To prophesy is extremely difficult especially with respect to the future.
[The] Men of Issachar,... understood the times and knew what Israel should do.
—1 Chronicles 12:32
When Charles Haddon Spurgeon first went to Park Street Church in London, he was nineteen years old. There he found a church with a seating capacity of fifteen hundred but with an attendance of under two hundred. Nine years later the Metropolitan Tabernacle was built to accommodate the crowds which came to hear him preach; his sermons were published in newspapers around the world; a school had been established to train pastors; and a Colportage business was started to print evangelistic booklets. It is said that over 23,000 people had heard him preach during those years.
During Spurgeon's thirty-eight years as pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, his congregation included six thousand worshipers and added fourteen thousand members. Clearly the Metropolitan Tabernacle was one of the most influential churches of the nineteenth century.
In 1972, however, seventy-five years after Charles Haddon Spurgeon retired, some pastors visiting his church counted only eighty-seven worshipers present for the morning service!8
What had happened to this once great church? In simple terms, it hadn't changed with the times. London had changed; people had changed; but the church's approach to ministry had remained the same. Gradually, people left and fewer people came until the Metropolitan Tabernacle was no longer effective in reaching people for Christ.
We live and minister in changing times. The following comments, which pastors have made to us in seminars throughout the United States, illustrate the changing times in which we live:
We do live in changing times, and, for better or worse, church ministry isn't what it used to be. Dramatic changes in our society are forcing us to re-examine how we do ministry. In bygone eras we conducted ministry in one basic way; today, it's literally a whole new ball game. What are some of the changes that have taken place in our society which have affected our churches? And, most importantly, what can we do to be more effective in finding, keeping, and building people for our Lord Jesus Christ?
Before we begin to address individual areas, it is necessary to indulge in a bit of groundwork. What happened in the last quarter century to even make changes in ministry necessary?
Social scientists have identified three distinct ages which serve as a brief outline of history: the agricultural age, the industrial age, and the information age. Roughly each of these ages spans a period of time when families, work, and society shared essential qualities.9
The agricultural age refers to the time period which spanned most of known history to about 1860. Named for the main occupation of over 90 percent of all workers—the main context was the small rural town. The key unit was the extended family. Two hundred years ago 95 percent of the U.S. work force was involved in farming. Today less than 4 percent of our work force is farming. By 1900, 25 percent of the U.S. work force was in factories. By 1950, 65 percent of the workforce was in factories. Today only 15 percent of the workforce is in factories.-"Customer Satisfaction," Learning Network Magazine (Minneapolis: Performax Learning Network, October, 1988), 2.
The industrial age covers the time period from 1860 to about 1956. With the rise of industrial factories, the main context was the city. The key unit was the nuclear family.
The information age began about 1956 and continues to the present. Named for the rapid increase of information, the main context is the world. The key unit is the fractured family. (See fig. 1.1)