Fear for the church’s future is trending. It’s almost too easy nowadays to fall into despair: Christians’ interactions with culture and politics can often seem clumsy or foolish, and you don’t have to look far for biblical compromise, destructive power-plays, or “scandal du jour” moral failure. Compounding the problem is the fact that the modern church has been shattered into 30,000 to 42,000 denominations (depending on which study you read)—a degree of division that further damages its credibility.

Perhaps most damning, though, is the abundance of personal betrayals common church folk have experienced. I have personally survived three congregational civil wars, witnessed the deaths of two churches, and been pushed out of a plane mid-flight (figuratively speaking, of course) by pastors whom I trusted closely. Many Christians have known far worse than that.

It can be difficult, then, to feel rosy about the church’s future when it seems so weak, or even destructive. Yet an hour’s perusal through church history reveals that none of these fears are unique to our time; it’s always been easy to criticize the church because the church has always deserved criticism.

That same hour also shows there is always more to the story than compromise and incompetence. At any point in its history, the church is a case study in the contrast between appearance and reality. Despite all indications to the contrary, and far beyond any expectations, it has flourished. If you find yourself nervous about its future, though, consider the following:

1) The unstoppable growth of the church.

Maybe it’s harder to observe from a land of ecclesiastical decline like the United States, but globally, ...

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