The problem with advertising is that half your money is wasted – the challenge is working out which half. Pondering what the BUBG might be like ten years from now I’m sure at least half of what follows is rubbish but these five areas will be important.
1. Local church size. A number of commentators suggest churches will get smaller and the UK church scene will see a few big churches, many small ones and few in between. It will be a bit more complex, because most big churches will have multiple outlets (think of retailers like Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s with their range of store sizes). The question for us is will any of the large churches be Baptist?
2. Discipleship and church membership. As social media and networking rather than geography define people’s relationships identifying with church may be less about local congregations and more about the larger movement (and its subsets). Being part of something that inspires and resources people for daily life and gives a sense of mentoring / spiritual growth. Likewise, the idea of ‘membership’ and clear definitions of who is in or out will seem increasingly anachronistic. What is less clear is the importance people will give to being part of a congregation where they can encourage each other, join in worship together and engage in mission to the local community. The challenge for Baptists is to be in front of this networking, resourcing curve not reacting to it.
3.Patterns of ministry. We will see fewer full time posts, a growth in bi-vocational ministry and a move away from pastoral ministry. Not least because smaller churches with bi-vocational ministers and larger churches with a mix of part time / specialist posts have one thing in common: they are not looking for traditional church pastors. This will significantly change our patterns of training with more regional and part-time formation and, with part-time specialist posts, raise the question of whether Baptist Colleges are the best training routes for evangelists, community engagers and mission enablers.
4. Church engagement with society. Most churches will be known for what they contribute to the community. Toddler groups, after school clubs, youth groups, seniors work; debt, stress, marriage and other counselling; food banks, street pastors, social enterprises to name a few will all become more important. This will be a challenge if some of the other changes happen but three things may help. First, if gift aid is restricted to activities with clear ‘public benefit’ and not to activities connected with gathering for worship or proselytising; churches will gain proportionate financial benefit in providing them. Second, by being one of the few institutions able to provide them, others from outside the church will be willing to help and support. Third, because fewer people in society will have residual Christian knowledge, these activities will become central to our mission; a way of demonstrating following Jesus matters and that being a disciple makes sense in a world of militant atheism. It will also make it easier to speak into the public arena.
5. Denominational change. Changes to the church landscape mean our links with non-denominational groups, Pentecostalism and wider evangelicalism will grow in importance compared to the more traditional free church links. Our finances will also change: we currently have an aging demographic and either we will get smaller as people join the church triumphant or change to reflect the cultural assumptions of people now in their 20’s and 30’s. As fewer people identify as being ‘baptist’ and more prefer to support designated projects rather than general giving to organisations, Home Mission will see radical change.
Personally I'm looking forward to it. I still believe a Spirit led, God orientated church that shares in the life of Jesus is the hope for the world. Hopefully this blog will not be here in ten years time to remind me how inaccurate my predictions were!