Chris Backert

Can Len Sweet Predict the Future?

At the end of 2019, I pulled an old book off my shelf. 

I remember first reading Soul Tsunami sitting on the beach after my freshman year of college.  It had been just over a year since I felt called into ministry and as I read through Soul Tsunami during that week, it forever oriented my perspective on what I was being called into.  Yet, like many books, that one had not left the place on my shelf much since the 22 years from when I first read it.  

As I picked it up and began to remember the contents of the book, I thought to myself, “Len predicted the future over 20 years ago”.  If I had picked the book up just a half year later as we began to see the implications of the pandemic, that would have been even more true.

Try just a few of these areas Len “saw” in the late ’90s

 Polar Opposites Will Be Increasingly True – At The Same Time

I cannot remember a more polarized season in recent history.  On the one hand, it feels like the “conservative” movement is growing and taking over the country.  On the other, it feels like the “progressive” movement is growing and taking over the country.  Which is it?  Or Both?  

He predicted that we would see a growing number of larger churches AND a growing number of smaller churches.

He wrote back then that people would feel more connected than ever AND more alone than ever.

We will live a “Glocal” Experience

Len understood that the next season would bring tremendous globalization and an increasing thrust towards the local.  Consider how connected we are to the entire globe in 2021 (after all, this is one of the major reasons for the pandemic itself). Also consider the fact that during this period, North Americans have been more local than in decades.  I know of one church that meets almost entirely virtually, with members in about 8-10 countries in multiple time zones. I know another church that meets in small groups in the same neighborhood. 

One of the outcomes he saw in this globalized world was an increase in “home delivery”. I bet we all wish that we would have invested in Amazon or Instacart sometime in the last few years. We also all know how important the “local”  and “slow” food movements have become in the last decade.

We Will Engage the De-Churched

I can remember hardly anyone else talking about the “de-churched” in 1997. other than Len Sweet.  The 90s was the era when Willowcreek and Saddleback were just beginning their rise to ministry prominence.  It seemed to most people that a really good, “seeker-sensitive” experience was what would bring people back to church. In many ways they seemed right at the time, but Len saw underneath those realities to what was coming a decade or more later.  

Now, thanks to COVID-19, many are predicting that the “de-churched” will now include the 25% of former church attenders who will never return to Sunday services in-person, at least with any consistency.  I bet most church leaders would have wished for that insight a year ago.  

My list could go on with the number of things that Len pointed us toward in Soul Tsunami nearly 25 years ago.  Yet, here we are in February 2021 and the key question for all of us now is “What Comes Next?”

My list could go on with the number of things that Soul Tsunami pointed us towards nearly 25 years ago. Yet, here we are in February 2021 and the key question for all of us now is “What Comes Next?” Click To Tweet

If you are wondering that same question, you’re not alone.  In fact, hundreds of other church leaders will be talking about that with Len Sweet at the Future Church Summit on the weekends of February 19/20 and February 26/27.  I know that last February I sure would have benefited from some insight into what was coming in the days ahead.  That is even more true today.

If you not only want to “see” what’s next but also learn to “read the signs of the times” yourself, then take a look at Len’s latest book Contextual Intelligence.  In these pages, co-authored by Michael Beck, you can discover the art of interpreting the world happening around you, so that you can lead more effectively in the days ahead.  

Chris Backert

Chris Backert

Working with church leaders to develop new expressions of Christian community is the passion of Chris’s life. In addition to his role as National Director of Fresh Expressions US, he serves with the Baptist General Association of Virginia the area of church planting and serves as the Director & Organizational Architect for Ecclesia, a national network of missional churches. Previously, he served as pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship, a large university congregation in Blacksburg, Virginia. Chris holds a D.Min. in Missional Church Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with wife Rachel, daughter Elliana and son Jase.


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