Nancy Beach and Samantha Beach Kiley
InterVarsity Press, 176 pages | Published June 14, 2022
“For sale” signs in front of countless church buildings speak to the increase in what social scientist Robert Putnam calls “the I culture,” a time of individualism and isolation which has only been amplified by the pandemic. Such developments call into question what will happen to the fixture of the church in ten, fifty years. In Next Sunday: An Honest Dialogue About the Future of the Church, mother and daughter Nancy Beach and Samantha Beach Kiley explore not just how to attract new members to the church, but also question the sustainability of how churches function from within.
Next Sunday is a candid and anecdotal collaboration between two generations; Beach is a baby boomer and Beach Kiley is a millennial. One of their most formative church experiences was Willow Creek Community Church, a megachurch just outside Chicago, Illinois. Beach was a leader on their artistic team for twenty years, and Beach Kiley grew up involved in drama productions through the Willow Creek kids ministry. Their experiences as artists within the church informs their reflections on how the church often recognizes the individual gifts of its members and gives them opportunities to utilize them. While at times the book reads more like a memoir than a discussion, both authors share personal stories that vividly illustrate their points of focus. They ask probing questions for reflection that explore everything from the value of Sunday morning services to the dynamic between women and men working together in the church setting. Their distinct voices offer fascinating insights into generational differences, as well as how they experience the church.
The church I grew up in could not have been more different than Willow Creek. It is a campus ministry called Pres House that serves over 1,000 students through various programs, but Sunday Worship averages around 50 attendees. Services are followed by a family-style meal where students squeeze into four, maybe six tables and eat together. The pastors happen to be my parents.
When I asked my mom, Rev. Erica Liu, what draws students to Pres House, her response was “they are looking for friends. They are often looking for a place that will discuss real world issues that are affecting them personally, and a cause that will give them purpose during an uncertain period of their lives.” What keeps students away? Often “a previous bad experience of the church being judgmental or in which they were harmed by church teachings.”
It’s striking these reasons align very closely with the ones given in Next Sunday about Willow Creek and other churches Beach and Beach Kiley attended. No matter the denomination or generation, many truths about the church remain the same across the board. That is what makes this book so useful and applicable to a wide audience—it challenges readers to adapt the institution of the church to a constantly changing world. Next Sunday is an invitation to address the challenges facing the church so the beloved parts of it can be salvaged for future generations.
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