these words, He said something that appears to be a contradiction. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” Luke 11:23, NKJV.
How do we reconcile these two statements?
Very simply. Jesus Christ was and still is radically inclusive. His purpose is to bring together, reconcile, and unite all people into Himself. Therefore, those who embrace a sectarian, exclusive, or elitist attitude are in conflict with the Lord’s unifying mission. The word to them is: “He who is not against me is for me.”
On the other hand, Christ’s radical inclusivity doesn’t equate accepting everyone—particularly those who seek to divide, exclude, and separate those whom the Lord receives. It’s that species of sectarianism that the Lord had in mind when He said, “He who is not with me is against me.” Meaning, “those who run contrary to my mission of including, uniting, and bringing together everyone into myself are working against me. It is these who scatter what I’m seeking to unify.” Regrettably, I see “personality-centered churches” doing this very thing in the days ahead.
* Christ-centered organic churches. Finally, I see a growing number of non-traditional churches that are truly organic and centered on the Lord Jesus Christ. He will be the focus of their sharing, ministry, songs, and conversations.
But more importantly, He will be exhibited by their conduct. The graciousness, kindness, humility, and inclusiveness that marks the character of Jesus will be evident among them.
These groups will explore fresh ways of knowing Christ through varied Christian traditions. They will receive the help of outside Christian workers. At the same time, they will be genuinely open to all of the Body of Christ. Not in pious rhetoric, but in reality. They will not deem themselves to be anything significant or special in church history. They will not obsess over their legacy nor their unique contributions to the Christian family. They will be content to live and die in obscurity.
As a result, God’s favor will rest heavily upon them. Perhaps without even realizing it, they will be His instruments for spreading the Revolution to mainstream Christians as well as to the lost.
For these groups will not only express Christ to one another, they will also display Him to the world. They will reengineer evangelism, displaying Christ’s love, compassion, and service to the lost. Like their Lord, these churches will become “the friend of sinners.” They will preach the gospel in deed, not only in word. In short, they will reclaim the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ to the world.
In addition to the above, I see a growing number of isolated Christians who will desire Body life, but because they live in small villages and towns, it will be extremely difficult for them to find others of like mind and heart. In most cases, their only option will be to relocate to a city where an organic church exists or to a location where it is viable to plant one.
by Frank Viola