If Christians were like hockey great Wayne Gretzky, they’d skate to where the puck will be, to where cultures will be in 15 years. There’s a way to do it.
The US is skating toward a post-Christian age. In 15 years, religious “nones” will likely be 46 percent of the population. Exiles—22%. Evangelical Protestants—less than 20%. Mainline Protestants—single digits. By 2030, a majority of the US population will be a “burned-over district.” The gospel will be been there, done that.
Many evangelical ministries are aware of these trends. To their credit, they seek to reach nones. But are they skating to where our cultures will be? There’s one way to find out. Spend a few days in the future—in a place that already looks like the world in 2030.
This week in New York City over 500 creatives will gather for the Future of StoryTelling summit. FoST is reinventing the way stories are told. Leaders from all sorts of institutions will consider how to tell better stories. The summit is almost entirely religious nones with a few exiles. It’s the future now.
This year FoST features Disney animator Glen Keane. Tatjana Dzambazova will demonstrate how creators can now use virtual tools, like photogrammetry, to experience and re-create our tactile, three-dimensional physical world. Janet Murray, professor at Georgia Tech and author of Hamlet on the Holodeck, will show how new storytelling models and technologies allow people to more actively engage with fictional worlds. STORY Founder Rachel Shechtman will demonstrate how retail can be reinvented as a full-fledged immersive, participatory storytelling experience.
I attended last year’s summit. It was the experience economy on steroids. On the ferry to Snug Harbor we strapped on wristbands (no explanation why). At Snug we participated in three multi-sensory experiences. The third involved moving our hands until we generated a thunderous clap. At that instant, our wristbands lit up. Powerful. Two MIT students then described how the wristbands measure neurochemical levels that are predictive of genuine enthusiasm.
Dr. Paul Zak’s roundtable discussed neurochemical indicators for stories that are predictive of behavior change. There’s a narrative curve, an arc, for effective storytelling. When storytellers follow it, the brain releases two chemicals. The first produces bonding. The second disrupts. Together, people are more apt to change.
Nones and exiles rely on neurochemical indicators because they recognize self-reporting is notoriously unreliable. Confirmation bias clouds our ability to measure impact. And because they seek spirituality, nones and exiles are looking for a narrative arc that makes for better stories and a better world.
The irony is Paul Zak’s arc can be found in the first few verses in Genesis. And Jeremiah warns against self-reporting (Jer.17:7-9). FoST doesn’t seem to know this because Christians seem to be few and far between at FoST. This is the world in 2030.
This is a grand opportunity for Christians. They can see whether their ministry is skating to where the puck will be. It’s simple. Attend FoST. Experience 2030. It’ll be like the Judeans waking up in Babylonian exile. The first thing they heard was a foreign language—Babylonian. FoST is speaking a language foreign to most Christians. Most Christians have a language foreign to FoST. And since nones and exiles are so over the gospel (been there, done that), our standard Christian vocabulary won’t work.
You’ll also see we’re not there. This is why many ministries theorize from afar about what it would take to engage culture. The real question is what would it take for FoST to find the Christian faith engaging? It might take 15 years. Start in 2030 and draw a line from there to your ministry. You’ll see whether you’re skating to where the puck will be.
Two weeks ago, world leaders put forth a new set of global goals to build a world where everyone flourishes. United Nations member states signed off on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As described by participants Bono and Mark Zuckerberg, the 2030 plan lists 17 goals and 169 targets. Working back from 2030, the first target is to provide Internet connectivity for all by 2020. By starting in the right place—2030—they’d figured out the best course of action. How many ministries are planning this way?
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