Written by Alpha Asia Pacific
Two years into the global pandemic, it has become clear that the church will not be returning to what it once was—a gathering primarily based in a physical location. “That church” has “left the building”, and the congregation now have the option of attending church online as the pandemic continues. As Christians, we, too, need to evolve with the times to enable us to continue carrying out the Great Commission.
To look at some of the emerging trends of the church, the Alpha Asia Pacific team sat down to chat with Miles Toulmin, Executive Director of Alpha Asia Pacific and Vicar of Holy Trinity Bukit Bintang (HTBB). This piece is inspired by Dr. Winfield Bevins, Director of Church Planting at Asbury Theological Seminary, with reference to his podcast, “10 Trends Impacting the Future of the Church”.
1. Going digital and hybrid
The digitalisation of the church has changed the habits and behaviours of churchgoers globally. It has also opened doors for us to access spaces (and people) we previously could not. In the years to come, we will likely see the gospel having an increased presence in the digital space, even as churches continue to experiment with different models—physical gatherings, online gatherings, and hybrid gatherings (both physical and online services happening simultaneously).
For pastors, this means looking into what is possible within your church context. For the rest of us who struggle with introducing the gospel to our friends, this means we now have access to more opportunities to share about Jesus with just a click, whether it’s sharing resources you see on social media or inviting them to Alpha online.
Communicate with your leaders and utilise existing resources. Try different online initiatives and identify which of those speaks to your congregation. Your efforts, however they might pan out, will serve as a reminder to your congregation that your church community remains active in these trying times.
With the onset of the pandemic, HTBB has launched online initiatives such as daily prayer sessions via Zoom, podcast series, discipleship course, Alpha online, and many more. Since March 2020, there have been more than 780,000 streams of its online services, with over 3,800 prayer requests sent in during services. “Being part of the team online has been one of the biggest reasons I was able to get through the past 1.5 years of Covid,” said Lauren, a member of HTBB.
2. Contextualising church
In a world where Christianity is becoming global, people are beginning to wake up to the idea of contextualising church rather than cloning church. A contextualised church would carry the core gospel message and work towards relating it to the specific group and culture it is reaching out to.
In a McCrindle study titled “The Future of the Church in Australia”, 30 pastors were asked what people wanted from their church. Results showed that they wanted a more “local” church—for the church to be embedded in the community, and for the leadership to be representative of the diversity within.
Contextualising involves considering the target group’s language and cultural forms. One way to do this would be to target a specific language population, such as Mandarin services, or to find specific ways we can meet the needs of a local community. For example, my church HTBB founded a Myanmar church in order to help the refugees’ in Malaysia find a safe space and build community.
The key is to keep it simple and low cost to start with, learn quickly, and keep it going. This makes a tremendous difference even if you have just a lean core team with a handful of congregations.
And if you’re looking for resources to help contextualise your church, the Alpha course is free, and available in every Asian language, from Mandarin, to Tamil and Japanese.
3. Taking the gospel to the streets
We are seeing a shift in mindset from getting people into our church building to taking the gospel to the marketplace, to people’s home, to third spaces, and into the community.
Many Christians are familiar with the term “church planting”. Yet interestingly, the New Testament does not mention that term. Historically, the focus was not on planting churches, but planting the gospel. Churches were always the fruit of the result of planting the gospel in communities.
This idea of getting the gospel to the streets will likely see an increase in smaller communities of Christians—microchurches, home groups, workplace fellowships, etc. In response to that, at Alpha, we have launched courses for these different contexts, such as Alpha in the Workplace, Alpha for Prison, and Alpha for Seniors.
The responsibility of sharing the Good News does not fall solely on pastors or church leaders. And with the help of online resources and platforms like Alpha Online, anyone can share the Good News anytime and anywhere, even at the peak of the pandemic.
4. Becoming bivocational
Alluding to our earlier mention of microchurches and bringing the gospel out of the church building, many pastors and leaders of these smaller churches wear multiple hats. They’re typically not salaried, and hold functions in the marketplace.
The idea of being bivocational means that the pastors work in the marketplace. This “help[s] pastors build relationships and credibility in their community, and open doors in the neighbourhood.”[i]
However, this calling is not for everyone. Be sure of what you sense God is asking of you before committing to it, pray and evaluate your decision to ensure this is where God is positioning you. For some pastors, other ways of serving and becoming more connected with the community could be taking part-time positions at the hospital or hospice as a school chaplain, or as a visiting lecturer at a local Bible college.
5. Measuring growth differently
For some time now, the church has been very much focused on numeric growth as a marker of success. The pandemic has made us reassess what church is really about and what we are really measuring.
In Colossians 1:28, Paul says that the aim is to present everyone mature in Christ. The church multiplies when the people in the congregation are actively living a life that is ‘in Christ’, when there’s an increased awareness that the spiritual formation and growth of people is a key sign of a healthy, thriving church.
We are beginning to see the church shift towards growth in terms of spiritual depth and its social impact on societies, which we believe is very positive. Social action, such as food bank initiatives to lend a helping hand to families struggling to put food on their tables, enables churches to reach out to people who are not in church and help transform the community.
We are in the advent of a new season for the church and how we respond to both the challenges and opportunities that will arise from this season will have an impact on the reach and effectiveness of the church in the years and in the generation to come.
Twelve disciples were all it took to change the course of history. Over the course of history, God employs us as instruments, but He is the means. It is time for churches to rise up, move forward, and continue trusting God in His ways.
Alpha is an effective form of evangelism when done by and through the local church. By focusing on the essentials of the Christian faith, the Alpha approach can be used in almost any context so that everyone has the opportunity to see their friends’ lives transformed by the gospel. Churches are now able to run Alpha sessions online through various video conferencing platforms. To find out more, go to https://asiapacific.alpha.org/.
[i] Connelly, N. (2021). Bivocational Ministry Is On the Rise, and This Pastor Is Embracing It. (https://www.faithward.org/bivocational-ministry-is-on-the-rise-and-this-pastor-is-embracing-it/)