When we were small children, the future was simply tomorrow. While it seemed distant, it was only a good night’s sleep away.
Later, the future turned into dreams: What will you be when you grow up? The future felt like it was eons away but beckoned us with possibility.
In these periods of our lives, the future seemed friendly, hopeful, never threatening.
As a society, our views of the future changed in 1970, when Alvin Toffler published “Future Shock.” In his book, Toffler made specific predictions about the years to come.
He saw that knowledge would drive powerful societies. He projected the decline of nations and organizations that failed to keep up with the pace of new information.
As part of this prediction, he popularized the expression “information overload.”
We are still waiting on other predictions to come true, such as underwater cities and family-owned spacecraft.
But, beyond these individual predictions, Toffler also forced us to consider how coming changes would affect our psyches.
While intriguing, Toffler’s individual predictions were secondary to the overall theme of the book: the future will make us sick.
He said change would eventually happen so quickly, it will disorient us as it comes to us in faster and faster waves. We will experience a societal illness that can only be described as future shock.
The future would no longer be a simple tomorrow or the place where aspirations come true. We will struggle to keep up.
Think about these changes:
The iPhone is 10 years old. Only 10 years old. The term “smartphone” is now considered redundant.
Less than 10 years ago, Amazon only sold books. Now it sells everything and delivers it to your home in a flash. Who isn’t a Prime customer? Who goes to the mall?
The platform of choice for teenage social media changes annually. The trail leads from Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat to Instagram.
We take these products and services for granted, but we could hardly conceptualize them 10 years ago, let alone imagine using them regularly. Who can keep up?
Why should we revisit the subject of change again? I think it is important to consider concrete ways the speed of change is affecting us today. What are the concrete expressions of it in our congregations today?
1. The shelf life of solutions is shorter.
How do you communicate with a congregation when the platforms change so rapidly?
People read newsletters as often as they read newspapers. Seldom. Email is at least a generation out of date. Having a Facebook page is also losing effectiveness.
Churches need annual technology reviews to determine how to reach multiple (and evolving) generations within their congregations.
Sunday School as the sole time for conducting fellowship and Bible study is now a decades-old approach. Small groups have been the rage, but evidence exists that the standard approach to their structure and use is less effective.
What comes next?
2. The distance between generations is greater.
The famous “builder” generation spanned 40-plus years. Baby boomers were born over a 19-year period. Gen X, Gen Y and Millennial time frames are shorter as generational distinctives develop quicker.
People grow weary of these discussions, but it is important to note that no generation can conceive that its values and emphases will give way to what comes next.
Boomers (my generation) could not imagine a more important generation would appear in their lifetimes.
If you are in your 30s or 40s, don’t fall into the trap of believing Millenials have the last word. You will have to adapt to at least one more generation in your lifetime.
You, too, will experience the challenge of adapting things you believed would never change.
What do you do? Think about experiences to be replicated, not structures to be preserved. Another way to conceive this approach is to think vision and strategy, not specifics.
Take the covered dish dinner. This is an important experience to many older adults.
Younger church members roll their eyes and try to determine what they can pick up at the grocery store on the way to church.
They may participate, but they will not spend much time preparing. They often contribute grudgingly to what is shared.
What is the experience of the covered dish dinner? Table fellowship. Eating together builds bonds of communion, which is critical to being a true congregation, but the structure of the dinner is not.
The vision is strong fellowship, not the dinner itself. Ask yourself, “What are more effective ways to get people to know each other around a table than requiring them to bring food?” Of course, this is just one example.
I’m a consultant with the Center for Healthy Congregations, which believes in the church and its critical role in building faith in individual members.
Fulfilling this purpose requires congregations to regularly re-vision their mission and create strategies that provide the faith-giving experiences of past generations to this generation – and to generations yet unnamed.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches. A version of this article first appeared on the CHC blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his website, The Substance of Faith.