The church of the future resides in an urban setting, consists of multiple minorities and espouses progressive social values, according to two recently released reports.

While most church futurists have focused on church models (that is, house churches vs. megachurches) in their predictions of the shape of churches in the next 50 years, the demographic forces shaping future churches are at work now on a global scale.

The report of the Population Reference Bureau, which published its comprehensive World Population Data Sheet findings in October, and the Center for American Progress’ New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation report contain valuable insights for church thinkers.

Here are some of the findings of the World Population Data Sheet:

  • The world’s population will reach 7 billion by 2011 or 2012. By 2050, 10 billion people will occupy an increasingly crowded planet. We are adding approximately 1 billion people every 12 years.
  • By 2050, 90 percent of Americans will live in urban areas.
  • Most of the population growth in the U.S. will come from immigrants already in the U.S. or those who will migrate to the U.S. The U.S. population in 2050 will stand at 439 million, up 135 million from the 304 million today – an increase of almost 50 percent.
  • By 2050, India will lead the world population with almost 2 billion. China will have 1.4 billion people, and the U.S. will be the third most populous country in the world with 439 million.
  • No majority ethnicities will exist by 2050 in the United States.
  • In the 20th century, 90 percent of population growth came from less-developed countries. In the 21st century, virtually all global population growth will come from less-developed countries, with some more-developed country populations actually declining or being bolstered by increased immigration.

Soong-Chan Rah’s new book, The Next Evangelicalism, points out that while church proponents decry the decline of the American church, it’s the white American church that is declining while ethnic congregations are flourishing. Subtitled “Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity,” Rah’s book advocates a multicultural, multiethnic church whose seeds are already beginning to bear fruit.

In other words, the shift that will be realized 40 years from today has already begun in our society. But because the dominant culture in American society is the white European culture, church scholars are culturally blind to the rise of minority, urban and ethnic churches.

The report by the Center for American Progress gives additional credibility to the changing nature of the church. The Millennials, born from 1978 to 2004, are an increasing force in American life and politics. The Millennial cohort will dwarf the size of the baby boomer generation, while actually bringing about changes in society that the boomers abandoned after they matured. Sixty-four percent of Millennials agreed that “religious faith should focus more on promoting tolerance, social justice and peace in society, and less on opposing abortion or gay rights.” Just 19 percent disagreed.

The culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s are quickly fading, and a new generation that is more progressive in social views is assuming center stage. Millennials were a major force in the election of Barack Obama in 2008. By 2020, they’ll constitute 40 percent of the entire American electorate.

Of course, world events such as the economy, war, natural disasters and a host of other events could intervene and reshape the future that is evident now. However, the trend toward multiculturalism, urbanism and changing social ideas is upon us. It remains to be seen exactly how these trends will influence and shape the church of the future.

Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Va. He blogs at Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor.

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