As we look back over 2019 there are trends we observe in hindsight but what can we see if we seek to see what’s ahead? Only hindsight is 2020 but here are my top 20 trends for Christians to watch in the year ahead.
Persecution. As the world devolves and more and more people set themselves in opposition to the Gospel, Christians and other religious minorities will continue to experience persecution.
Politics: While all politics are local (home economics matters more than global markets but weather, wars, global instability, and trade all affect home economics so geopolitics and national politics matter). Politics will dominate the news in 2020: Brexit, U.S. presidential impeachment proceedings, U.S. presidential/congressional elections, Russia, China trade, USMCA, North Korea, Iran, Turkey, and Israel.
Evangelicals: Central to the political conversation in the United States will be the state of evangelicalism, who gets to claim the moniker and what it means to be an evangelical Christian in the United States in the Trump era. If I’m right (see #19) and we are on the very edge of revival then genuinely evangelical Christians are going to turn their attention from politics in Washington to the people around them who are coming to Jesus and need to be enfolded into the Church and discipled in the faith once delivered. Watch for a resurgent evangelicalism that is genuinely Gospel focused and justice oriented.
Counter currents to the truth: We are living in a Romans 1 reality where the truth is openly suppressed. From fake news to deep fakes to Instagram filters to the culture wide delusion related to human sexual identity (think SOGI laws, chemical castration of children through hormones, all things LGBTQ++) the signs of the times are impossible to ignore. The Christian’s commitment to the Truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, will be the distinctive separation in the year(s) to come.
Life: The 2020’s will continue to test the definition of what it means to be human. Issues ranging across the scope of human life from abortion, designer babies and adoption on one end to super-longevity, suicide and physician assisted suicide on the other will be just some of the debates. What is personhood and who has the rights of a person will be contested as well.
Liberty: The questions of liberty – who has it and to what extent – will dominate the debates in U.S. and European courts this year. What is the relationship between religious liberty and the so-called SOGI rights of LGBTQ+ people and what role shall the government play in ensuring what are seen as competing or even mutually exclusive rights? The U.S. Congress is considering The Equality Act and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from a generation ago now has now been ratified by a sufficient number of states to become part of the Constitution. Will it?
Technology: We have arrived at the point where we must ask if that which we have made to serve us has instead become our master. Consider how dependent we are on technology AND how much of our time and attention devices now demand. If you have not done so recently, make a tech-time log (like a food log or a time log but specifically for the time you spend on tech for a week). Is that how you want to live? Ethical issues of drone warfare, facial recognition, personal privacy/tracking, identity theft, AI and deep fakes are now upon us.
Healthcare realities, proposals and costs: If you are pro-life from conception to natural death, the ethical conversation about allowing people to die of natural causes is becoming increasingly complex. Doctors, drug companies and medical institutions have a vested interest in people being sick and living in dependence upon their products and services. What is the incentive to cure anything or anyone? The other issue is that of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. When you look at the relative health of Christians today, what do our physical bodies say about the value we place on the temple of God?
Relationships: This year, without a doubt, our relationships will be tested. Our relationships within our families and online and at church will be tested by the political rhetoric, purity tests and attendant name-calling which has become part of the cycle of life. The Christian identity in Christ, in the body of Christ and as an Ambassador of the Kingdom of Christ must be established, stated and demonstrated over and over again in every environment and social platform. The question is not country above party but Kingdom above kingdoms.
Media curation: The options related to media continue to proliferate. Networks, premium digital, Dish, DirectTV, YouTube TV, Prime, Netflix, Hulu, DisneyPlus, Fobu, Sling, Philo… Not to mention the billions of uploads from Facebook Live, Instagram and YouTube. What will you watch and what will you pay to watch it? Then the second layer question: what will produce and post for others to watch? And third, why? How will ensure that what you pass on to others is, in fact, the truth? GossUP and not gossip? Fair to all concerned and promoting that which is transcendentally good and beautiful?
Clash of worldviews: Turn westward to the far east China, North Korea and India and turn east to Turkey, Iran and Russia. One guarantee in the year and decade ahead is that worldview clashes will continue to escalate. Due in part to proximity (it is a small world after all and when there are no safe spaces for hate) and due in part to the proliferation and ease of use of social media, the dissemination of ideas has never been easier nor the impact of destructive action so globally captivating. Worldview is the conversation behind every conversation about oppressive regimes, kings, tyrants, Caliphates, empires, and any system that sets itself up in opposition to God.
Weather, climate, natural disasters and catastrophes: According to FEMA, there were 100 disaster declarations in 2019. One in every three Americans lives in a state that experienced a catastrophic loss of some kind in 2019. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. As well as disasters in Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands the North Mariana Islands and our neighbors in Haiti and the Bahamas. Add to these the catastrophic events around the world and the man-made horrors of gun violence and other traumas and churches have been stretched everywhere to respond with compassion and long-term recovery. There is compassion fatigue but there is also a great opportunity to demonstrate that the mercies of God are new every morning and that His resources never come to an end.
Space: What we used to consider the final frontier is a renewed source of interest and exploration. There is a new space race underway which opens up conversations about God’s sovereignty over the universe and all that is it. Science will make evermore dramatic discoveries that align with the truth Christians already know. The Truth is out there and He is personal. He has dwelt among us full of grace and truth. We need not fear scientific exploration and discovery. Truth is truth wherever it may be found.
Work: The future is discussed in large measure as the future of work. That tells us a great deal about our culture. While God has set eternity in our hearts we have often set our hearts on something as short sighted as retirement. The future of work is upon us in 2020. This is the year the economy – and its workers – will begin to feel the impact of job losses fueled by robots and automation. Churches in rural communities and small cities in America’s heartland need to prepare because forecasts suggest they will be hit the hardest. The strange flip side is that affluent people will move into these communities because technology provides new pathways to work from home – anywhere. Churches need to prepare to receive these new immigrants from America’s cities who will not know the rhythms of rural relationships – including the importance of church.
Cities: Every U.S. city is going to be fairly obsessed in 2020 with the Census. Why? Because cities will want to ensure residents (regardless of legal status) are counted. Cities are also going to continue to need the Church as a partner in meeting real human needs even as secularists demand a firewall between the church and state. The relationships between church and city leaders is relevant to conversations about the welfare of the least of these including children, the elderly, the homeless, the working poor, and those who are trafficked as commodities to meet the demands of cheap labor and illicit sex. The city church movement needs to be prepared and equipped for a coming revival and the inclusion of new converts who are saved but far from sanctified.
Rural communities: Once the place we could point to as wholesome, America’s rural communities are suffering from the generational loss of jobs, divorce, selling off of family farms and businesses and the attendant loss of meaning and social cohesion. Opioids and meth contribute to a foster care crisis in many rural communities and the church has been slow to respond as the family of faith. If every three churches in America would band together to identify one family they could mutually support in taking in one child in the foster care system, every child in need of a home would have one.
Revival begins in America: That brings me to my most hopeful forecast for the new year! 2020 is the year the winds of revival begin to pick up across America. We have been seeing revival around the world and praying for it here but testimonies have been relatively few and far between. That’s about to change. What if I told you there will be 30 million new converts to the Christian faith in America in the next five years? How would you respond? Why are you so skeptical? Could it happen? What if it does happen? Is your church ready for that? Do you even know what to do with a person who has been living FAR from God but who is wooed by God and someone told them that church is the place to find grace and God’s people? Do you know how to love them beyond the drugs, divorce, promiscuity, criminal record, abortion, tattoos, addictions, and the language and social habits cultivated in those environments? Are you ready for that mess? We have to get ready because revival is coming and when it comes the church needs to be prepared to be the church – the family of faith ready to enfold all those in the great catch God brings.
Celebrities: This may seem a strange thing to follow on the heels of revival but stick with me. Consider the public proclamations of conversion this year. Both the very public denouncing of the faith by so-called Christian celebrities and the dramatic public embrace of the faith by likes of Kanye West. What in the world is God doing? I can hardly wait to see! Why wouldn’t God grab hold of the heart of a person who already speaks with authority into the lives of tens of millions of people? Why wouldn’t He choose a rapper who is married to Kim Kardashian and then use her platform to lead women to reconsider their bodies and their dress and how they honor their husbands and God with both? How else is God going to turn heads today? Who else comes to mind here? Maybe Justin Bieber and Chris Pratt? Let us be praying for the hundreds of millions who follow these celebrities that God might lead others as He draws them unto Himself.
Sports: Same theme here. Take note in 2020 of the sports stars who give glory to God. God seems to use sports (and sports ministries like Fellowship of Christian Athletes) in very profound ways. While there is always the risk of idolizing the individual and failing to give glory to God, there are a number of high profile sports figures who testify to God’s presence, power, provision and perseverance in their lives. Tim Tebow comes to mind here. And the coach of the Clemson Tigers and their star QB, Tyler Lawrence. The intersection of sports with several of the cultural pressures related to church/state, religious liberty v SOGI laws, etc. may be the next legal battleground in the LGBTQ+ and secularist attempts to get God on the sidelines of life. Oh! And there’s a summer Olympics this year so that means Simone Biles!!!! If you don’t know her story its one you’ll want to know and repeat and repeat again!
And so we arrive at #20 on my 2020 watch and see list…
This one is either disorientation, disequilibrium, distortion or disintermediation. Either way, its discomforting! If a steady easy stroll down easy street is what you were hoping for as a Christian and church leader in 2020, well, this serves as an unwelcome wake up call. This is going to be a difficult stretch as the world tries to make sense of us on the one hand while making open fun of us on the other. While we can expect to see miracles we should expect to be maligned. And while God will get the glory due His name, we will pay the price for publicly bearing the name of Christ in the world. Why? Because Christ is a dividing line and while we have unity with other believers we are stalked day and night by the Enemy who is intent on devouring us. Overly dramatic? Have you witnessed the carnage in the body of Christ this past year? The sexual predation of God’s flock by wolves in shepherd’s clothes has been ferreted out in every fellowship from the Roman Catholic to Southern Baptist churches. That reckoning has only just begun. Other internecine battles (John Macarthur v Beth Moore, social justice v the gospel or social justice as gospel, etc) have kept the Church from bearing a unified witness in the spirit of John 17. We need to be able to speak with one voice as the mind of Christ is certainly not divided on the matters of our day. But in order to discern the mind of Christ we must know the Word of God and handle it rightly. So, whatever else we do, let us be found to be people of the Word – in the Word and abiding in the One who is the Word. After all, this is His year, Anno Domini 2020, the year of our Lord.