Strategy planning is not what it used to be.
There was a time when governments, businesses and even churches planned for the future as if what happened next would be a natural consequence of what had gone before.

Of course, this kind of linear thinking no longer applies.

Instead of assuming that the future will be like the present, we recognize that change is all around us and we try to ascertain trends that will impact what we will be doing five, 10 or 20 years from now – and sometimes it works.

Of course, most forecasters missed the impact of the personal computer, the Internet and social media, but we still try!

In a recent blog titled “5 Unexpected Factors That Change How We Forecast The Future,” Jamais Cascio suggests that although we often think about the future in terms of technological changes, we would do better to look at social, cultural and environmental changes. These are factors that are likely to significantly impact our best-laid plans.

He suggests five areas that should be considered, and I have thought a bit about how these might impact churches and judicatories.

First, climate.

Whether you believe in global warming or not, we are experiencing the impact of extreme changes in weather and in the environment.

Whether it is tornadoes in the southeastern United States, droughts in the Midwest, hurricanes in the Northeast or tsunamis in Asia, we are certainly more aware of the calamities that the climate can bring.

How does this affect Christians?

Increasingly, churches want to help those impacted by catastrophes. What does this mean for the allocation of financial resources and people power in the coming decades? What is your church going to give up in order to help with these needs?

Second, demographics.

The population of the United States is changing in many ways. More baby boomers are retiring, the birth rate is down, and soon we will be a nation of minorities.

Added to this is the fact that retired people are living longer and adolescence is lasting into the mid-20s for many young adults.

How will this affect the church?

One key consequence may be in the contributions and cash flow for congregations. 

Boomers have been good financial supporters of the church, but will this continue as they stretch their resources in order to meet the needs of a longer lifespan?

Will we find that boomers are helping out both children and grandchildren who are having financial challenges and are more dependent than in the past?

How will the church deal with the need to minister in these situations while finances shrink?

Third, changing social patterns.

I have addressed this concern previously, but it is clear that the society in which we live has changed the definition of “family” and this trend will continue.

As the local church ministers to three or four generations within its walls, how will we provide a balanced ministry that is inclusive rather than exclusive? 

What processes, ministries and teaching methods are necessary to meet those varied needs?

Fourth, power and wealth.

We live in a global economy – the world is changing from rural to urban (much as it already happened in the United States), and the divide between the haves and the have-nots grows day by day.

If the church is indeed on the side of the poor and the dispossessed, we are going to have to take bolder steps on behalf of those in need.

This may be the most important trend that challenges our priorities and the one that we are least willing to address.

Fifth, art.

I would interpret this to mean not only what we usually consider “art” – paintings, sculpture, music, drama and so on – but also “culture,” which includes film, architecture and style.

In reality, we shape the world around us and then it, in turn, shapes us.

Are we teaching believers to exegete the culture or simply to consume it? What aesthetic impact does the church provide on its congregants as well as society at large?

Among all of the other demands on its resources, does the church have a role as a patron of the arts, encouraging an appreciation for tradition, interpreting and confronting contemporary expressions of art, and shaping future cultural expressions?

To be honest, churches and judicatories may abdicate all responsibility in addressing these trends, but the decision to do so will lead only to marginalization and decline.

On the other hand, a willingness to face these trends creatively and redemptively can breathe new life into the churches.

Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is associate professor of ministry praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. This column first appeared on his blog His Twitter feed is @ircel.

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