It’s 1977. Commodore, Tandy, and Apple introduce personal computers collectively known as the “1977 Trinity.” At that time, many thought of the personal computer as a way to balance a checkbook, play a video game, and stop a door from slamming closed in the wind. Who would have imagined that a small personal computer would forever change the world? No one had seen one before.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
It’s a personal computer.
“What can it do beyond balancing a checkbook?”
It will connect the entire world instantaneously.
“I’ll never use that!”
Who would have imagined that a silicon microchip would forever change the world? But it’s not the first time the world’s trajectory changed seemingly in an instant.
ALSO FAMOUS LAST WORDS
It’s a drop of rain.
“Is the sky leaking?”
“What are these water sheets?”
It’s a downpour.
“Who needs a big wooden box filled with smelly animals?”
Who would have imagined that a drop of rain would forever change the world? No one had seen an Ark before. God’s simple command to Noah was to “make yourself an ark of gopher wood” (Genesis 6:14). By faith, righteous Noah obeyed. The rest, as they say, is history.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS???
“It’s a church congregation.”
“Where is your building? Your multimedia auditorium?”
“It’s here in the people who meet together throughout the week in this place and that place, wherever they are at.”
“You mean like a Bible study?”
“More than that. As the church.”
“Who will go to that kind of church?”
Who would have imagined that a group of the followers of Jesus would turn the world upsidedown one person at a time in the face of the mighty Roman Empire? And who would believe that God is doing the very same thing around the world today in the face of global empires of evil?
SAME CHURCH UNIQUE TIMES
It’s the same church, but the times we live in are unique. We have the same mission, but the times have changed. God’s simple command to His disciples was to “make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). But, from time to time, we lose focus paradoxically building churches, spreading Christianity, but not making disciples.
We lose focus when we confuse the church as an organism with the church as an institution. The prime directive of an institution and its leaders is to survive from decade to decade. Its members keep it alive. The church, throughout its history, has struggled to remember that making members is not the same as making disciples. Members belong to institutions. Disciples belong to the organic church.
The prime directive of the church is to make people into disciples who follow Jesus. In one of God’s greatest mysteries, we survive and thrive not by living, but by dying. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 /ESV).
We follow Jesus. He died. We die, not always physically as martyrs, but always to self. That means the goal of the church is not to erect historical monuments to its existence but to make disciples at any cost.
Churches are built.
Members are recruited.
Disciples are made one at a time.
We’ve been making disciples for millennia, and over the same period, we continually forget that the church is the people. Remember the childhood adage recited with our fingers interlocked: “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and where are the people?” Over the centuries, we’ve built many buildings and recruited many members, but have not always made healthy disciples.
The times are unique. The microchip has changed the world even more than the printing press did 500 years ago. The microchip gave us the computer. The computer gave us the internet. The internet gave us globalization, and the smartphone connected everyone.
Though a bit oversimplified, that’s what happened to change the world and bring a unity unknown since the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). We are connected technologically, economically, politically, culturally, and thanks to Google Translate, we once again speak the same language. Globalization brings many benefits and advantages, but when looking for its downside, just remember the Tower of Babel.
Globalization also brings decentralization. International corporations figured out early that top-down organization structures were not going to survive easily in this brave new world. Technology is a decentralizing force that is gaining strength and boring holes through the previously impregnable walls of culture. It’s the very threat that concerned the Lord at Babel when He diversified languages as seeds for independent cultures spreading across the globe. It became His check on rapidly spreading evil. We have returned to Babel.
Global interconnection also affects the church. We see it as church members fly around the world during the week but are home for Sunday worship. A “good” church member now attends Sunday service once a month but is faithful in tithing to the church’s programs.
A world reorganized as networks of networks also presents a new model for the church in contrast to the megachurch attractional model where people come together to worship, serve, and grow. The question in this global transition is, “Are we successfully making disciples with these centralized churches, or are we making members that perpetuate the institutional model?” Is our attractional model church working? Is it making disciples or members? Is it organic or institutional? These are all sobering questions.
The issue is not the size of the congregation. The church always had large gatherings since Pentecost when thousands came into the church in a single day. The size of the gatherings in itself is not the issue. But at the same time, while the church occasionally assembled in large numbers, it met daily in small gatherings in meeting halls, homes, and the public marketplace. Disciples were not made in large worship services. They were made as the people of the church built itself up in love as each disciple touched the lives of other disciples, together making more disciples who obediently follow Jesus.
The uniqueness of our times is the growing, small-scale networks of networks built on relationships and assisted (for good or ill) by technology. These are the new decentralized structures of globalization. For the church, such an environment is perfect potting soil to grow disciples.
THE NEXT GENERATION
The ones most affected by these global changes are the next generations, in particular, those born after 2000 (sometimes called “iGen” or “Gen-Z”). They come after the ubiquitous Millennials and are quite different from their older siblings. Currently, this generation is in middle school through college.
These are the first true children of globalization. They have never known life without the smartphone, or Google, or social media. While still early to tell, their mindset seems to be more communal than individual, which has characterized Americans since the nation began. They learn in groups, play in groups, and function in groups. They don’t think top-down. They think laterally across relationships. That’s the effect of globalization.
We can find many of this generation in church on Sunday because their parents bring them. We can also find them leaving the church once they experience parental freedom in college. Though they attend church today, their spiritual and moral views are emerging as significantly different from those of their parents and the congregations they attend.
Yet, God seems to be at work in this Generation in ways not seen since the Jesus Movement of the late 60s-70s. They are searching for truth, often willing to accept the Bible as the Word of God long before we marshal out our apologetic arguments. With them, faith first, apologetics second. They are standing for Christ against the immorality of the sex-soaked culture, and the relativism preached in school and the media.
This remnant of New Jesus People may not have all the theological answers, but they love Jesus and accept His Word. They are young, growing, and still forming their opinions and wrestling with their spiritual worldview. But they are passionately in love with Jesus. Talk with them, and they will tell you about Jesus, not about their church. There is much hope. Guided by the Spirit, they hold tenaciously to two lifelines: Jesus and His Word.
Most importantly, this remnant of New Jesus People is at home in small, interconnected networks of networks. It’s their native environment in which they move and breathe. What is becoming more alien to them is the institution of the church where they must don spiritual scuba gear to swim through the moral relativism and biblical lethargy found today in many Evangelical and Mainline churches.
Where is the church, and where are the people? As it turns out, with this generation, you cannot simply fold your fingers and wiggle them inside your hands to see all the people sitting contently in the pews or youth groups. They have left the building, but they are still there in our schools, sports programs, board game culture, Snapchats, Comic-Cons, and yes, online video communities. They are full of energy and promise, untaught, but unbounded. This is a generation that will GO and make disciples, not COME to church.
“Who will go to that kind of church?”
Authored by Dr. David F. Ingrassia, Pastor at Charlotte Awake