In a conversation last week about the virtues of small churches, a pastor friend of mine, Chuck Warnock, quoted a passage from John Zogby's 2008 book The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream (Random House). Zogby prophesies that "The church of the future will be a bungalow on Main Street, not a megastructure in a sea of parking spaces. It's intimacy of experience that people long for, not production values."
On the face of it, I couldn't be more pleased with that prediction. I've pastored two small congregations and am now a member and deacon in another, where my wife serves on staff. My experience with these churches has led me to believe that small congregations are uniquely positioned to carry the gospel into the world in the 21st century. Few things would make me happier than if the "next big thing" in Christian ministry conversations was the small church.
But the context of Zogby's forecast gives me pause.
Zogby is a political pollster who checks the nation's pulse during elections and that sort of thing. He has also worked in consumer polling—researching what kinds of products people like to buy. His book, The Way We'll Be, is an account of the changing values of Americans as those are evidenced in voting and purchasing patterns. So when Zogby says that the "church of the future will be a bungalow on Main Street," what he means is that religious consumers of the future will prefer small congregations. He isn't making any claims about the inherent value of small churches, about intentional philosophies of ministry, or about the role of the church in God's vision of redemption. He is simply talking about consumer patterns and preferences.
I don't fault him for that; this is what he ...