by Aaron Earls
Christians should know where we have been (church history) and where we are now (being missional), but what about where we are headed?
Theologian, author, and speaker Leonard Sweet describes himself as a semiotician, “one who reads the signs of the times,” and believes the key to determining where those signs are pointing is to see where Jesus is. “He is the ultimate sign,” said Sweet. “He is there [in the future] before us.”
But Sweet, author of The Well-Played Life and The Greatest Story Never Told, said much of it is “connecting the dots and putting things together” that are happening in the church and culture. Recently, Facts & Trends caught up with Sweet to ask him about the church’s future.
Looking out now, according to Sweet, there are at least two major developments coming. With those shifts, he gave ways congregations and leaders could respond.
Shift: Pedestrian church
The first transition Sweet mentioned was a move away from megachurches drawing people to drive out into the suburbs, but rather churches that are truly part of their communities.
“This is the church you can walk to,” Sweet said. “It fits in its neighborhood.” Another word to describe the movement would be artisan churches. “Everything is artisanal these days,” explained Sweet. “It means homemade or homespun.”
Pedestrian churches are concerned about the success of their neighborhoods on a macro and micro level, said Sweet. They want to see the area flourish, as well as the individual neighbor succeed.
“Churches will need to shift their view of success,” said Sweet, “away from numbers and toward being authentic.”
Authentic churches have a compelling story for those around them. “It resonates with them,” he said. “An authentic story is like catnip to the culture.”
Localized, incarnational ministry will allow the pedestrian church inroads to the people in their neighborhood.
Shift: Unpopular church
Sweet does not see the popular opinion of the church improving any time soon. “We are in a post-Christian, if not, anti-Christian culture,” he said.
“We no longer have the home court advantage,” he said. “The crowd’s not cheering for us anymore.”
This further necessitates that Christians “start thinking like missionaries,” according to Sweet.
“The ultimate evangelism is aesthetics,” said Sweet, “the beauty of Jesus seen in me.”
That is best communicated in a new, old-fashioned way, according to Sweet – a story. “The new dream is not ‘success’ as many understand it, but rather living a storied life,” said Sweet.
In his view, “people are not concerned so much about your worldview as they are about your life story.”
Sweet was recently on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer to discuss semiotics, raising 22nd Century kids, The Gospel Project, and his book Jesus: A Theography.
Here’s a clip where Sweet and Stetzer discuss the future of the Christianity and, in particular, Protestantism.
Aaron Earls (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.