The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History
Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it. In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.
In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.
This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time. The article below is one of forecasting and prediction for the purpose of discussion among people of faith and in positions to influence congregational or institutional planning.
The Global Pandemic of 2020
The Christian Church in the 21st century does not have any prophets to predict the impact of the current global pandemic that impacted every country on the planet. At least 90% of the 7.5 billion people in the world were ordered by their governments to stay in their homes and practice self-distancing and wearing a mask if they left their homes for essential services or medical care. Churches were closed and maintained communication with their members via technology and social media platforms. The pandemic brought the church to where the people are (in their homes) instead of the people coming to the church for worship. This paradigm change is significant.
Here are some things that will likely have a negative impact on the Christian Church in the coming years:
1. The economic impact on churches will be significant.
2. The threat of future viruses, natural disasters, and uncertain events will continue.
3. The worship behavior of the population before the pandemic was limited to about 40% of the population and will likely be less after the pandemic.
4. People experienced significant emotional and spiritual stress during the period of the pandemic.
5. The future will likely result in the expansion of artificial intelligence, social alienation, and divided opinions on culture, religion, and social issues.
Here are some questions for discussion about the Christian Church in the next ten years:
- Will smaller group meetings become more effective than larger meetings as a congregation?
2. Should the emphasis on ministry and worship change from cognitive themes expressed through sermons to local actions addressing social and environmental problems?
3. How likely will technology (artificial intelligence, social media, blogs, webinars, video, podcasts, etc.) increase in popularity and effectiveness as the medium to educate people about faith and religious teachings?
4. To what extent will the pandemic change how people view and trust institutions (education, government, international forums, financial, etc.) including the Church?
5. Which voices will have the most effective influence on young people under the age of 30 in the coming years? (peers, music, artificial intelligence, therapists, parents, etc.)
6. To what extent will music become have less influential in worship and prayer, print media, video, and personal stories have greater importance and meaning?
7. How likely with the sermon become less important in worship than alternative means for educating and growing in the faith?