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10 Challenges Facing Us in the Next Decade

The future is coming faster than ever, with the tectonic plates of society, church, culture, technology, economy and environment shifting beneath us. If you want to keep up with any of it, and get new footing, you have to be fast.

But here’s the thing: the Church often isn’t. It has gained a reputation for reacting, copying and generally riding the second wave of original movements reverberating through culture.

It’s time to turn that around. To that end, we asked a number of Christian leaders to futurecast: What do you see coming in the next decade that this generation will have to face head-on?

Here are their answers. Will we accept the challenge?

1. We’ll need to prove the value of the local church as a social institution.

When non-Christians aged 16 to 29 years old were asked, “What is your current perception of Christianity?” here’s how they responded:

  • 91% anti-homosexual
  • 87% judgmental
  • 85% hypocritical
  • 78% old-fashioned
  • 75% too involved in politics
  • 70% out of touch with reality
  • 70% insensitive to others

From Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif.:

People often ask, “Since the Church is so large around the world, why doesn’t it have greater impact?” The reason is because so much of the talent, time, energy, resources and money Christians have is being used outside the Church instead of through it. We have outsourced the Great Commission to independent ministries.

For 2,000 years, God has used His Church—in localized, visible communities of believers planted around the world—to preach the Gospel, equip servant leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick and educate the next generation.

Here’s what I pray you do: Fall in love with the local church. As Charles Spurgeon said, “The Church is the hope of the world.” I love you, I believe in you, I’m praying for you and I’ll help you any way I can. It’s your future!

From Hal Donaldson, founder of Christian humanitarian organization Convoy of Hope:

In the coming decade, the value of a local congregation will be questioned. To maintain credibility among nonbelievers, churchgoers will have to defend their allegiance to a “religious institution” by pointing to tangible ways in which their congregation is making the community a better place to live.

From Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly:

Out of all the issues Millennials are going to have to wrestle with over the coming decade—and there are many—perhaps the most overarching, multifaceted and far-reaching of them is the double-barreled question of “What is church? And what is the Church?” Millennials are going to have to rigorously search both themselves and Scripture to discern the relationship between Church and the Kingdom of God in our increasingly diverse, post-Christendom context. What are the most Christlike means of mission in such a secularizing context?

2. We’ll need to expand our capacity to love at the same lightning rate of technological advances.

From John Mark McMillan, worship leader and recording artist (The Medicine and Economy):

How will we make sure that the technologies we employ to serve people don’t actually prevent us from connecting with and loving real human beings? And as it becomes easier in the coming years to produce impressive [worship] experiences with new technology, how will we help people cultivate their own indigenous, genuine expressions? How will we avoid the temptation to simply draw crowds? While a floating head on a Jumbotron can instruct us, I think we only grow to maturity when we learn to love at point-blank range, where the messy aspects of relationship can’t be avoided.

3. We’ll need to reclaim the broken institution of marriage.

  • 44% of 18- to 29-year-old Americans believe marriage is becoming obsolete
  • In 1960, 72 percent of American adults were married. In 2011, 51 percent were married. If the trend continues, the number of married adults will become a national minority in the next few years.

From David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and author of You Lost Me:

Millennials face many challenges when it comes to marriage. They have more financial pressure, more readily available sexual temptations, fewer social inhibitions with infidelity, not to mention overly distracted spouses who are working hard to get ahead or “screening” away their valuable time. At its worst, marriage will become increasingly defined as a means to individual fulfillment, mirroring the spirit of the self-centered age. As Christians, we must recommit ourselves to building others-oriented marriages that seek to serve others better—your spouse, children, church and community. Of course, it will be a struggle, so we’ll need to be people of grace and restoration, too.

From Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action:

What do I most hope and pray Christian Millennials will take to heart and do? I beg you to recover and live the Christian truth of the lifelong marriage covenant. Please reverse the agony and hell in our families by keeping your vows to your spouse and your promises to your children. Tragically, your parents’ generation of evangelicals divorced at the same rate as the rest of society. And their children—indeed the whole society—is paying the price. But with the power of the Holy Spirit and the support of the body of believers, your generation can do better.

4. We’ll need to pull the plug on cynicism.

From Bob Goff, author of Love Does and founder of Restore International:

The media is always pegging Millennials for perpetually raising one eyebrow. “Cynicism is the hallmark of this generation,” critics say, “and their enthusiasm is not easily earned.” If this is true, what your generation needs is to stop being stingy—and start giving away your love and acceptance for free. Give your love away more extravagantly—more whimsically—in these coming years. Make it look like you’re made of the stuff.

Extravagant love isn’t satisfied just dangling its feet over the water in people’s lives; it grabs its knees and does a cannonball. Grab your knees often—do it every day—and dive into people’s lives in creative and winsome ways. If someone’s having a lousy day, send them a pizza. Mail them a dozen baby ducks. Get a bread machine in your office, and just give warm bread to people—and give them real butter, not margarine.

In this reverse economy Jesus talks about, somehow the more inefficient we are with our love, the less it’s wasted. There’s something beautifully inefficient about just saying “Hello” and “How can I be helpful?” to people we don’t know. People will know who we are and what we believe by how extravagant we are with our love.

5. We’ll need to answer the growing concerns about immigration.

  • 91% of Christians admit they do not consider the immigration issue through a faith perspective
  • Immigrant churches are the fastest-growing segment of evangelical churches in the U.S.

From Lynne Hybels, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago:

In 2005, the U.S. population was 296 million. The Pew Research Center projects that by 2050, that number will be 438 million—and that fully 82 percent of that growth will be due to immigrants and their descendants.

Some of these immigrants may be like the hundreds who attend Willow Creek’s Spanish-language church, Casa de Luz: hard-working parents who came to America escaping poverty and seeking a better life for their kids. In desperation, they crossed a border illegally; now they live each day with guilt for breaking the law and fear they’ll be found out and deported. My husband and I believe God has entrusted these families to us and to our ministry, and we have felt compelled—despite criticism—to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.

We hope younger evangelicals will look closely at the pain and potential in the immigrant community and pray, “God, what is mine to do?”

6. We’ll need to push beyond conventional categories to engage the rise of the “nones.”

  • 1/3 of American adults under 30 state they have no religious affiliation
  • 88% of the religiously unaffiliated say they're not looking for a religion that is right for them

From Shane Hipps, author of Selling Water by the River and Flickering Pixels:

What does this growing number of those claiming no religious affiliation mean for the future of Christianity? The historic strength of evangelical churches to innovate methods without altering the underlying message will no longer have the same impact. That’s because the cultural shift now underway is not merely about music preferences or the use of video clips in sermons. The problem is deeper, found in the language patterns and theological categories we use to articulate faith.

Put simply, evangelicals will increasingly have answers to questions no one is asking. The failure to face this challenge will firmly secure this kind of Christianity in the margins of history and society. To avoid this, we must learn to embrace what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “religionless Christianity.” These people will press beyond the tired religious categories of “liberal” and “conservative.” They will see the life and teachings of Jesus not as religious or even spiritual in nature, but rather as fundamentally human.

7. We’ll need to pioneer a third way forward in politics.

From Dharius Daniels, founding pastor of Kingdom Church in Ewing, N.J.:

I believe one of our greatest challenges will be charting new paths for social engagement without being pushed to political partisan corners.

The greatest commandments—loving God and loving people—have societal implications. Christians are instructed to live by these commandments because they ultimately contribute to human life and societal flourishing. Abortion, health care, poverty, gun violence and more must be addressed because they inevitably impact quality of life. However, these are extremely charged political topics.

Many [Christians] are silent on issues we need to speak on because we don’t want to be identified with some of the radicalism demonstrated by some of those groups. Christians must reclaim the conversation and refuse to allow our voices to be minimized and held hostage by political camps. Our challenge will be discovering ways to do so that supersedes the fray of political partisan bickering and uncivil, un-Christian discourse.

8. We’ll need to kick out the cliché of the fallen leader.

From Sarah Sumner, former dean of A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary and author of Leadership Above the Line:

What I believe is going to be most needed in this country and in the Church over the next 10 years is moral leadership—leadership that is characterized by truthfulness and justice and righteousness, not self-righteousness. We now live in a culture that is characterized by spin. Politicians, pastors and Christian leaders lie, so what else is new?

But every time a leader lies, someone pays a steep price for it: A boy is molested in the men’s locker room; an associate pastor is fired instead of promoted to senior pastor as promised; an innocent woman is scapegoated. Unless there is a surge in moral leadership in this country, millions of people are going to pay a heavy price for all the lies now being told. 

My exhortation to Christian Millennials is to cultivate moral courage. Champion truth.  Refuse to be psyched out by the intimidating forces of institutional power, and trust with all your heart in Jesus Christ, who said that the truth will set you free (John 8:32).

9. We’ll need to redefine climate change as not only an environmental issue, but also a human issue.

If nothing is done to prevent the expected rise of 2 degrees Celsius in global average temperatures by 2050:

  • 250 million people will be forced to leave their homes due to extreme weather disasters
  • 30 million people will go hungry as agriculture suffers
  • 1-3 billion people will suffer acute water shortages

From Ben Lowe, director of young adult ministries for the Evangelical Environmental Network:

Our generation is inheriting a climate crisis that is fast becoming one of the gravest threats to justice, peace and human flourishing worldwide. According to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center, not only was last year the hottest year on record in the U.S., but October 2012 also marked the 332nd consecutive month of above-average global temperatures.

In other words, no one under 28 has experienced a cooler-than-average month; global warming is all most of us have ever known.

We used to be able to ignore the warnings of the scientific community, but now the climate crisis is causing millions to suffer from its intensifying impact—especially those among the poor and vulnerable. Many missions and relief agencies are reporting that climate disruption is increasingly challenging the work of the Church around the world.

Our generation has the most to lose here. We should fight the hardest to win. We need to join together in pursuing faithful climate action at every level and without delay.

10. We’ll need to inaugurate the “Pro-Life Movement 2.0.”

From Shane Claiborne, author of Irresistible Revolution and founding member of the Simple Way in Philadelphia, Penn.:

We live in a nation where gun violence kills 10,000 people a year, where the death penalty kills dozens a year to try and show that killing is wrong, where military spending is over 20,000 a second, where we have the capacity of 100,000 Hiroshimas in our arsenal. It is time for a movement of Christians to interrupt the patterns of violence with the love we see on the cross.

The culture wars of our parents have left us polarized by party platforms and paralyzed between imperfect options. There is no Life Party, but maybe one is emerging. Convinced that every human life is breathed upon by God and stamped with God’s image, we are on the cusp of a new movement of Christians who insist on protecting life in all its dazzling forms. It is a movement we have already begun but one whose work I hope we can finish out.

I hope that we can decrease and eliminate abortion, embrace the immigrant and orphans, end the death penalty in the U.S. and see poor people cared for. Some might say we should “be realistic.” We say, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Read the other articles in our special 10-year anniversary section:


John A Harag


John A Harag commented…

Our sociopolitical stance should be defined by our faith, but our argumentation should never be. We live in a world where we must engage an increasingly agnostic culture who view religion as an archaic, misguided, and even bigoted institution. Be assured, where God stands on an issue, there is logic and wisdom behind it, so find the proper argument in the proper realm. That way, we can effectively stand for moral and social justice all at once.

Phil Hunter


Phil Hunter commented…

Throughout history the church has had its largest effect on society when it has been persecuted. It is in those times when those on the outside seek to understand why someone being persecuted would not seek revenge but would rather choose to love. I find it very interesting that western Christians rarely speak of such things. We acknowledge that Christian faith spread all over China in the midst of persecution and at the same time in the west, in a time of peace and individual rights to do almost anything, Christianity has lost its way. No rights or power and it spreads. What is wrong with our perspective people? Comparatively we have never EVER suffered for our faith and it shows.
If this ever became our reality, when the church has no power, when being a Christian means you could end up in prison with no recourse, I have a feeling those 10 issues above would look very irrelevant, and at the same time, people watching would want to understand on a much deeper level who this Jesus is that would cause people to love and not fight back, and not get political in the midst of suffering.



Neil commented…

"Until people start hungering and thirsting after righteousness and God (not religion, but a relationship) any efforts to reach others will be futile and all out pandering." I think that's what this article is trying to say. We need to be salt and light.

I would add another couple of challenges. Resource depletion. The economic situation we need a new type of economy. Both these thing will effect Christians and those around us.

Steve Cornell


Steve Cornell commented…

You might find interesting connections with a piece i wrote in 2011 suggesting "Ten guidelines for ministry to 18-29 year olds"’ts-for-effective-ministry-to-18-29-year-olds/



IanBitter commented…

If come to think, there always have been new challenges every decade. The scenario is: we face them, analyze them, overcome them and write a prediction for the next decade. New technologies became something usual for us and making virtual data rooms comparison I am guessing when it will stop.

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