By declaring a willingness to meet people where they are, not where they were a generation ago, the nimble and diversifying church can see actual human needs.
For example, generational thinking. We’ve been aggregating and analyzing generations for so long that we fail to see how little those generational labels, stereotypes and analyses actually mean. A wealthy Baby Boomer has more in common with a wealthy Gen X entrepreneur than with the many Boomers who didn’t grab the brass ring and now face fading employment prospects, unfunded retirements and a government that has already spent their Social Security benefits.
Similarly, a Gen X-er in the bottom two-thirds of income/career faces the same downward mobility as the 60-year-old who is falling out of the middle class.
The Multichannel Church can look at life circumstance, not simplistic age categories. Making it or not making it, feeling confidence or feeling despair, contented or angry, married or divorced or never-married or widowed — those age-neutral distinctions point to ministries.
Similarly, living in a post-industrial Rust Belt town or a failing rural center cuts across age categories. As I wrote in my blog recently, “It’s all about jobs.”
If your church is in a suburb, you should be studying real estate reports, aging, school enrollments, tension over property taxes. Those will guide you to mission far better than simply diving into the wild world of Facebook.
The Multichannel Church looks for ways to serve, not for ways to perpetuate its inheritance. It doesn’t matter whether spaghetti suppers worked in 1957. What matters is that you serve a community today, let’s say, in which people are isolated, frustrated by downward mobility, feeling cut out of the American Dream, wondering which of their neighbors are to blame, being pummeled by right-wing rage — and now a Wednesday supper makes a new kind of sense.
Or your people board commuter trains every morning, then drag home at night too late and too tired for anything but family time and “NCIS.” So it makes sense to take your ministry to them in the city.
Our guide isn’t sociology or group psychology. Our guide is listening. When we are deeply engaged with the world — both our constituents and the vast majority whom we don’t know yet — we will hear unmistakable opportunities for mission. If you feel called to start an Hispanic mission across town, it will be because you saw a need you could address. If Sunday morning takes a back seat, it will be because actual people need something else.
Your audience for an online ministry probably won’t be young adults who live and breathe online. It will be middle-agers and older, who are struggling with loneliness, loss of former certainties and hunger for greater spiritual depth.
You might hear something entirely different when you listen to your community, of course. But the point will remain: when you listen to actual people and see the realities of lives around you, you will hear the future of your church. You will hear a clear call to break free from church life as you know it.