Forty years ago, Alvin and Heidi Toffler wrote “Future Shock,” a groundbreaking book about what we could expect in the future. It was a challenging and, in many ways, accurate forecast. Some of its projections are still coming to pass.

Toffler Associates has released a special report called “40 For The Next 40: A Sampling of the Drivers of Change That Will Shape Our World Between Now and 2050.” The report identifies future trends in politics, technology, society, economics and the environment. You can download it here as a PDF file for free.

I picked out several trends that seem to have specific implications for the church.

First, the number and variety of non-state actors will rise dramatically.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) will be the fastest growing non-state actors and will be extremely influential in humanitarian and social concerns. If churches and their mission organizations are to have an impact around the world, they must have a strong presence through recognized NGOs. Missionaries can no longer fly “under the radar” but must openly work and partner with others.

Second, the emergence of open networks for innovation will allow rapid access to specialists across the globe.

Churches and mission organizations must learn to embrace ideas and implement innovations they did not invent. There are creative problem-solvers around the world who can help Christian groups meet challenges even if they do not embrace a Christian worldview. We can learn from them.

Third, social networking will drive new means of influence.

The report comments that “new relationships will break down previously protected borders and provide new intelligence sources.” The church must find effective ways to embrace social networking and build on its strengths. With all of its faults, social networking is a reality that the church cannot ignore.

Fourth, companies will increasingly create value by being “connectors.”

The church approach will be somewhat different from the secular approach, but church judicatories especially must come to see their role as being connectors rather than suppliers. Judicatories can help churches discover resources and implement strategies that the judicatories do not create. This is a better use of time and resources.

Fifth, global religious dynamics will impact the political, social and security environments.

According to the report, “Changes in global religious demography, such as the rapid growth of Christianity in the global South and increased Muslim immigration to Western nations, will shape public attitudes and government policies.” It also states, “Growth in religious believers will have an increased impact, with major policy and security implications around the world.”

The impact of this trend can be positive or negative. The churches can play a major role in making it positive by embracing strategies that promote understanding, dialogue and cooperation.

There are 35 more and you may find others that you feel will affect how we “do church” in the next 40 years. Take a look at the list and reflect on its implications. You won’t agree with everything, but it will stimulate your thinking.

Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. This column appeared previously on his blog.

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