I think the future of the church or the flourishing of 21st century church and beyond is going to hinge more on the quality of fellowship people experience when they come to church. Previously, it was more about the pastor. People would want to associate themselves with a church because of how ‘powerful’ the pastor preaches and his charisma. But now the focus is shifting. The word of God has become easily accessible at anytime for many people, so their motivation for coming to church is not just about the word or worship but for most people, the fellowship they seek to have with each other before and after the church service.
Today, people can stay in their homes and listen to live sermons and take part in worship in church on their phones or laptops. They can choose to buy CD, MP3, DVD etc. or download sermons and listen. If it was just about the sermons, we have great preachers on YouTube who can preach better. People would just go to YouTube and download.
Previously, it was common to hear people say, I left that church because I didn’t like how the pastor preaches. But now in the 21st century, it is very common to hear people leave church because they felt someone didn’t treat them the way they expected to be treated in church or they leave with the excuse that the church doesn’t care or people are not friendly. It is mostly about the quality of fellowship the people hope to experience when they come. That is why I get very worried when I hear a religious leader saying that “Oh this coronavirus has come to stay, so we have to find a way to live with it.” This virus is just against everything about fellowship in church! If we have to wear a mask at church, we can’t even see the smiles on the faces of each other. Do you know what a simple smile from someone can do to a depressed and dispirited person when he or she comes to church? Do you know what a simple touch of affection does to the spirit and soul of people when they come together? But social distancing can’t make this magical experience possible for congregants. Church is not a place where people want to feel stigmatized. People want to feel appreciated, cared for and loved. But this virus has stigma and fear all around it. So if you are a pastor in this 21st century church, you can’t take the quality of fellowship that your people experience for granted. Because the future of the church and the crux of church is going to be more about what happens before and after the actual church service. The small meetings and fellowships that people have prior to service and after. Hence, church leaders and workers must be very much aware this present situation to carry on the message of the pastor and the gospel to the ordinary members, since they are the ones who are usually going to be hanging around with church members and having conversations with them in fellowship.
Therefore, if the church today want to grow and want people to continue coming in person, then it must understand that the future of the church is going to grow from the car park, the eateries, the lobby, under the trees, cell meetings, bible studies etc.