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2020s Foresight: Three Vital Practices for Thriving in a Decade of Accelerating Change

Tom Sine and Dwight J. Friesen
Fortress Press, 200 pages

Jerry Seinfeld could teach the church a thing or two about innovation. When asked by the Harvard Business Review how he got the idea for “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Seinfeld said: “It’s very important to know what you don’t like. A big part of innovation is saying, ‘You know what I’m really sick of?’ For me, that was talk shows where music plays, somebody walks out to a desk, shakes hands with the host, and sits down. … ‘What am I really sick of’ is where innovation begins.”

Community organizing acolytes of Saul Alinsky agree that it’s critical to create change around that which frustrates us. But it’s Seinfeld’s understated first premise that can help us identify the wellsprings of our future path: If we’re sick of something, we turn to what we love to find the solution.

Church futurists Dwight Friesen and Tom Sine have produced a guidebook for this latter kind of innovation that mixes the latest in forecasting with the best in theological discernment; add in tools like design thinking, community organizing, asset-based development and social enterprise, and you’ve got a veritable introduction to church innovation. “2020s Foresight” is the book I’ve always wanted to hand an incoming elder: an easy read with difficult questions, chock-full of anecdotes from Sine and Friesen’s years consulting, pastoring and teaching. In “The New Parish,” Friesen helped bring the church back to the neighborhood, and here he and Sine paint picture after picture of what it looks like to be people of God fully embedded in the community, “innovating in place.”

“2020s Foresight” was published shortly after the pandemic began, but its prescience lies in how the tools of anticipation, reflection and innovation clearly outlive this crisis. The first third focuses on major trends confronting the church — including the affordable housing crisis, the weight of student loans, the decline in volunteerism and the rise of the digital surveillance economy. For those who obsessively read the latest Pew Research studies, little of this will sound unfamiliar. However, I kept highlighting portions of the book as Sine and Friesen shared compelling (and theologically rich) ways that churches could move from “being sick” of our problems to confronting these macrotrends with the gifts already present in the community.

Thanks be to God that there’s no discussion about getting more people into worship or how to engage more disciples with a tweaked webpage — this book is 21st Century Church 101, an introductory text heavy on the pop-out boxes that creatively illustrate new ways to live out The Way. It wastes no time with slight-adjustment theology; Friesen and Sine share stories of families turned upside down by the radical hospitality of housing refugees, churches monetizing their properties by tearing down the building and erecting a weekly tent (like a postmodern tabernacle), community organizing turned into policy change (and lifestyle change) for migrant workers and the privileged alike. It’s true that “God’s mission has a church,” but “2020s Foresight” makes clear that God will make all things new with or without our cherished facilities.

Sine reminds us that God has always been “changing the world through the conspiracy of the insignificant” right where we stand. Prayerfully, the church can dig deeper roots and become good neighbors not because of our inherited forms, but in spite of them. For frustrated millennials like me, this book offers a “whole-life approach to following Jesus.” I’m craving this, and I doubt I’m alone.

Eric Peltz is the associate pastor of Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland.