All of us are a direct product of the past and as we gauge our plans for the future we must look at the patterns of gains and failures through which our faith has already traversed. The same is true for any church or religious organization to bear in mind it is a product of its past and no standing form of organized Christian faith has ever been destroyed or diminished but it was freed to develop a praxis, liturgy, and theological richness that of today explodes with ever more effectiveness and power (Tickle, 2008).
As you evaluate the future of your church, and ministry, strategic foresight culminates in the parturition of traditional external scenarios (considering the manner you have conducted ministry in the past) and internal scenarios (current resources in conjunction with the personality of your organization) into a future template. This scenario ‘scorecard’ can be used to develop your ministry strategy to guide you in your preparation for the future. Such scenario planning forecasts can create a strategic ‘early warning system’ to meet ministry needs in the year 2028. Are you ready?
What will ministry challenges and the religious environment look like in the year 2028?
Richard Watson (2008) predicts there are several trends that will affect society in the next 50 years. One of the most fascinating potential scenarios about the future is whether religion will be a victim or beneficiary of future change. Watson states, “some predict faith will decline because the spread of information (technological advances) will undermine the mindset necessary to support belief. If science, technology and complexity become key ingredients of the future, this will drive change and uncertainty. If this trend continues more people will seek out safety, comfort, and guidance from religion.” Future change could result in a search for meaning. But there also exists the propensity for science in and of itself to become a religion on its own merit.
Another future trend is urbanization and the increase in the number of people living alone. In recent years single-person households have grown to 30% due to factors such as people staying single later, easier divorces, and longer life spans (Watson). The family structure is also changing and will continue to be altered as we move toward the year 2028. Singles, same sex couples, blended families with different children from different families and the shift of social attitudes with changing demographics all will contribute to a changing social environment to be addressed by the church.
When 9/11 occurred the world took notice of a sea of change of a religious factor to be known as Islamic radicalism. This radical movement has suddenly changed the landscape to challenge Christianity in a clash of religious civilizations. The eruption of Islam into the global conscience is a simple matter of arithmetic. There are 2.3 billion Christians and 1.6 Muslims in the world. There will be increased competition for converts, social influence, and political power in parts of the world where Christians and Muslims cross territories. New zones of conflict will erupt and the face of Christianity in the Middle East is at stake. In 1948 when the state of Israel was born Christians represented 20 percent of the population. Today they’re about 2%, and dropping (Allen, 2009). Terrorism will increase and the Islamic influence will strengthen, due to new converts, within the United States.
How should ministries and religious organizations prepare for the future? How must the effect of globalization i.e.: technology, global connectivity, an aging population, potential energy crisis, economic instability, demographic changes, or a culture unfavorable toward the church be presumed? Can the church continue to minister with the same methods in 2028 as it does in 2017?
Scenario planning (forecasting) can provide the church a snapshot into the future and provide a roadmap into developing ministerial priorities for the year 2028. The purpose of looking into the future is to understand the possibilities ahead in order to make informed decisions in the present. Good future ‘scanning’ will reduce the risk of being surprised or even blindsided. It can also build momentum for future building programs, mission experiences, and monetary priorities. Questions can be answered such as, “Should we purchase more land for possible expansion? Should we invest more in foreign mission projects? Should we change our teaching curriculum to place more emphasis on a specific area of ministry in the present to prepare for the future? What event might occur in your specific locale that might cause a reduction in church membership or tithes? What if there were layoffs at the local plant causing families to suddenly move? Are you ready with a strategic plan to address these events?
Key steps in strategic forecasting should begin by clarifying what you are looking for. This may be the most difficult exercise of the scenario process as it is not as straightforward as it may appear. Start with a prayerful attitude of acceptance considering your strategic planning might provide potential information which may lead your church in a totally different direction from what you may desire.
Begin the process by scanning the internal and external environments seeking information and trends relating to your church mission. By establishing a team approach the members will immerse themselves on what is going on both locally, nationally, and globally. The goal is to come up with a set of driving forces that suggest what the future will most likely look like. Map your progress.
Look forward by looking backward. Ed Cornish, former President of the World Future Society, stated, “It is important to recognize very clearly that our ideas about our future cannot come from the future itself because the future, by definition, is not a physical reality. The future only exists in the ideas we have about it” (Cornish,2001).
Finally, successful change efforts begin with a leader communicating a sense of either crisis, potential crisis, or great opportunity. Church leaders often underestimate how difficult it can be to move staff (or church membership) out of their comfort zones (Kotter, 1995). Consequentially, successful ministry leaders need to be convinced that the organization can no longer operate as it has in the past expecting different results in the future.
Allen, John L. Jr. The Future Church. New York: Doubleday Publishing, 2009.
Cornish. Ed. “How We Anticipate Future Events.” The Futurist. July-August, 2001.
Kotter, John. “Leading Change: Why Transformational Efforts Fail.” Harvard Business Review. Volume 73, No. 2, March-April, 1995.
Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2012.
Watson, Richard. Future Files: A Brief History of the Next 50 Years. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2008.
About the author: Michael B. Russell, MA, MBA, DSL, MLIS is a 30 year Licensed Consulting Agent in the Religious and Non-Profit sector conducting seminars and workshops on current liability issues facing these sectors. He holds a Masters in Communication and Research from the Fullbright College, University of Arkansas; an MBA from the School of Business and Technology, Webster University, St. Louis; and holds an earned Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 479-268-4471
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