By Neil Cole Thirty-six years ago, as a college freshman, I began following Christ. Unconnected to any church and without anyone discipling me, I decided to just start reading the Bible. I distinctly remember reading the book of Acts one morning and being unable to put it down. I was so caught up in reading those stories for the first time that I was late for class. I forced myself to shut the book, lobbed a backpack over my shoulder and started jogging across campus. With the stories fresh in my mind I remember saying to myself, “I wish I was alive back then to be a part of this.” It was at that moment that I clearly heard the voice of the Lord interrupt my thoughts. He said, “Those who lived then wish that they were born at this time.”
These are significant days. There has never been a time in all of history like now. Change is the order of the day and it is rapid.
Because of the days we live in movements are of utmost importance. We can no longer afford to simply float on the raft of a previous generation’s church pattern the way we have been, we must unleash the multiplicative nature of God’s kingdom as quickly as possible. This is the responsibility we carry for being born in this time. Paul said of Israel’s former king, “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers.” (Acts 13:36) We are born to this generation for a purpose and one day we will give account of what we did with the time given to us.
In this article I want to demonstrate why it is so important that we become the movement we are meant to be. There are three dramatic shifts occurring in our time that merit our immediate attention and demand that we think differently about who we are as church in these days. We can’t afford to do church business as usual. If we want to fulfill the great commission in these significant days we must do things differently. Our ecclesial structures must shift to a more organic pattern that can multiply rather than simply add people to its roster. What you will come to see in this post is that this is not simply an option for some churches. If we are to survive and even thrive in these days change is essential. At this point our options are to change or die.
The Population Growth
You have heard the statistics about the population of this planet. Having always lived during this population bloom, perhaps you haven’t seen how dramatic it is in the context of history. Below is a chart to visualize the dramatic upswing we are in the midst of. You can easily recognize that these are significant times demanding that we think differently about how we reach this generation.
It took us from the days of Noah until 1804 AD to pass our first billion people on this small blue planet. Within less then a century we tripled that number. In my lifetime we have grown by 4 billion…and I’m still breathing. What will this graph look like in our children’s lifetime? Or in the lifetime of our grandchildren?
The momentum of this growth is a tidal wave hitting this planet and what can possibly slow it down? Plaque? Wars? Economic collapse? Famine? Massive genocide? Nuclear bombs? Orchestrated eugenics? None of these things can slow this momentum at this point. How can I say that with such certainty? Because they didn’t.
Between 1914 and 1945, in only thirty years, we saw two world wars, the holocaust, two atomic bombs dropped on populated cities, the great depression, the dustbowl, the Spanish Flu epidemic and Stalin’s great purge…and the momentum never even paused for a moment. Since 1970 there have been over a billion abortions globally. All of this devastation and unnatural loss of life has not even slowed the upswing of the growth curve.
Whatever your view of the end times is, you certainly have to agree that we are in significant days that are barreling toward a breaking point. This is the world God chose to bring you into. The commission given by our King in the first century AD is still our task, but the nations we are to disciple are far bigger and more complex. We simply must make immediate and drastic changes if we have any hope of fulfilling our call to make disciples of all the people groups.
The Constantinian model of church, which we are all familiar with, was developed in the 300’s when the global population was bout the size of just the US today. That model has never sufficiently made disciples of the world even when the population was much smaller, we cannot afford to hold on to it. In order to reach this world we have no other option then to consider “organizing” under a different paradigm that releases multiplication so that we can fulfill the commission given to us by Jesus.
If this were the only rapid current we need to deal with it would be enough to challenge our church structures, but it is not. There are more.
Increase in Technological Innovation
Like the proverbial frog in a kettle unaware that his surrounding is coming to a boil, we are immersed in rapid technological changes that affect us every day without us even being aware of how drastic the change truly is. A man invented a printing press and civilization was changed for centuries to follow. Today that sort of world altering technological advance is happening almost every week.
Below is a graph showing the rise in tech innovation. This graph, though relatively new, is already out of date.
Laws and governments cannot keep pace with the increase of technology. When you buy the latest smart phone another breakthrough puts it out of date in the time you took charging the battery for the first time.
Moore’s Law, coined by Gordon Moore one of the founders of Intel, states that the computer chip will double in capacity and speed every 24 months. It appears that Moore’s Law is less a law and more of a suggestion. Computer processors are now doubling every 18 months. Who knows what revolutionary breakthrough will come about before you even finish reading this article? Everything is changing…that fast.
Techxperts today believe we are rapidly heading toward a singularity––a single event that will change everything overnight. Most expect that to be the birth of true artificial intelligence (AI), which they expect will launch humanity into a giant evolutionary step forward. This is not just some science fiction fantasy. All the biggest tech companies are buying up the research and development in this area. The smart people don’t just believe this; they are investing all they have in it. It is coming faster than you can imagine.
The Growing Economic Divide
At the risk of sounding like Bernie Sanders, we are in the midst of an historic shift of wealth and power to a select few. Some chide Sanders for proposing a redistribution of wealth, but the truth is we already are experiencing the largest redistribution of wealth in human history.
Since the economic crisis of 2008/9 the number of billionaires has doubled from 793 to 1645. While the rest of us ride the ups and downs of elevated joblessness, shrinking paychecks, increasing debt, decreasing value of our currency and the rising cost of living, there has been a steady upswing in the number of obscenely rich people. The number of those who are falling in financial status is multiplying. Last year the dwindling middle class was no longer the majority in the US. Think about that. There are more people in poverty and wealth then there is in between. The wealth is being redistributed and we are powerless to do anything about it. Both sides of the political aisle are guilty of this redistribution of wealth and pointing their finger at the other side as if innocent. Meanwhile, great wealth is being grabbed by a few.
The 85 richest people in the world increase their wealth by $688 million per day. That’s $500,000/min. or $30 million an hour. What is more unfathomable then gaining that kind of wealth is trying to figure out how to spend that much money. Imagine trying to spend $30 million dollars in one hour and then doing so again the next hour. At some point you already own everything and yet you just made another $30 million and then another and another. For what?
This is more than financial greed; it is a grasp at power and a desire to own and rule the world. We are at the wrong end of the stick anyway you look at it. When you are that obscenely rich and can buy anything you want any time you want it and only see your accounts increase by almost a billion dollars that same day, soon you begin to think anything is possible. I can own anything, or even everything. You might even decide on a whim to run for president of the United States.
Given all these rapid shifts that have already overtaken us we need to shift ourselves to more organic ways that can also multiply. In the next article I will share some changes in the way we adapt, lead and relate to one another and the world. I will also bring to light some great opportunities that these days present to us.
 Emma Seery et al., “Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality,” http://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/even-it-up-inequality-oxfam.pdfhttp://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/cr-even-it-up-extreme-inequality-301014-summ-en.reviewed.pdf, p. 6.