Dr. George Barna is the most quoted Christian authority in America, and this week he has released a brief bombshell of a book, “Revolution” (Tyndale House), that announces the impending arrival of a world you will hardly recognize.
For 21 years, Barna’s huge audience has been the traditional, institutional church leaders of all denominations. After they finish reading “Revolution,” that audience may all fit into the back seat of a Corvette.
The cause of Barna’s impending downsizing? He tells the truth – eloquently, fearlessly and with the backing of roomfuls of data. Nobody really tries to argue with Barna’s numbers. The research and statistics behind his 36 books would sink a modest-sized oil tanker.
The incredible shrinking U.S. church
The scenario Barna foresees will cause a rash of strokes among many a pastor and denominational official. Briefly, it is this:
By 2025, traditional, churchgoing Christians will comprise only 30-35 percent of all U.S. Christians. The other 65-70 percent will be a wild, improbable mix of fire-breathing, activist Christians who are unwilling to settle for anything less than high-commitment, close-friendship networks of believers. These people may seldom or never darken the sacred doorways of steeple-topped buildings. Barna calls them the Revolutionaries.
If you harbor any feelings that Barna may be wrong, you will find them melting away rapidly as you read his fascinating, proleptic history of the next 20 years (which I personally feel may unfold in just 10-15 years). “Revolution” reverberates with head-nodding truth.
First, let’s get the “bad” news over with: If you grew up in the same grand old Protestant church I did, pause a moment to put your hat over your heart. It’s all fading away, my friend: our quaint but glory-filled hymns played on that heart-warming organ, our stately building with its changeless atmosphere from another era, our carefully crafted sermons that no one quite remembers, our Sunday bulletins announcing the 99 percent predictable programs, and our beloved pastor that everything revolved around – it’s all going ashcan. By 2025 (or earlier), this shrinking segment of the church will be peopled with gray-haired folk over 60, tottering down memory lane toward a vaguely irrelevant future.
For decades, a steady 95 percent of U.S. believers have belonged to such a traditional church. But in the past six or seven years, Barna reports, that 95 percent has gone into free-fall – to 75 percent. And 20 years hence, it will be near 30 percent. Because of this megashift, the broad outlines of American culture will undergo a massive transformation.
The church of the Revolutionaries
Now the good news.
The traditional church is being replaced by something much better. A church on steroids, if you will. It will be a highly complex, non-centralized mixture of various types of small groups, such as:
- House church networks (which includes those meeting in offices, shops, schools and Starbucks), all of them simple and organic, with no programs, paid staff or owned buildings;
- Microchurch teams launched by large, well-known Christian ministries that till now have shied away from doing anything that might look competitive with local churches;
- A myriad of relational networks spawned out of Christian music festivals, Internet connections and outreach missions.
Who will run this seeming mishmash? The Holy Spirit of God himself – ably assisted by millions of nameless, faceless nobodies who want neither glory nor recognition, just an honest role in the high adventure of transforming this troubled land into the free, sensible, Christian nation it was meant to be.
Among the attitudes George Barna is hearing from Revolutionaries are these:
“The proof of my status as a Revolutionary is the love I show to God and people.”
“Every breath I take is a declaration of war against Satan.”
“God does not need me to fight His fight, but he invites me to allow Him to fight through me. I anticipate and will gladly endure various hardships; for this is the price of participation in winning the spiritual war.”
“I am not called to attend or join a church. I am called to be the Church.”
“I do not give away 10 percent of my resources. I surrender 100 percent.”
“I am bound at a heart and soul level to other Revolutionaries, and I will bless other believers whenever I have the chance.”
“The world is desperately seeking meaning and purpose. I will respond to that need with the Good News and meaningful service.”
When these attitudes become the norm among our young people – and they will – America will be a very different country.