Today I read this article by Michael Spencer about the death of evangelicalism, which got me thinking. If Spencer is right, and the next ten years produces huge shifts in the church world in America, small groups are going to become a very important part of Christianity whether the organized denominational church wants it or not.
The author's take is mostly spiritual in nature, with which I wholeheartedly agree. He categorizes churches in this way: "There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive."
Spencer comes at it from a spiritual perspective, but I have always thought about the political and financial threats. For example, if this recession lingers through 2010 and starts to look more like a depression, I would not be surprised to see the federal government eliminate the tax breaks given to individuals who make charitable contributions. Financially strapped states may pass legislation that requires non-profits to pay property taxes.
If either of these two financial decisions are made on a governmental level, mainstream evangelical Christianity in America as we know it will disappear faster than a twenty dollar bill found on a sidewalk in New York City. Denominations will be forced to close their doors. Local churches will go bankrupt and sell their land.
... and you and I will probably have no job either (I'm assuming you're in full time ministry just like me! I know my ministry would suffer greatly because churches would not be able to afford to buy materials to train small group leaders and disciple small group members. But that's OK! I know God is not wringing his hands worried about how he'll get good resources into the hands of those who desperately need them.
The small group movement
One thing that will grow like crazy if my prediction or Spencer's predictions come true is the rise of a massive network of small groups across our land. They'll be non-denominational and well connected. There will also be some goofy theology among some streams, and there will be some groups of groups that will feel superior to others and not associate or collaborate with them.
But it will be a good day for me. I'm not in the small group movement for a paycheck, glory, power, or position. I just want to see biblical community become the backbone of the church again.
You never know. One day, God may just tell a politician who taxed the church something we never thought we'd hear:
"Well done thy good and faithful servant. You expanded the kingdom of God in ways you will never know with that decision."
What the dying church will view as persecution, the small group movement will see as the day of Jubilee.