The end of a year brings out the list-maker in all of us. Not to disappoint you, here are the 10 trends that I’m going to be watching in 2010:
1. Mobile everything. As the mobile phone morphs into the mobile communications device, 2010 will be a breakthrough year. Google will introduce the first “unchained” phone in a few days, giving Americans a taste of what the rest of the world already has – the ability to buy a phone separate from the mobile service provider. Also, watch for “carrier billing” on phones, allowing you to purchase directly from your cell phone and have the item billed by your mobile provider. Apple should introduce its new tablet, which will revolutionize the whole mobile entertainment world. Think video, e-books, e-zines, iTunes, podcasts, e-mail, gaming, web browsing and more, all from a tablet device that’s always on, always connected and multicapable. The YouVersion Bible mobile app is a great example of how one church, LifeChurch.tv, recognizes and is capitalizing on this mobile trend.
2. Economic recalibration. We are quickly learning to live on less, save more and hedge against the next financial shockwave. Paul Krugman writes of a contraction of the economy in mid-2010, so the pain of the past 15 months will extend at least another six to nine months. But economic recalibration is already taking place at the state and local government level – government will deliver fewer services and more of us will be on our own than ever before. This economic adjustment will be longer lasting than other pullbacks and may mark a new attitude toward money and material goods on the part of Americans across the board. Charitable giving, including church giving, will be affected by this adjustment.
3. Prolonged polarization. The nation continues to be divided almost evenly into increasingly rigid camps. What passes for political and social debate will continue to be little more than playing to the entrenched positions of the base of each party, ideology and theology. With the fading culture wars of the last century, of which The Manhattan Declaration is probably the last vestige, churches have a unique opportunity to bridge the social, racial, political, gender, class and theological divide. It remains to be seen if we will take that challenge.
4. Weariness with war. With the battlefield focus shifting to Afghanistan, and possibly Yemen, we’ll grow increasingly tired of the whole idea of war, including the costs both human and financial. Again the church may or may not grapple with the theology of war, but the issue will not go away in 2010.
5. Multiple church models. Tall Skinny Kiwi has pronounced 2009 as the year the emerging church movement ended, and I think he’s probably right. But the bright spot in its fading is that the emerging church discussion opened the way for multiple models of church to find legitimate expression. The traditional, attractional, missional, postmodern, house, monastic, marketplace, mega, multi-site, multi-ethnic and other models now exist and flourish in communities all across America. For the first time in my lifetime, no one church model is the model that everyone must follow. The good news in all of this is that small churches are viable in many of these expressions, and small churches are receiving recognition as a healthy, legitimate church model.
6. Denominational disinterest. Okay, this one is pretty obvious already, but it will only continue into the next decade. Rather than use the word “decline,” I am using “disinterest” because that is the attitude I see toward the centralized denominational headquarters model. There is not a big push to dismantle denominations either, unless you’re a Baptist or Episcopalian, both of which are self-destructing without outside interference. Mostly, the question of denominations is a big yawn for the next 10 years.
7. Spiritual longing. The opposite pole of denominational disinterest is spiritual longing, the desire for a meaningful spiritual connection to something bigger and better that can help us live life with more satisfaction. Americans are taking a “do-it-yourself” approach to creating their own spirituality. Churches can address this desire or miss this moment. As Andrew Jones says, we aren’t going to meet this kind of longing with a church like grandpa’s.
8. Limited access. Fewer students will be able to afford the college of their choice or any college. Fewer families will rise out of poverty into the middle class. Fewer opportunities for advancement will accompany the flat job market. In short, access to many of the possibilities we took for granted in the decade just passing will be limited in the decade just arriving. The question for churches is, “How does hope flourish in a world of diminishing opportunity?”
9. The problems of pluralism. We are just learning to recognize other faith traditions, and in 2010 the problems of religious and nonreligious pluralism will continue to present themselves. The traditional American response of “this is a Christian nation” will prove to be an inadequate response to other faiths and traditions claiming their place on the religious, or nonreligious, smorgasbord. Churches will adopt either an attitude of defensiveness or of dialogue with non-Christian groups.
10. Age, gender and sex. These issues will continue into the coming decade as the baby boomers reach their 70s, gay marriage becomes both accepted and rejected in various jurisdictions, and churches are increasingly challenged on the issues of gender in leadership of both ordained and laypersons. The Anglicans have center stage in this drama right now, but no religious group will escape this discussion in the years ahead.
Obviously, I don’t have a crystal ball, and most of these things are already self-evident, but I believe we will continue to see these issues impact what and how we do church in the next year, and in the next 10 years.
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.