With 2000 years passing since the birth of Jesus, you would think that all the problems a local church could encounter had been resolved. After all, wars have been fought and won in less time, aircraft and computers have been invented – what could be left to resolve?
We also know that God continues to interact with the world and the church. Revivals, restorations, miraculous recoveries still abound. Miracles happen. We know that by reading the Bible and building a relationship with God we will have a bright future – and yet, problems still exist.
We know by simply watching or listening to the news that there are problems in the world. Unfortunately, that means these problems are for the church to consider, as we are called to be in the world, if not of it. We can’t solve all the challenges that we will face, but we can listen to those who know more than us, reflect and pray and take action to make a difference.
This is the challenge we face – to be heard in the modern world and spread the message of the Bible far and wide in the face of unparalleled competition and distractions.
There are of course other challenges. How do we respond to social issues? How do we deal with persecution? Christians are still persecuted in many countries, and persecution must be addressed – charities such as https://www.opendoorsuk.org/ take a lead in this department.
The biggest challenge the modern church faces is handling change and adapting to the modern world. Many churches are set in their ways and resistant to change. “The old songs are the best” is a common phrase to express a dislike for modern worship music, but most hymns were written in the last 300 years. In the 1600s, were people saying “ye olde songs art ye best”?
Times change and the world is a minefield waiting to catch you out. However, we know that Jesus operated out of love for everyone, no matter their background, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or even choice of hat. Jesus taught that we should love one another, and another major challenge of the 21st-century church is to live this out.
Following the example of Jesus, we need to reach out to all people exactly where they are. He met people while they were fishing, going about their everyday lives. The simplest way to do this for the modern world is through social media.
While recently planted churches are often on top of their social media game, older and more established churches can be falling behind. In fact, some churches don’t even have a website, let alone social media. There may be an established congregation, but without an influx of younger people, the congregation will dwindle over time – that is why it is important to run a digital outreach, to get in touch with those who think the church has nothing to offer them, and can’t see any messages to the contrary.
The problem for some churches is that it is easy to become trapped in an eternal echo chamber. We talk with our friends and leaders within our own church, and the church building becomes the focus of much of our life. When we aren’t in church, perhaps at work, we don’t often talk about the church – and we don’t take on board the comments of those who are outside the church.
We become insular, inward thinking. We create “outreaches” that just serve those who are already within the church, then we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. We need to listen to those talking, begging, SCREAMING outside of the church about the problems that they and the world are facing, and take action that benefits the people in the world, not just the people in the church.
Jesus never said it would be easy. It is only easier because of the ability of the Christian to cast all worries and concerns on God. For those without faith, life can be hard. The world is changing rapidly, and that change seems to be accelerating. Declining attendance at churches can be seen as evidence that the church is out of touch. Many people profess a faith – but that faith does not align with the faith of the church, and therefore no action is taken to keep the faith alive.
In times of rapid social change, such as those we have experienced in recent years, many have felt an unending torrent of fear, worry, and dread. God is working behind it all, but we need to have faith and be brave.
We can’t fix the world. In fact, it is wrong for us to say the world is broken – judging the world is not our job. What is clear is that the world is not working in perfect harmony, and we must do what we can to help facilitate a better way of working.
Jesus drew people to him by the way He acted and the things He did. He didn’t fix everything while in the physical plane – it was only in death that He was able to save the whole world, should the world choose to accept it.
He travelled to different places, He healed the sick, He cared for the poor. He chased people with whips and flipped tables when the money changers and merchants set up shop in the temple. Why? They were making an unjust profit from the poor and preventing people from communing with God within their own means. He fought against unjust practices and helped people to be who they were on their own terms.
But He only did this in one temple (as far as we know). He didn’t embark on a world tour and set everything right, but instead worked in his own area and did all that he could to promote inclusivity.
This is what we must do – start with our own behaviours, work in our local area, and make the church a welcoming place for everyone.
Facing 10 of The Challenges of the 21st Century Church
Here are 10 of the challenges facing the 21st-century church, and what we may be able to do to face them.
Being in the world without being of the world
While we always have our eyes fixed on heaven, remember that we aren’t there yet, and neither is anybody else on the planet. Don’t assume that people know all the Christian-speak you do, and communicate clearly. Jesus spoke in a language fishermen would understand, not archdeacons.
Don’t be of the world, but don’t set yourself up as being separate from everyone else.
Extending a welcome to all, rather than paying lip service
Saying “everyone is welcome” is easy, meaning it is something else. It is your mission to spread the gospel to everyone, so if someone comes to your church who doesn’t fit your usual demographic, welcome them as if they were old friends.
Again, don’t separate them from everyone else.
Connecting with local communities
You are in the area where your local community lives, so the first step of getting your message to the world is to start with the local community. Invite people to come along, engage with local people and businesses on social media. Strong connections build relationships.
Respecting equal rights for all
Your past isn’t your future, but you can’t change the way you were born. Make an effort to treat everyone equally – but don’t allow special treatment. “Special” isn’t equal, but always respect and love those who you interact with.
Not being caught up in the rules and regulations of religion
The fundamental rule of Christianity is to love God and to love one another. Christianity is about a relationship with God. Whether you eat fish on a Friday, wear a hat in the sanctuary, or say the same prayer every week is religion. Make sure to prioritize the right things, and not get tied up in irrelevant arguments.
Escaping the echo chamber
Listen to people outside the church, communicate with those with no faith and with different faiths. If you only listen to the people within your church, you’ll only ever hear the same thing – and in the 21st century, a lot is being said outside of the church.
Reaching out with outreaches
In the same way, make sure your outreaches reach out to people outside the church. If it turns into a party for people who already attend your church, you’re doing it wrong.
Acting the right way
Always act out of love. It is our deeds that often show people that we have chosen the right way, rather than the words we say. If you can’t act out of goodness to show the world your Christian values, why would anyone want to listen to what you say?
Appreciating a worldwide culture
The world is connected and smaller than ever before. People all over the world may come into contact with you and your church, but they may have a different way of doing things. Don’t criticize or try to change people without first understanding their circumstances and what life is like in the country they live in.
Appreciating modern life
Sunday meetings, Tuesday Bible study, Wednesday evening meal, Friday group meeting…modern life requires that people work much harder than ever before. Filling up the church calendar is fine, but don’t expect everyone to show up for every meeting. It’s not a lack of commitment, it’s a different pace of life to 50 years ago.