On Twitter, C Wess Daniels (@cwdaniels) asks if this article on the future of Evangelicalism in North America by David Fitch applies to Quakers. Fitch writes:
The future of the traditional evangelical church as I see it is: a.) mega churches continuing to grow, consolidating what is left of the Christendom populations…; b.) smaller churches of under 200 slowly dying and eventually closing, and c.) the birthing of new missional communities through either seeding new missionary communities or transitioning (the aforementioned) dying small churches into vibrant places of mission.
On the face of it, it’s bizarre to compare liberal Friends to mainstream Christian evangelicals, but there are similarities if you scale back the numbers. I think some larger Friends meetings have mega-church-like dynamics. They have strong family programs and connections to nearby Friends schools and/or retirement communities. They serve as the local progressive liberal hub of their communities. They’re not deeply rooted in Quaker spirituality and are proud of the spiritual heterodoxy. They’re very organized – name tags, “Friendly 8” dinners, experienced clerks. They stand in contrast to the bulk of smaller meetings that are dying fast and won’t be around another generation.
Fitch clearly thinks the interesting work falls under the last category, “missional communities” and argues that a “significant part” of church resources should be devoted to “efforts in training missionary pastors.” His big question is whether the small “b” churches can evolve into the “c” missional communities.
I’m not sure that we really need training programs but for argument’s sake let’s say Fitch is right. Liberal Friends don’t have anyone to devote church resources to training (the closest analogue be the Earlham School of Religion). We do have small missional communities springing up but so far there’s been little support or recognition from local meetings or larger Friends bodies. What would it look like to equip these efforts in an unprogrammed Quaker setting? Is it all but inevitable that they’ll have to rely on self-organized associations? Will they remain as worship groups? Is that fine?