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Efrem Smith: The Future of the Church

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of the church or what could be called the church of the future. Mostly, these thoughts have been limited to the church in the United States. After rereading a number of books recently on the future and state of the church though, my thoughts have gone more global. Phillip Jenkins sees places like Africa and South America as the future of the church. If this is true, then compassion, mercy, and justice must become a major focus of the church of the future. This does not mean that compassion, mercy, and justice replaces evangelism, discipleship, and mission. What it means is that compassion, mercy, and justice must be interwoven into evangelism, discipleship, and mission. This is not just an issue of relevancy; more importantly, it’s biblical. In the Bible, God speaks to the chosen people about remembering their deliverance by being mindful of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. The future church must speak beyond social politics, towards a Spirit-filled picture of justice. A new liberation theology must be embraced by the church of the future, which includes the authority and centrality of Scripture.

Dave Olson says that the church is in crisis. When compared with population growth in the United States of America, the church is not growing. The vast majority of Americans are not in church on Sunday morning. So not only do we still have a segregated church on Sunday morning, we have a dying one as well. With all the mega-churches in our nation, a major movement of evangelism and discipleship within the local church is in question. I believe that the church still being for the most part a segregated institution is directly connected to its struggle in keeping up with population growth. Even though the United States is becoming more and more multi-ethnic and multicultural, the church is still stuck within the race-matrix of black and white. Even many of our Asian and Latino churches are stuck with choosing worship songs and developing ministry models within a black and white framework. The future church must be multi-ethnic.

Soong-Chan Rah says the church is held captive by the Western church. This points to the historic European influence upon the church in the United States. It also points to a dominant white theology and philosophy within the church. Please know that I don’t believe in eliminating the European and European-American perspective from the church. I believe we must add to this perspective. Large suburban and predominately European-American churches must be willing to become students of the church of the future. They must be willing to have their current cultural mindsets challenged, accepting that some of them are not biblical, but more based on a racially constructed upbringing. The answer to this is further developing cross-cultural competencies. We must also develop best-practice models for small, medium size, and large churches that take us beyond the black and white matrix. In order to do this, we can’t be anti mega-church. The mega church has the influence and resources to point the way to the future church.

Together, as black, white, Asian, Latino, small, medium, large, urban, and suburban churches, we must begin the journey towards the future church. If we do this, we can advance God’s kingdom like never before in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.

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Efrem Smith is an internationally recognized leader who uses motivational speaking and preaching to equip people for a life of transformation. He also consults on issues of multi-ethnicity, leadership, and community development for churches, educational institutions, and other organizations. Efrem served as Founding Pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church and President of The Sanctuary Community Development Corporation in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Currently, Efrem is the Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is the author of the books, “Raising-up Young Heroes,” “The Hip Hop Church," and his newest, "Jump Into a Life of Further and Higher."