The Russian invasion of Ukraine hasn’t gone the way the experts — or Russia — expected. When Russia began to amass troops along the Ukrainian border, the talking heads on the news shows began to make their predictions. Russia would invade and overrun the Ukrainian army in a matter of days. The Russian army was too large and its weaponry too massive for Ukraine to survive long.
But Ukraine did survive. As of this writing, Ukraine is not only surviving but also winning on some fronts of the war. The Russian army has been pushed back after their initial gains in the north and northeast of Ukraine. Depending upon what expert you trust, the Russian army has lost as many as a third of its invading army. How could this happen?
Well, the secret has begun to seep out. For the past several years, the Ukrainian forces had been training with NATO forces. NATO and Russia have very different philosophies of battle. Russia is still using the same philosophy used in World War II. Massive armies, massive armor, and artillery moving across the open fields of Europe, blasting towns into rubble as they advance. The Ukrainians have adopted the new model the U.S. has used since Viet Nam. Instead of large armies moving across miles of battlefronts, small, highly trained units carry out surgical strikes to cripple the enemy’s war-making abilities. With a much smaller army, the Ukrainians have blown up bridges, cut communications, and ambushed strangling units.
Unless you are a student of military history, you may have missed the big debate at various levels of military leadership trying to learn the lessons of Viet Nam. The American forces never lost a direct battle with the North Vietnamese army or the Viet Cong. The problem of Viet Nam was the enemy never chose a direct battle with American forces. They would hit a target and then melt away into the jungle. The result of all of the studies was a transition to smaller, highly trained units to make surgical strikes to inflict major damage without encountering the major forces of the enemy. The development of special forces was one of the results of this new thinking.
Funny thing is, a lot of businesses have adopted the same strategy. Instead of one large office downtown, businesses like banks, are breaking up into small, well-trained, and agile units that are away from headquarters, but closer to their customers. Colleges and universities are putting classrooms in office parks and strip malls closer to the students.
Guess what? Churches in the near future will be doing the same thing. Instead of large central buildings, churches will be in the neighborhoods nearer to where people live, go to school, and shop. A couple of realities are driving this. First, the Builders and Boomers are moving off the scene. These two generations have provided most of the funding for many of the large building projects for churches across North America. Gen Z and Millennials are moving into positions of leadership. These generations give and give generously, but they give very differently. They, in general, don’t give well to building projects. Church leadership will find it difficult to secure funding for large capital campaigns.
Second, more and more, people are looking for a church that makes a difference where they are. Local churches need to earn “street cred.” Whether it is tutoring students in local schools, feeding the homeless, or receiving refugees, churches will have to have some kind of ministry that opens the doors for the gospel message. Members want opportunities to engage their talents in ministry and missions in ways that make an impact they can see. Like the army, churches are going to become small, well-trained units that love their communities well.
Third, Gen Z and Millennials want to be involved in leadership. They want to be involved in what’s going on. They want their voices to be heard. You’ve probably read an article in some business publication about how difficult it is to blend the generations into a coherent workforce. Churches are facing the same challenges. The churches that are able to adapt to the new realities of Gen Z and Millennial leadership will be the most successful in the years just ahead of us.
As you read about the “fragmentation” of America, remember each fragment will need a different kind of gospel presentation. Pastors will be needed to work with different people groups. People who understand what someone is going through —who have been through it themselves — will be needed. These smaller churches will be focused and agile, able to swivel their ministry focus onto the local needs of their neighborhood at a moment’s notice. Megachurches won’t disappear, but more and more of their focus will be on the success and impact of the local micro churches.
The gospel won’t change. It never has. The only thing that ever changes is the wrapping in which the gospel is presented to our neighbors and friends.