As a homiletics professor, I usually spend the last class of each semester peering into my crystal ball, imagining what the future of preaching holds.
Not being a prophet, I am only making assumptions, so please read the following with a discerning mind. Also, I don’t make these statements to be critical of anyone in particular or any church. I am simply making observations and doing a little forward thinking.
So here are 14 statements about current trends and guesses as to the future of preaching:
1. The history of preaching remembers constant movement in terms of methodology and technology. Change is nothing new to preaching, and whatever is “new” is simply that which stands on the shoulders of the past.
2. The 21st century of preaching will face ever-growing opportunities and challenges of societal and technological change. Again, this is not new, but change comes much more quickly and has wider impact than in the past.
3. Technology has flattened the globe by providing instantaneous information. We now live in an information saturated culture. Anyone listening to a preacher has all the information the preacher has as they sit in church with whatever “smart” technology they brought with them.
4. The Internet has provided a wealth of preaching resources and it is replacing many preachers and congregational gatherings. Some people will continue to choose their favorite online preacher over the “live” preaching in their church. Video church is now a reality and will continue into the foreseeable future. Young, inexperienced preachers are more intimidated about preaching than in past generations because their church members have so much excellent preaching at their disposal via technology.
5. Video technology allows for multisite communities, but it has created a geographical and incarnational separation from worshipers gathering as a body (ecclesia). This is a much further step than multiservice. It is true that having multiple services is a step away from having the entire congregation gather for worship, but when congregations gather across town or across the states, there is a much greater sense of separation. Having to watch the pastor via video screen also creates a significant separation between preacher and listener. These are key “incarnational” aspects to preaching that are being stretched.
6. Church growth now has a model of church “franchising,” by having multiple “communities” under the same banner (name, leadership, vision). These communities are being placed alongside single community local churches (sort of like a “Chili’s” restaurant alongside a family owned and operated restaurant).
7. There will be competition to see which multisite “franchises” dominate the Christian market. My apologies if the use of these business terms comes as an offense. I am using them as an analogy. A limited amount of “technologically franchised” preachers will provide tremendous influence upon the church at large. This is not a new trend, but now these preachers are global and readily accessible.
8. Social issues will continue to be politically and geographically divisive. Churches in states that adopt and provide legal acceptance to biblically immoral activities (i.e. homosexuality) will face an ever-growing amount of persecution.
9. The challenge of multiculturalism in church life will move beyond ethnic barriers to age diversity. Multiethnic churches will continue to grow, while age diversity in local churches will diminish.
10. Denominationalism will continue to give way to affinity based networks of churches who share a similar ecclesiology, worship and preaching style. Geographical borders will no longer apply.
11. Urbanization will continue, although generational flight toward and away from city centers will continue based on current living trends and economics. Children will continue to move away from their parents' immediate context in both church and where they choose to live.
12. Mega-churches with large auditoriums will decline and multisite churches will eventually give way to a less formal and more disconnected way of doing church. Technology will increase its role in personal relationships and how the local church operates.
13. Expository preaching will continue, although the clamor for relevance and desire for new forms of sermonizing will eat away at this traditional style of preaching. This is not a new trend, but something that will continue.
14. Christ-centered preaching will overcome its challenges. The Holy Spirit will not allow God’s Word to become null and void. Shining lights will emerge in every generation that will hold fast to proclaiming the unchanging gospel in an ever-changing climate. We must remember where we have been by God’s grace and confidently preach into the future.
So how do we reach people with the gospel without undoing the gospel?
This is the initial question Zack Eswine asks in his helpful book, Preaching to a Post-Everything World (Baker, 2008). He alliterates (unfortunately) his answer so that we might remember these four “Cs”:
1. Content. This refers to our faith. The doctrinal facts about God and the gospel.
2. Character. This requires relational maturity. If you remove character from content, an inappropriate conservatism emerges. If you remove content from character, liberalism surfaces. Preachers must bring to culture the content the Bible presents with the relational character the Bible promotes.
3. Conscience. Sound exposition and discerning contextualization are good, but not enough. Our earthly movement to engage culture with the gospel will require a heavenly movement of the Holy Spirit. Worldly savvy requires greater piety.
4. Culture. There are assumptions we use to understand and proclaim content, character and conscience. Cultures vary, sometimes within neighborhoods, and demand a constant sense of discernment to distinguish biblical mandate from cultural suggestion. We need each other’s help to do this (Eswine, 12).