Many experts have written effectively about how cities and urban areas are changing. A number of offline books and well-written articles detail how urban living church ministries have addressed cultural change. Numerous urban churches and mega-churches have developed new ministry models to reach their communities. Large churches are building Starbucks coffee shops in their lobbies and health club-quality family life centers on their growing campuses. Some churches now use their spacious lobbies as art galleries. Others have professional-quality light and laser shows in their sanctuaries. Many large churches employ a variety of staff members to lead a growing number of programs aimed at reaching the next generation. Many of these large, urban churches are successfully reaching the constantly evolving culture and the younger generations that have emerged from it.
However, most of the ministry models used by large, urban churches do not fit the context of smaller churches, nor are they feasible in more rural areas or small towns. Few resources are being developed to help small churches and churches in rural areas impact their changing communities. Though some small churches may question the validity of some of these innovative outreach methods, for the moment, let us assume that since churches are led by godly, Spirit-filled individuals who pray through their decisions, that these methods are appropriate in the right context. Even if we all agree with that assumption, the majority of churches in North America are too small to do those specific types of things effectively.
Regardless of available resources, small churches must not abandon the next generation to a life of spiritual and emotional pain without the hope that faith in Jesus Christ brings. Small churches must not abandon the next generation to an eternity in hell because the church cannot afford a Starbucks in the lobby or a laser light machine in the sanctuary. Small churches must find a way to reach the emerging generations. Small churches will have to learn new approaches without discarding their core values or theological distinctives. This will be a challenge, but it can be done.
After reading some of the more popular books on postmodern evangelism and church growth, leaders of small churches may be under the false impression they must toss out everything they practice and believe in and find some radical new way of doing church before they can reach the next generation. While many churches really do need to examine some of their methods and programs, they do not need to throw out everything and start over. Some well thought out adjustments in four key areas will allow small churches to reach out to the next generation effectively.
The first three areas to consider adjustments in are: helping the church regain its position as the social center of the community; helping the church regain its position as the ceremonial center of the community; and using the church’s facilities as an outreach tool. Though these three areas have been historically strong in most churches, they have begun to slip in effectiveness as the culture has become more secular. Church leaders need to consider any changes that might help them reverse the decline their churches may have experienced in these three areas.
I can already see some of my more “cutting edge” friends rolling their eyes and saying, “That is all just attractional evangelism and it will not be enough.” I am well aware that the three areas mentioned above attractional in nature and that it those changes alone will not be enough to reach the next generation. But remember, I said there were FOUR key areas that we need to consider changes in.
To reach significant numbers of postmoderns we must also deal with the fourth area of change, which is philosophical. Those philosophical changes have a number of practical applications that must also be discussed and considered if small churches want to reach the next generation. This fourth area will require a greater degree of change for churches and will therefore entail greater struggle. Some people refer to these philosophical changes, and their practical applications, as “missional evangelism.”
Some churches may choose not to implement the ideas from the fourth area at all. Though that may result in reaching fewer postmodern people, if the church implements at least some of the ideas of the first three areas, they will be reaching some postmodern people. Reaching some is better than reaching none, and sometimes churches can endure only so much change at one time.