Reggie McNeal is one of the key thinkers and authors about the future of the church. He spent more than 20 years in local congregational service, was founding pastor of a church and has worked within his own denomination. Now he is serving with Leadership Network, working with missional strategies and issues. His newest book is The Missional Renaissance (Jossey-Bass). He recently visited with Preaching Executive Editor Michael Duduit.Preaching:
As much as anyone out there right now, you have your finger on the pulse of what's happening within the church in America today—the issues and trends, the challenges. Can you paint a portrait for us of where you see the church today?McNeal:
As soon as you used that image of "finger on the pulse" I really had an image of multiple patients. I mean, the church is so all over the map now. There's a pulse of the institutional church, then there's the pulse of spirituality in America, which also has enormous implications for the church.
Churches are very busy, scrambling to justify just about any position or approach to ministry that they're taking. There is a growing disconnect between people who are working very hard to make sure church is done better, versus people who really are changing the conversation about the church—about its role in the world and its role in the conversation that it's having with the world.
You can stay very busy inside standardized, traditional churches, and there are plenty of people still to populate those and keep those things running and support them. Some of my predictions have been fairly dire as we look ahead a generation. To use the analogy of oil, for right now it seems there's enough oil still to be processed the old way; but there are other pockets of Americans saying we're going to need alternative technologies to reach shale oil and sand oil.
There are deeply embedded pockets of our population that never are going to come to church no matter what the church does. I'm trying to help existing churches explore how we reach those pockets of Americans. As we know from the Pew study last year, the most comprehensive look at American spirituality, one out of every six Americans now is unaffiliated. It's the fastest growing company of people in terms of their spiritual identification—"unaffiliated"; and I'm not just talking about Christian here...Preaching:
These are people with no religious affiliation.McNeal:
None. That's one-in-five men; and if you peel it further back, for age 29 and younger it's one-in-four. We can continue to do church and reach people who want to be church people; that's good. I work with churches every week, but I'm beating the drum to help us understand there are entire populations of people we're missing. We're the largest English-speaking mission field in
the world; we're going to have to figure out a way.