The Russian invasion of Ukraine did not go as experts – or Russia – expected. When Russia began amassing troops along the Ukrainian border, the talking heads on news broadcasts began making their predictions. Russia would invade and overwhelm the Ukrainian army within days. The Russian army was too large and its armament too massive for Ukraine to survive for long.
But Ukraine survived. As of this writing, Ukraine is not only surviving, but also winning on some fronts of the war. The Russian army was pushed back after its first gains in northern and northeastern Ukraine. According to the expert you trust, the Russian army lost up to a third of its invading army. How could this happen?
Well, the secrecy started to seep in. For several years, Ukrainian forces have been training with NATO forces. NATO and Russia have very different combat philosophies. Russia still uses the same philosophy that was used during World War II. Massive armies, massive armor and artillery moving across the open fields of Europe, blasting cities to rubble as they advance. The Ukrainians have adopted the new model that the United States has been using since Vietnam. Instead of large armies moving across miles of battlefronts, small, highly trained units perform surgical strikes to cripple the enemy’s war capabilities. With a much smaller army, the Ukrainians blew up bridges, cut communications, and ambushed strangled units.
Unless you are a student of military history, you may have missed the great debate at different levels of military command trying to learn lessons from Viet Nam. American forces never lost a direct battle with the North Vietnamese army or the Viet Cong. Viet Nam’s problem was that the enemy had never chosen a direct battle with American forces. They would hit a target then blend into the jungle. The result of all studies was a transition to smaller, highly trained units to perform surgical strikes to inflict major damage without encountering the enemy’s main forces. The development of special forces was one of the results of this new thinking.
The funny thing is that many companies have adopted the same strategy. Instead of one big downtown office, companies like banks are splitting into small, well-trained, nimble units that are far from the head office, but closer to their customers. Colleges and universities are placing classrooms in office parks and shopping malls closer to students.
Guess what? Churches in the near future will do the same. Instead of large central buildings, churches will be in neighborhoods closest to where people live, go to school and shop. Two realities are at the root of this. First, Builders and Boomers leave the stage. These two generations provided the bulk of the funding for many major church building projects in North America. Generation Z and Generation Y are moving into leadership positions. These generations give and give generously, but they give very differently. They, in general, do not give well to construction projects. Church leaders will find it difficult to obtain funds for major fundraising campaigns.
Second, more and more people are looking for a church that makes a difference where they are. Local churches need to gain “street credibility”. Whether teaching students in local schools, feeding the homeless or welcoming refugees, churches will need to have some kind of ministry that opens doors to the message of the Gospel. Members want opportunities to engage their talents in ministry and missions in ways that have an impact they can see. Like the military, churches will become small, well-trained units that love their communities.
Third, Gen Z and Gen Y want to be involved in leadership. They want to be involved in what is happening. They want their voice to be heard. You’ve probably read an article in a trade publication about the difficulty of mixing generations into a cohesive workforce. Churches face the same challenges. Churches that are able to adapt to the new realities of Gen Z and Millennial leaders will be the most successful in the years ahead.
As you read about the “fragmentation” of America, remember that each fragment will require a different type of gospel presentation. Pastors will be needed to work with different groups of people. People who understand what someone is going through – who have experienced it themselves – will be needed. These small churches will be focused and nimble, able to pivot their ministry to the local needs of their neighborhood at all times. Mega churches will not disappear, but they will increasingly focus on the success and impact of local micro churches.
The gospel will not change. This has never been the case. The only thing that ever changes is the packaging in which the gospel is presented to our neighbors and friends.