Anyone growing up in the 1930s, and in the Great Depression, when I did, remembers that no home was without the annual Sears-Roebuck Catalog, when that company was the giant mail-order behemoth of this country. Families took turns surfing the catalog for almost any commodity conceivable: clothes, toys, hardware, housewares, and even packaged home building kits. Today Sears-Roebuck is a dying memory, as even its attempts at mall stores struggle to survive. Who even remembers?

In recent years onto the scene comes Jeff Bezos who conceives of an on-line merchandising instrument now so dominant in the industry, known as Amazon.com. Jeff Bezos is not only a visionary, but also something of a creative genius, and this has made him not only a living legend but also a billionaire. Why raise this account? OK, I rather ponder how Jeff Bezos, or his type of prophetic genius, would advise the vast number of struggling church institutions in North America if he had some kind of forum with which to do this. Here is this vast array of church institutions with their imposing (and expensive to maintain) church buildings trying to preserve their continuance while inhabited by a diminishing number of church-ified laity, who still like to go to church meetings … but are not motivated to, or equipped for, their daily engagements in contagious discipleship within this post-Christian North American culture.

If one is to believe the existing sociological studies, the Boomer Generation is the last generation who have a great affection for such church institutions, and they begin to turn 75 in 20/20. By that date over 50% of the population will be under fifty years of age, what with the very large Millennial and iY generations becoming the majority—and these are the generations created within the digital culture of the day. This is the ‘Amazon culture’ that has instant access to everything, and that is not all that impressed with the icons of the past, which includes the venerable church institutions.

Jesus didn’t leave us in much doubt as to what our agenda was to be. It was he who gave a final mandate to his followers to—don’t hurry past this mindlessly—“Go and make disciples … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” It was he who told his followers: “As the Father has sent me, even so do I send you.” It was he who taught that those were truly his disciples who were building upon the solid rock. They were those who remembered his agenda, had his teachings and observed them. But those obvious priorities of Jesus to his church have become, somehow, lost in the phenomenon of the institutions of ‘religious Christianity’ (to borrow Dietrich Bohnoeffer’s description again), and the idols that these institutions and their building have become.

The church itself has become a mission field! So much of the traditional church populace remains ‘religious’ but essentially un-evangelized.

So, back to the question: What form would the community of the Kingdom of God (the church) need to take to incarnate the gospel in the 20/20, or iY generational culture, and beyond? How to conceive a church, and the form of the church, where our relationship with other believers in Christ is determined by our mutual mission and message as given by Jesus Christ? Who are the prophets of the day (the ‘ecclesiastical Jeff Bezos’ counterparts) within the Christian community?

And what do we do with all of those moribund, and incredibly expensive church institutions and their archaic buildings?

I’d love to hear your responses

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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