Hold Loosely the Way We Do Ministry

In late December 2006 it was announced that the McClatchy Company was selling the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN to a private equity firm Avista Capital Partners.  The sale was unexpected for a couple of reasons.  First, the Star Tribune was the nation’s 15th largest newspaper at the time with a circulation rate of 358,887, and it had always enjoyed a good reputation among industry experts.  It was believed to be the kind of newspaper that a company like McClatchy would want to own.  Second, and maybe more surprising, was its sale price of $530 million, a little less than half of the $1.2 billion the newspaper sold for some 8 years earlier. Analysts suggest that increased production costs and declining ad revenue were putting significant pressure on all newspapers and magazines.


However, it is the consumer’s continued increase in comfort with, and usage of, the Internet to access the news and information they desire that has really put many publications on the ropes.  Newspapers and magazines have been left scrambling to adjust to a trend that is expected only to grow in the coming years.  In order to address some of these challenges issues, The Wall Street Journal announced that it, like USA Today, the Los Angeles Time and the New York Times, was moving to reduce the size of their newspaper.  This move was being expected to save them approximately $18 million per year.  Concurrently, they launched a new online feature that would allow subscribers to track the financial markets, a feature designed to bring in younger readers. 


Significant change is also afoot in the church.  The pollster, George Barna, reported in his book Revolution, that there are 7 cultural trends currently taking place in America that he predicts will reshape church life in America over the next 20 years.  Changes in leadership, the rise of postmodernism, impatience with the irrelevant, technology, the priority given to authentic personal relationships, an increase in hands-on experiences and the pursuit of true meaning in life will all continue to shape church life in the 21st century.  In the year 2000, approximately 70% of all Americans relied upon a local congregation, led by a paid pastor, to be the primary source of their spiritual input and involvement.  The remaining 30% derived their spiritual input from alternative faith based communities (5%), family structures (5%), and media, arts or culture (20%).  Again based upon current trends, Barna expects that by 2025 these numbers will be more equally divided with local congregations, alternative faith communities, and the media, arts and culture all claiming 30-35% of those seeking to live a life of faith.  This shift, that has already begun, holds major implications for us as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission mandate of making disciples of Jesus Christ.


What will our response be to these trends?  Since 1995 I have studied the house/cell church movements and monitored their activity here in America.  There is no question that they are more common today than they were even 10 years ago, and interest is building.  I recently had someone suggest that the house church movement is today where the home schooling movement was 20 years ago.  In the beginning people looked upon it with suspicion, noting that it was mostly extremists and outcasts that were doing it.  But now home schooling is perceived as mainstream and many times is the preferred option given the poor performance and unsafe conditions that exist within many of our public schools.  A similar shift is taking place with the alternative church movement today and we need to support those who are in it.


So as we begin a new year we reaffirm our message that Jesus is the Christ, the only Son of God, who was sent to be Savior of the world.  We also recognize that our task has not changed in that we are called to “make disciples of all nations” and that we do that by preaching and teaching God’s Word, the Bible.  But we also know that church structures, methodologies and human traditions are not to be allowed to get in the way of the message or the task.  Won’t you join with me in praying that we will remain open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and be supportive of any activity that results in the name of Jesus being lifted up in order that many would come to personal faith and a life of discipleship in 2016 and the years to come.