by Steven Siwek
I’m a millennial and a Christian. I am also an entrepreneur. I have two businesses that I have successfully grown and one of them is doing web development, design and strategy for churches around the US. Over the past few years, I’ve been traveling around the country interviewing countless church leaders and visiting hundreds of worship services, trying to figure out what was causing the decline of the church in America, and more importantly what its future looks like.
My original hypothesis was that the church was lacking a strategic plan. It seemed so simple. We just needed to “stop to visualize, strategize, and realize the future church,” as I would tell pastors. To do that I sought the modern day E=mc2 for the church. I wanted a formula for success so badly. Even if I couldn’t perfectly explain it, I needed it to make sense for me. In retrospect, although my motives were pure, it oftentimes looked like I wanted to save the church from its future. You don’t need to experience everything I’ve learned and gone through to know that the church is not mine or ours to save. That victory has already been won.
Even still, if I’m being honest, I wanted something more than the obvious answers for being a good Christian: Jesus, prayer, church attendance. There had to be a fourth unknown element to incorporate into our future. In my interviews with pastors, I found myself reverting to my business background and asking questions that highlighted trends, best practices, and co-mingled culture and Bible to create something that drove a strategy-focused agenda. Each interview seemed to offer more solutions to my formula: Church unity, global awareness, pastoral collaboration, big yet small, power of local, fostering new leaders, and the list of solutions quickly became unending. P.S. I am going to be doing a webinar on April 29th where I talk more in depth about my experience.
I didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be one solution, many solutions, or would I have to make sense of it all and package it in a compelling way? As my adventure continued, I started considering the ramifications of the solutions I was hearing and promoting. Of course some, I believed, had positive consequences, but I realized the vast majority of my future church solutions carried a cost—primarily time or resources—that would eventually need to be paid. It bothered me to think about my future children looking back at this moment in time saying, “My dad’s generation missed it.” So I changed up my interviewing routine.
I remember that, after more than 15 interviews, I decided to ask my first question about Jesus. I intentionally had done my best to not overly spiritualize or cross too many theological lines when talking about the future of the church. I was totally focused on developing a practical strategy. Yet I couldn’t resist asking Peter Williams, Ph.D. at Tyndale House in Cambridge, “What fascinates you most about the life of Jesus?” Something happened in my heart at that moment—a refocusing of sorts. But it wasn’t five minutes after the interview ended that my camera guy and I got into an argument over what the point of the documentary really was. At the time I didn’t recognize the intense spiritual warfare that was occurring and would subsequently ensue as we got nearer to The Solution.
What I discovered was that good strategies and even sound Biblical principles were not the answer. The answer is still the same as it has been for thousands of years—it’s Jesus Christ. As a church our greatest need is to refocus our hearts on Jesus.
Somewhere in the course of my life I had become so accustomed to Jesus being the answer to every question that the classic Christian joke had sadly become unbelievable for me. I had convinced myself Jesus was a good start, but there had to be additional elements to solving the church’s problems of tomorrow. Along this journey someone wisely told me, “When you take your eyes off Jesus, things get weird.”
To the church: I pray that Jesus would be enough for us. That we would allow him to be our solution to whatever may come our way.