“What’s Next? A Look Over the Next Hill for Innovative Churches and Their Leaders” is a new mini-book by Dave Travis of Leadership Network. The book appears to be a report or white paper that was written to inform executive-type leaders of larger churches and that same kind of intel’ is now being made available to the public. And this kind of insider info may well be a glimpse of things to come, in some way like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was very eager to read this 64-pager (print edition) and devoured it all in 1 sitting.
Dave notes that innovations could happen on the fringe or in smaller contexts that are nimble to try new things (“some would insist that innovation happens at the edges… smaller churches often seed new ideas and innovations into the Christian ecosystem…”) but asserts how an innovative idea spreads requires influentials and influencers on a larger scale — “… pushing an idea across the broad expanse, from an obscure starting point… there is a need for ‘opinion leaders’ to get on board… the diffusers of innovation…” And those influencers are by and large leaders in very large churches. Size attracts attention.
Yet, once an influencer doesn’t mean always an influencer. Dave noticed this: “Old conference notebooks reveal to us that many of the 2002 thought leaders are no longer at the center of our ecosystem. Yet they built the steps to this year’s platform.”
And Dave explains why large churches are valuable to our society: “… large churches are the most effective and efficient bundlers of social capital in a community… the best equipped to mobilize large groups of people to use their time, talent, and treasures for purposes that make the neighborhoods better places to live… [even] across the world…”
The book anticipates a number of trends and even some speculations about the future of the American church. And even researchers of global Christianity acknowledge that what happens in the United States still has (disproportionate) influence around the world, even though the center of Christianity has shifted to the south and to the east. I’d interpret that as more people are becoming Christians in parts of Asia, Africa, and South America, but the financial capital is here in the US for the time being, and that can make things happen for a time. In the long run, sheer numbers of people will outlast sheer number of dollars, just a matter of time. Consider, what could Christianity look like in 1000 years, and with that kind of perspective, we won’t be looking just at quarterly numbers or annual reports.
I did want to react to 2 things mentioned in the book.
Firstly, financial transparency in the church. This one is a toughie in the church, and in the non-profit world for that matter. And there may well be a bunch of factors for this, some for bad reasons and some out of fear and ignorance. I believe that if we are truly children of the light and the light of the world that the church can be leading the way in showing how to disclosure finances more than any typical non-profit. In so doing, the church can show how to avoid jealousy about staff salaries and being above reproach in its use of finances. Perhaps I am being too idealistic, but I believe more in the power of good over evil, truth over silence, honesty over hiddenness. Criticism will surface anyways, and even more so, now that everyone has a (potential) voice over the Internet. And I’d counter misperception with hard data rather than hiding data any day.
Secondly, what about the next Billy Graham? Dave writes, “Billy Graham, the Sequel: Who will be the next great evangelist with a worldwide impact? I’ve predicted for years that we’re likely to see a native of India or some other Asian country, fluent in English, who can appeal to the West.” I wonder if s/he would really emerge from the the East? History tells us that there have been great evangelists from the East, like Watchman Nee or Bakht Singh.
I’d say someone from China might have a better chance at being a global evangelist, and not just because I happen to be of Chinese descent. From sheer numbers, India and China will dominate the population numbers. And so much of the world economy and cash flow is finding a home in China, so much of the clothes and furniture and technology we use today is made in China (including this MacBook Pro I’m typing on.) Yes, that next global evangelist will be internet-savvy, and I’d say more than event-savvy or media-savvy, s/he has got to be social-media-savvy, so it’d look a lot more like reality-tv live-streaming than an on-stage inspirational speaker, tho’ s/he’d have to be quite the motivational speaker too.
[disclosure: I work with Leadership Network]